Epic Fail for Dry January? Daytime Drinking in Lockdown? Too Much Toking Going On? No Worries (Part Four)

Dry Jan, AF Beer And All That

Blimey, quarantining is good for the word-count and for getting the working day organised. The old gym habit (cycling to gym, hour class, cycling back home) which used to take two hours out of the morning has telescoped into a 40 minute online class. Thinking about the gym yuk factor of sweat, out-breath, sticky surfaces and people’s body fluids dripping onto the floor (yes, this happens in a decent intensity class), I don’t feel like I’ll ever be going back. Aerosol-spread viruses with speech-generated particles (clever little bastards) are clearly going to be with us permanently now: a new epoch of home-based productivity awaits.

So you can understand how easily what began as a ‘Dry Jan’ one-off Worthing interview turned into a 4 parter that only got written up during lockdown (hey, thanks, lockdown! silver linings and all that – for some of us).

To round off what we’ve heard from baby-boomer mindful drinkers and Gen Z moderate tokers, WoBy has turned in this final part to a couple of specialists for a word.

Tom sells alcohol for a living. He’s Gen X and therefore right in the middle of the boomers and post-millenials we’ve met so far. Interesting person to hear from, then. Tom begins from a stance – for me personally, it’s about quality, not quantity.

He confesses that during his younger years, he did the thing of getting pissed, but it’s something he presents as a phase that you grow out of.

I’ve never done Dry January – my idea for many years has been to drink less, but drink better – don’t mindlessly pour.

Dry January is a bit ridiculous really – a tag, from the people who run it. Giving up for a month but then going back – is it gonna change anything? If you think you drink too much, maybe think about why you do that? If you’ve got a problem with alcohol, don’t just abstain – look at the issues behind it.

And if you enjoy alcohol, then enjoy the process – engage with it. For me, wine and beer is entertainment – I engage with it. That’s easy to do now, we’ve got access to better things. In the past there wasn’t so much good beer or wine.

Of course, there’s a social aspect to drinking too – the pub, going out, all that. But you don’t want to be going too much.

Tom pauses, considers, sums up his philosophy.

Just drink like an adult.

What does Tom think about low ABV / AF? He sells a fair bit of beer of this ilk, but not wine.

The 2% – 3% beers … going back 5 years ago, it was all horrible, but now there’s much better stuff at that level. If you just want one after work, say, and you don’t want a strong drink, this is a great option. When craft beer took off, it was all strong stuff, but now there’s a good choice. Like Kernel at 2.5%, or Good Things Brewery, at 1.5%.

Yeah, WoBy’s household sometimes buys stuff which the trade names as ‘table beer‘, which apparently, we musn’t insist is the same as the ‘mild’ that our grandads drank in the 1950s. But ‘table beer’ does feel like a similar easy-quaff: a refreshing drink with an ABV around 3%, making it posible to stay out for an evening without losing your keys, your mind, or your reputation.

And then there’s ‘session beer‘, which is a controversial classification in the trade. From the consumer point of view, frankly, one six-foot tall and beefy 20 year old’s session is likely a five-foot skinny 50 year old’s downfall, so you have to take this ‘session’ concept a bit personally. It’s good to be getting all these options and categories into the market, but in the end, personal responsibility for checking alcohol content, knowing your own body, and pacing yourself is still yours.

one six-foot tall and beefy 20 year old’s ‘session’ beer is likely a five-foot skinny 50 year old’s downfall

But once again, WoBy has got onto talking about beer and neglected the wine. What about low ABV or AF wine? I’ve tasted a couple of truly horrible fruity rough things in the search for moderation and decided I’d rather let a bottle of decent wine drag over a couple of days, with tiny glasses. (A full shot glass of strong red – decently aerated – is a joy to sip).

It doesn’t yet happen. What you can get is really nice grape juice from decent wine producers. You can get Merlot grape juice and other varieties. And you can get some sweet naturally low ABV 5 – 6% wines.

But to get most low ABV wine, you’re either going to have to add loads of chemicals and stuff into it, or put it through some sort of chemical process. People often don’t realise that the low ABV wine is processed. With beer, it’s different.

Tom’s overall advice is to take a holistic view and to pursue quality and good health. I’d say – look at your mental wellbeing, look at your life, your diet, excercise – check your lifestyle. Instead of buying two bottles of £7 wine, try buying one bottle of £15 wine and it’ll be both better wine and a better experience.

Sounds like good information and excellent advice. Cheers!

Photo: PILS – Prévention Information Lutte contre le Side

Drink, Drugs, Recovery, Addictions: Capitalism’s Narco Spiral

WoBy’s last call is a drink and drugs specialist, Blaine. Specialist not in terms of selling or using the stuff, but in terms of career, which has brought years of research, expertise and reflection.

Blaine starts by pointing out how society and the law drags people into thinking negatively about illicit substances while overlooking all the licit ones we’re permitted – encouraged – to use.

