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Sobriety, a Solution For All?

Audrey Bérubé, AQCID
19 August 2020

In Canada and Quebec, alcohol is the most consumed1 substance. In 2017, 83% of Quebecers aged 15 and over, representing more than 8/10 Quebecers, will use alcohol. Of this proportion, 44% drink once a week or more2. These statistics inevitably lead us to reflect on the place alcohol holds in our daily lives.

On television, public figures enjoy an uninhibited drink on a variety show. They are served a specific vine variety and take time to name the vineyard and the vintage, allowing the viewers to get the substance as well.

“Come on, just one drink!”, “Why don’t you drink?” At parties with friends, people who decide not to drink are often asked to join in and have a drink too. Since alcohol is associated with social events and festivities, it can sometimes be difficult to be THE person who doesn’t drink.

Prevention messages about hazardous alcohol use portrays festive individuals who can make choices. Other alcohol-related commercials portray refined individuals seeking advice on how to get the best possible product in “L’espace Cellier”. Our state-owned alcohol distribution company even has a consumer loyalty program in place. They are offered recommendations for products according to their tastes and are offered discounts when they are loyal consumers. Furthermore, messages related to other substances, such as cannabis, portray a risky substance, with users inevitably being surprised by the effects and are unable to make informed decisions about their use.

“Cheers!” we chant when we raise our glasses of alcohol. Yet, the costs (health care, lost productivity, criminal justice, etc.) related to alcohol use in Canada are $14.6 billion, or 38.1% of total annual costs for all substances combined3. And the double standard lives on, valuing alcohol use, on the one hand, and demonizing substances such as cannabis on the other.

One might ask why, as a society, we treat a substance like alcohol so kindly.

Meanwhile, the media are increasingly talking about sobriety. It is showcased through applications or sober challenges. Public figures, actors, comedians, stand-up comedians, and athletes are promoting it on TV, radio, newspapers, and social media. Many benefits are associated with it such as saving money, weight loss, improved sleep, higher energy levels, better mood, etc. These can be observed after a short period of time without using alcohol.

“Come on! Everybody loves having a drink!” Despite the growing popularity of sobriety, is it possible that alcohol addiction is still a taboo issue that is complex to address? Is it possible that our trivialized relationship with alcohol is complicating things? Sobriety, which is gaining in popularity, provides an opportunity to become aware of alcohol consumption and initiate a dialogue about its use. As a consumer, the consideration for the practice of sobriety allows for open reflection about our consumption habits and the reasons that we drink. However, does the speech target all consumers? Must sobriety become everyone’s ultimate goal? Could it be that the speeches held around substance abuse and the speeches around sobriety rule out a group of people? There are different types of consumption and consumer profiles are heterogeneous. It would be absurd to imagine that we could have the same speech for everyone. The sobriety movement brings forth a message: Drinking is a matter of choice. And the first step usually involves analyzing our own consumption habits. Above all, alcohol use remains a personal choice in the same as the choice of sobriety. Sobriety should not be promoted at the expense of those who choose to take a critical perspective on their use and continue to drink. Awareness of alcohol abuse is just as important as concern about the impact of excessive drinking. However, is the answer to this question complete sobriety? The important thing to remember is the concept of enlightened choice. And the ability to make an enlightened choice comes with being well informed.

We wonder about the effect of sobriety in the media. Why all this media coverage? The intention isn’t to stop promoting sobriety or slowing down on drinking. Our purpose is to deepen the reflection about the role of alcohol in our society and the impact of the dichotomy between promoting alcohol and achieving sobriety. Alcohol addiction is still a sensitive issue in our community. Before promoting sobriety for all, can we open a discussion on ways to achieve it?

If you are concerned about your drinking habits and have questions, the Alcochoix+ program is there for you. The goal of this program is to empower people to make decisions about their alcohol consumption. The person is the expert and the program is there to help you find solutions adapted for you.

This program will soon be adapted for cannabis users. Stay on the lookout.

1 Portrait of alcohol consumption in Quebec and Canada. (2019). Found on https://www.inspq.qc.ca/substances-psychoactives/alcool/dossier/portrait-de-la-consommation-alcool-au-canada-et-au-quebec
2 Éduc’alcool. (2017). Quebecers and alcohol. Found on https://educalcool.qc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Les-Québécois-et-lalcool-2017.pdf
3 Scientific Work Group on the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms. Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms (2007-2014), prepared by the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, Ottawa, ON, Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, 2018.