Let’s admit it, we’re all a little bit Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.

As the day goes on, and more alcohol is ingested, we suddenly become VERY Irish, wearing kilts with our faces painted green while swaying and singing “Old Danny Boy.”

So, what’s the big deal, you ask? I mean, it’s St. Patrick’s Day! For me, the big deal is that I’m drinking with multiple sclerosis (MS).

Truth be told, I always think of drinking as a big deal, and even potentially dangerous. Cars and alcohol — don’t mix. Kids and alcohol — don’t mix. The number of young people who drink and get abused is on the rise, so much so that the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH) calls it the “silent epidemic.” And long-term alcohol use doesn’t mix well with anything. Watching someone die from cirrhosis of the liver because they lived with alcoholism is a life-changing experience, to say the least. But none of those are why I’m writing.

Most people can sit and have a pint and go home and live responsible lives. But what about if you are ill? What if you have a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis? Like me.

I have MS and I cannot tell you how many times someone has said to me about another MS’er, “OMG, should she be drinking?” I take offense at such questions.

My dream response (I only imagine saying this, but I long for the day when it makes it out of my mouth for real) is: “OMG, should you be judging other people? Because I highly doubt that was true concern about her health emitting from your mouth and more about judging her. If you were truly concerned, you’d go up to her and ask to have a chat with her and tell her your concerns.” People who care about you call you over to talk; they don’t call you OUT, in judgement, in front of others.

It took me a while to learn that lesson, and I’m guilty of being on both sides. I pray I’ve learned my lesson and am never “that girl” again.

Drinking with multiple sclerosis has always been a hot topic, whether we are between Thanksgiving and the New Year or celebrating the .04 percent of our noble Irish heritage. Being a writer with MS, I can tell you for every article against drinking alcohol with MS, there are four that say you can. While scientific research remains unclear, it is up to the individual to talk to their doctor and decide. It’s hard being sick. Sometimes all we want after not getting answers or disability payments is a good stiff drink.

I’m not here to tell you what to do. You are a big person with big issues in front of you and from where I’m sitting, it looks like you are doing a great job at managing your illness by informing yourself. In the words of the great G.I. Joe, “Knowing is half the battle.” So, here are a few tips to help you with that half of the battle:

First, understand the different alcoholic beverages and how each affects you

Alcoholic beverages are typically divided into three classes: beer, wine, and spirits. These typically contain between 3 and 40 percent alcohol by volume (or ABV). Beer (alcohol content: 4-6 percent ABV generally) and wine (alcohol content: 9-16 percent ABV) are alcoholic beverages produced by fermentation.

How long a beverage has fermented and how many times it is fermented are also critical in distinguishing potency. Spirits are where you need to be especially careful. Whisky, rum, brandy, vodka, and tequila all fall into this category. Distilled beverages like these have up to 40 percent ABV. Distilled just means that after it is fermented, they take anything out that may dilute the spirit.

How you metabolize what you drink depends on how much you weigh and the time between drinks. Here’s the blood alcohol chart to see where you stand. 

After this, it gets personal. What medications are you taking? Have you discussed how they interact with your doctor? Some people take this lightly, but it is a serious thing. Please, talk to your doctor about mixing drinking with your medications.

Second, remember that only you know how much you can handle!

Do you know your drinking limit, the point to stop right before you cross that line of no return? If you do, bravo! Cheers! If you don’t, or do but can’t stop, I strongly suggest you simply don’t start. Stick to the corned beef and cabbage. You could try the buddy system where you say to your friend, “Don’t let me have more than two drinks…” But in my humble experience, that never works. For me, that person usually got so drunk they couldn’t remind me not to go over my limit. Maybe I’m just a bad buddy picker?

Only you know your case history, what is agreed upon between your doctor and you, and how Irish you really are. So be honest with yourself. If you’re planning on drinking, always have a friend or partner with you who knows of your condition (I call it a husband, but whatever shape that takes for you is fine). And have an Uber or Lyft app on your phone to get home if you are questioning whether to drive. Finally, this St. Paddy’s Day, be your own advocate and toast (with green beer, fruit juice, or sparkling water) to the fact that you don’t give a damn what others think about you. Deepak Chopra once said, “It’s none of my business what other people think about me.” Cheers to that. He is totally Irish!

So you tell us: Can you drink on St. Patrick’s Day?


Jamie Tripp Utitus is a writer and MS thriver/advocate who sits on the National MS Advisory Board. She also authors the award-winning blog, Ugly Like Me, about her journey with MS. Her work has reached 97 countries. She resides outside NYC with her husband and two small children.