It’s cool to cut back on alcohol
For decades we’ve been educated on the negative health impacts of drinking alcohol. Alcohol is bad for us, and we all know it.
But we keep doing it – four out of five Kiwis drink, one in five drink hazardously.
Lisa King, founder of nonalcoholic RTD company AF Drinks, says that stoking fear about the dangers of drinking hasn’t worked.
And her company is taking an alternative path towards improving our drinking behaviour.
‘‘In the past, if you quit drinking, you became a social pariah. You must have been an alcoholic, or had a health scare. You joined the ranks of ex-addicts and people who didn’t drink because they were just a bit boring,’’ she says.
Today, what King’s found is a world of healthy, successful, popular people who’ve cut down or given up alcohol for an entirely different set of reasons – wanting to become more productive and happier.
‘‘When I heard that Pharrell Williams doesn’t drink, it made me feel like not drinking could become something aspirational,’’ says King.
‘‘Then I learned about Jennifer Lopez, Blake Lively, Bradley Cooper, Lily Allen, Bella Hadid – all these people you think of as fun, outgoing, thriving people, and who don’t drink.’’
AF’s mission is to improve the social acceptance of drinking less, making it cool to cut back. And their research supports the approach.
‘‘We see that people whose friends consider not drinking ’aspirational’ are over twice as likely as others to cut down themselves.’’
AF’s podcast ‘Drunk AF’ seeks to surface stories of well-known New Zealanders who have a different relationship with alcohol.
Host James Hurman says ‘‘we want to show people that many of those they look up to are in the ‘sober curious’ camp.’’
Guests have included comedians Guy Williams and Dai Henwood, actor Claire Chitham, and scientists Siouxie Wiles and Michelle Dickinson.
People’s assumption that something was wrong made giving up frustrating for Dickinson.
‘‘I’d often be asked if I was pregnant or had a medical issue when I said I didn’t drink.’’
This social dissonance is a barrier – one King believes can be crossed as drinking less becomes more normal.
‘‘We’re tracking what we call the ‘AF number’,’’ King says.
‘‘It’s the number of people the average New Zealander knows who have significantly reduced their drinking in the past year.’’
The idea was borrowed from Covid’s R number, which measures the spread-ability of the virus.
‘‘We believe that as our AF number increases, so will social acceptance of, and even aspiration toward, drinking less. And that this will eventually mean sober curiosity goes viral.’’
New Zealand’s AF number was 0.84 in 2021 and has risen to 0.94 in 2022 – suggesting that we’re moving steadily toward the point where we all know at least one person who’s recently cut down.
‘‘Not drinking has been too weird, for too long,’’ King says.
‘‘Once people see others around them cutting back as normal, even aspirational, it’ll become a much more comfortable choice for all of us.’’
This article is published in association with AF Drinks as part of a commercial arrangement between Stuff and AF Drinks.