Why sobriety is trending among mindful millennials.
For a growing number of twentysomethings, a focus on healthy living is replacing the need to get wasted every weekend. Should we all reconsider our relationship with alcohol?
There was a Time when Jacques Martiquet couldn’t imagine a night out without a drink. Extroverted and charming, the 22-year-old UBC pharmacology graduate nonetheless felt nervous about stepping onto the dance floor without a social lubricant. “I used to be pretty anxious, and I wouldn’t dance in public,” he admits.
How times have changed. As the founder of Party4Health, Martiquet has organised more than 40 sober events, altogether attracting more than 1,500 participants in the past year. These have included bike raves, hike raves and undie runs—all of which have involved dancing in public, often in costume or underwear—without the benefit of liquid courage or drugs.
Martiquet is part of a small but significant cohort of young people turning their backs on drinking culture. It’s part of an international movement toward “mindful drinking”—mindfulness and moderation that embraces partying without getting plastered.
And it couldn’t come at a better time. Statistics released this month from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) show increased alcohol and cannabis consumption across all age groups in B.C. It’s a stark contrast to international trends, with studies from more than 20 developed countries indicating decreased alcohol consumption among young adults worldwide. In the U.S., Nielsen research indicates that 18-to-34year-olds are drinking less than those in other age groups, while in the U.K. official youth drinking rates are at historic lows. And even across Canada, the fastest-growing group of “risky drinkers” are not teenagers, but women over 35.
Dr. Tim Stockwell from the CISUR suggests that B.C. could be an outlier due to the introduction of relaxed liquor laws in 2014, growing acceptance of cannabis and increased financial stability. “There’s often an uptick in consumption with the strength of the economy,” he says. “We know that per capita consumption has been going up since the end of the financial crisis.”
Even so, there appears to be an appetite for drug- and alcoholfree events in health-conscious Vancouver. Before he founded Party4Health in January last year, Martiquet helped run morning Wake n Shake pre-work yoga dance parties that regularly attracted about
100 people and inspired him to start his own organization. Party4Health now regularly hosts between 100 and 700 people—most of whom are under 30—at sober bike raves, umbrella dances and morning beach parties. The group could soon have competition from U.S.-based Daybreaker, an organization that runs sober 6 a.m. yoga raves in 26 cities worldwide and is currently advertising for people to host YVR events that involve an hour of yoga followed by two hours of dancing.
These in-person dry events reflect a growth of global online support groups for non-drinkers and “sober-curious” individuals. U.K.-based Club Soda and Australian-based Hello Sunday Morning are two international brands that claim thousands of Canadians among their digital following, including hundreds of Vancouverites. But the question remains—can mindful drinking make an impact in boozeloving B.C.?
Martiquet is optimistic. Although not a teetotaller, he no longer needs alcohol to get a party started. For one thing, he says, it’s harder to dance with a drink in your hand. But he is also serious about challenging social norms.
It’s harder to dance with a drink in your hand.”
“It frustrates me that partying is regarded as an enemy of public health. In my life, partying is exactly what I need to revitalize,” says Martiquet. He argues that a night out doesn’t have to lead to violence or alcohol poisoning. “That’s a specific type of partying that has been commoditized by the drug and alcohol industries.”
Still, it’s not easy to break the social pressure to drink during patio season. Club Soda co-founder Laura Willoughby says bars present a major hurdle by not stocking attractive nonalcoholic options. She encourages consumers to play an active role in getting kombucha, craft sodas and fancy mocktails in stock. And this generation could be ready for change. “There is a rising mindfulness in young people and it can lead to more-critical attitudes toward marketing material that is shoved down our throats about alcohol,” Martiquet says. Whether that translates to a real reduction in official statistics remains to be seen.