join the sober revolution!
I’ve woken up next to a stranger. A quick glance at my phone tells me that I drunk dialled my ex at 11pm, pocket dialled my parents at 1am, and my bank balance suggests I’ve become Shadows official sponsor. I’M NEVER DRINKING AGAIN.
New Zealand’s culture is saturated with messages about the hazardous practice of binge drinking, but what about grey area drinking? With a worldwide sober revolution gaining traction, sober curious students are finding progressive and positive support to live life large without alcohol.
So, what is grey area drinking? If we consider alcohol consumption as a spectrum, with light, occasional drinkers at one end and alcohol-dependent drinkers at the other, then grey area drinkers fall somewhere in between. This covers a massive percentage of the student drinking population, making grey area drinking remarkably common.
The signs that indicate you may be a grey area drinker include; fretting and regretting your alcohol consumption, making and breaking drinking rules to moderate your intake, and finding it hard to stay sober for extended periods. Are YOU drinking every weekend at the viaduct instead of finishing your assignment that’s due on Monday? If so, you may be a grey area drinker!
Grey area drinkers may also question their relationship with alcohol. While they don’t have a physical dependency, they often have a niggling feeling that alcohol negatively impacts their well-being, coupled with a desire to reduce their consumption, or abstain completely. Are YOU sick of the Sunday morning scaries and the embarrassment of drunken hookups? Read on!
When grey area drinkers raise concerns about their drinking to family and friends, they are often met with cries of, “You’re not THAT bad” and, “You definitely DON’T have a problem”. Adding to this, the phenomenal peer pressure to drink at uni leads many students to experience serious FOMO if they choose not to drink. This normalisation of drinking makes it challenging for students to recognise they have a problem and to do something about it.
Action Point states that 18 – 24 year olds consume the highest levels of alcohol in the country. However, you don’t have to hit rock bottom or identify as having Alcohol Use Disorder to re-examine your drinking practices and become sober curious.
The sober curious movement promotes a lifestyle where health, well-being and mindfulness are prioritised, and drinking alcohol is low on the agenda.
A New Zealand Medical Journal study concluded that reducing alcohol consumption improves physical and mental health, social relationships and increases well-being. Other reported benefits are glowing skin, clearer eyes, increased mental clarity and better-quality sleep. You TOO could be the hottestest most put together student on campus, waking up fresh as a daisy on Mondays with an extra $50 in your bank account!
Fortunately, a groundswell of sober-positivity is emerging globally and here in New Zealand, providing increased support for the sober curious. With the recent introduction of sober-positive online communities, conscious clubbing, and the vast array of low-alcohol drinks now available, a sober revolution is at hand.
Spearheading the local sober revolution is Kiwi writer Lotta Dann with her sober memoir, Mrs D is Going Without. As a typical grey area drinker, Dann began questioning her increasing reliance on alcohol, ultimately leading her to decide to go alcohol-free. Her memoir describes her journey from a high-functioning, boozy housewife to a glorious sober blogger with signature dead-pan humour. Highlighting the highs and lows of sober living, Dann shares the tools she used to support her along the way.
After creating an anonymous blog to track her sober journey, Dann realised the transformative power of online support and launched the online recovery community, Living Sober in 2014. Living Sober promotes the benefits of being alcohol-free and provides a safe space for community members to find support and hear from experts. Scroll through the site’s Sober Toolbox and you’ll find tips on socialising sober, drink alternatives and how to get through “Wine O’Clock”.
Adding to the online support is UK-based former athlete-turned alcohol-free coach Andy Rumage, with the Dryy app. Dryy touts a “community full of passionate, positive people looking to transform their lives by taking a break from alcohol”. Members can join subgroups like Dryy 18-30 and Dryy New Zealand. The app also features daily live streams, with the infectiously optimistic founder Andy addressing subjects like “Why the alcohol-free revolution is unstoppable” and “Why your Dryy adventure gets easier over time”.
With the emergence of these online communities, sober curious students can now find a wealth of resources and like-minded peer-support.
For sober adventurers wanting to dance in a club without being surrounded by drunk people, conscious clubbing is here!
Morning People hold alcohol and drug-free dance parties in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Designed for early risers with sessions running from 6.30am – 8.00am, their tagline is, “Party First Work Later”. Morning People offers a pumping dance floor with DJs busting out electronic music so sober curious students can get in their dancing fix before lectures and without the late nights.
Starting in Hawaii, Ecstatic Dance has spread globally and now also holds evening events in Auckland and Christchurch. Ecstatic Dance combines the “freedom of a DJ’d festival experience with the awareness of a conscious dance practice”. Three guidelines for participating are no shoes, no booze (or other drugs), and no talking (body language only). The DJs guide attendees through a warm-up activity, a 2 hour Ecstatic Dance, and a wind-down period which includes sound healing or meditation.
With the arrival of conscious clubbing, sober curious students now have a safe and supportive environment to throw some shapes on the dance floor.
Alcohol-driven social events have traditionally created challenges for the sober curious, especially regarding drink choices. However, many alcohol-free alternatives now exist for students wanting to socialise sober. With bars and restaurants consistently featuring fancy mocktails and no or low-alcohol beers on their menus, sober students have plenty of choices to quench their thirst.
Local online stores are also popping up, offering extensive ranges of non-alcoholic beers, ciders and wine, and alcohol-free spirits.
With their tagline “Making Adulting Easy”, online store Freasy offers a Build Your Box option where you can mix and match alcohol-free drinks and get them delivered straight to your door.
Clear Head Drinks is another online store offering an assortment of alcohol-free alternatives. Their blog posts spotlight New Zealand wines with zero alcohol and direct visitors to events and festivals where their alcohol-free range of drinks can be tried and purchased.
The burgeoning sober revolution is a positive step towards supporting the sober curious and may contribute to reducing unsafe drinking practices in the student population. However, there is more work to do.
When asked what the biggest obstacle for the grey area drinker is, Kiwi author Lotta Dann commented, “the booze soaked environment we live in”. Dann explains further, “When alcohol is presented everywhere like it’s a fun, harmless thing—cheap as chips and readily available wherever you go—it’s harder to listen to that little worried voice in your head and make moves to stop drinking”.
Dann hits on a great point. With the advent of supermarkets selling alcohol, the drinking age lowering to 18 and bottle shops appearing on every corner, public exposure to alcohol has dramatically increased over the past 25 years. In addition, Alcohol Healthwatch (AHW) states that, as of 2018, the annual advertising spend of Big Alcohol in New Zealand is a whopping $61 million. AHW also details the harms of alcohol sponsorship in sports and the individuals and groups pushing for stricter controls.
Dann calls for alcohol law reform, pointing to tighter regulations for the sale and marketing of alcohol. “Not only would that give people more opportunity to pause for thought when consuming it,” she continues, “it would also lessen (sic) triggers for those who are trying not to”.
Choosing to be alcohol-free in an alcohol-centric world can be challenging as a uni student. However, there is growing support for the sober curious shooting for sobriety. With increased peer support, inspirational literature about quitting, alcohol-free events, and low-alcohol drinks becoming more mainstream, students who want to live without alcohol are finally finding their footing.
Kick the Sunday morning scaries for good and join the sober revolution!
If you are concerned about your drinking, please contact the following organisations for support:
Living Sober https://livingsober.org.nz/
NZ Drug Foundation http://drugfoundation.org.nz/
Drug Help http://drughelp.org.nz/
Alcohol Drug Helpline https://alcoholdrughelp.org.nz/