Anthropology is, once again, helpful here, being a branch of studies which get beyond culturally and historically specific ‘common sense’ knowledge and takes nothing for granted. Anthropology has for a long while worked alongside history and sociology to trace the ways in which producers and consumers alike are drawn into neat systems and networks where exploitation, self-exploitation and addiction meet. Could they even run capitalism without caffeine and sugar, Ackroyd‘s ‘sweet malefactor’? David Courtwright’s very useful concept of ‘limbic capitalism‘ speaks to this question, while de Sutter’s recent Narcocapitalism has a very precise discussion of the drive towards ‘anaesthetised’ subjects – the counterpart to Preciado‘s hyper-stimulated human at the mercy of ‘Pharmaco-pornographic Politics’. Using intoxicants is, at its heart, a form of consumption – where an imperative towards perpetual consumption is the first commandment of our socio-economic system (as we see in the current anxities about the lack of shopping which Covid has wrought).

Blaine begins. I had an interesting experience when I was doing training with Met police school involvement officers on drug education and teaching approaches. This particular group were all in their forties or older, very concerned about young people’s lives and well-being, and quick to realise that the exercise I invited them to do at the start of the two days – ‘my drug using career’ – included alcohol. Their stories of police drinking culture were, ahem, sobering. Drinking seemed to be the focus of social life for newly qualified constables living in section houses. The police officers there said they spent a lot of money on booze. They also said that as they grew older, they still spent quite highly on alcohol, but for smaller amounts – they were all into fine wine clubs and malt whisky societies. Better quality, lower quantity.

Been hearing that all over the place. Hey, what about lockdown?

My local observations are that many younger people – especially but not solely – are replacing weight-lifting at the gym with walking home from the supermarket with cases of 24 bottles or cans of beer.

Makes sense. Not as a can-hoisting workout strategy, but because – as lots of hardcore gym bunnies will acknowledge – there can be a dependency aspect to the fitness habit. We humans can switch our search for something to lean on, or something to fill the void, in any direction. A recent issue of the Journal of Extreme Anthropology gives us some ethnographic detail on this – along with a few careful thoughts about the differences between a ‘harm-reduction’ approach to substance use and the popular ‘recovery’ model.

Back to Blaine’s observations on lockdown.

I also guess/observe that some households are getting together at weekends to drink together – so the drinking has been displaced. There’s also been an increase in home-delivery of alcohol – it’s always been there, but seems to be thriving at the moment. Interesting to see if bars and so on operate at the same levels when lock-down is lifted.

While I can’t imagine going back to gym, an online virtual evening out is not the same – no matter how good they can be. The pull of the micro-pub is the intimacy and up-close sociability.

How about some reading or links to check out, from you as a specialist? PHE and NIHCE/ NICE can be worth checking out for resources. ChemSex groups have sound information on keeping safe and on harm reduction – including alcohol. Monthly magazine Drink and Drug News, is worth looking at.

From this baby-boomer, moderation is (once more) the personal stance. He has, sipping tendencies – it’s the enjoyment and savouring, not the inebriation, which is the focus here.

Realism & Wisdom Beyond The ‘Drunk: Sober’ Binary. (In Fact, Death To All Binaries!)

The professional observation is that WoBy’s interviewees are being realistic and wise. A message of mindful moderation is a great tag-line. And abstinence is, in my view, an unrealistic fallacy – and the root of much of our recent governments’ failure to fully understand addiction and put in place appropriate (and adequately funded) structures, which are based on evidence and not moralising. Some anthropologists concur and point to a ‘treatment gap‘; others describe more radical approaches – way beyond any ‘harm reduction versus recovery’ debate – such as psychedelic support.

Rounding up the messages of the past 4 weeks’ interviews, then: – moderation is good, feasible and a growing desire across all generations; you don’t necessarily need to hunt for 100% sobriety; maybe a binary of ‘drunk or sober’ is actually a harmful way to approach intoxicants; modernity socialises us into dualisms like ‘drunk or sober’ while capitalism actively works to keep us addicted – but only to certain substances; don’t forget to enjoy yourself. All this remains your personal responsbility – but it’s also highly social. If you’re worried about your use of anything, as our wise under-20s counselled – forgive yourself and keep walking forward into new habits, even if you trip up.

(How did this generation get so wise, so young? That’s a recurring finding, week on week, as WoBy wanders about talking to folk).

So while hip sobriety (like the earlier straight-edge movement) have something interesting to say, for many of us, a less polarised framework is more helpful.

Daytime boozing in lockdown? Too much toking? Don’t get into self-hate or self-blame, don’t get stuck in the moment. Maybe look at some of the moderation and mindfulness support, try dilution of the habit (mix a bit of CBD into that skunk, go for low ABV drinks, allow yourself intoxicant-free weeks, days).

And hear the call of the new generation, who are telling us that the ‘real rebellion‘ is to resist the energetic work constantly done within a capitalist system to turn us all addict and gambler.

Published by Caroline

After 30 years as an academic anthropologist doing ethnography in India and the Gulf, Caroline now avoids airports and spends a lot of time walking, cycling or quad skating around for conversations and stories in their adopted home of Worthing. Caroline writes, coaches postgrads, and does public sector consultancy work and project evaluation, using creative research methods.

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