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

No-Gan Jan, Footlongs, and Capitalismo Extremo

WoBy has spent a couple of sessions thinking about Worthing alcohol users, mis-users, refusers, and about those who are re-working our relationships to this powerful social tool (whether by promoting quality over quantity, cutting our drinking hours, popularising mindful drinking, or promoting low ABV / AF drinks). WoBy wanted to speak to some under 20s about their experiences with intoxicants and the whole feasting-fasting cycle.

This conversation widened the frame from alcohol – “the most widely used type of psychoactive agent in the world” as anthropologists note – and brought weed (which must take the runner-up popularity prize?) into the discussion.

No-Gan Jan is a fairly recend trend among young people. A few of my friends have done it – I’ve done it myself in the past. It’s a month of sobriety, trying abstinence. I think it’s a good idea – January is a good time to clean up.

How do people find it works for them?

Having that month and the campaign gives you a sense of motivation beyond just your own self-control – you’re not on your own.

The first 5 days are incredibly difficult, especially if you’re a daily user. It’s really hard to change your habits, and you have patterns that you’re used to, like for example, having a smoke at mealtimes. But after 5 days it gets easy – and actually fun. And you’re, like, woohoo, this is easy.

And what about abstinence as opposed to the moderation approach?

Well, some people do need to do cold turkey, because even with a tiny bit of temptation, they’d give in. But for most of us, doing cold turkey leads to falling into a build-up in the week before we start no-gan and in the week after we stop it – like smoking 3 grammes a day or something. So what I’m finding now is that it’s better to cut down rather than set a date and go without totally.

The thing is, bingeing is a big part of our culture – especially young people’s culture.

There’s this idea that you work really hard all day and then at the evening or weekend you binge. There’s this idea, that cos you work hard, it gives you an excuse to use substances irresponsibly. It’s hard to stop this abstinence sandwiched with bingeing pattern – you’re actually encouraged to live like that.

Yeah, all that ‘work hard, play hard’ ideology. What Briggs would call ‘capitalismo extremo‘.

And, of course, the seeds of addictive consumption that grow right in the heart of capitalism’s perfect consumer-subject. This has been recorded and analysed forever in academia, perhaps most excitingly in recent years by philosopher Paul Preciado, with the concept of the pharmacopornographic subjectivities that contemporary capitalism lures us to be. (Nerdiness OD alert! – there’s even a University of Cambridge thesis analysing Preciado’s analysis and some interesting work by Gerda Reith about how ‘the addict’ and ‘the gambler’ exemplify our society’s pathologies – and its entirely predictable outcomes).

Yeah, and you’re not credited in society or encouraged just to change your whole relationship with substances or cut down. Majorly this is to do with binge culture and with the normalisation of substances – I mean everything: caffeine, alcohol, tobacco. All of them are only really recently being seen as dangerous. Plus, there’s that stigma about using drink and drugs, so it’s a bit taboo and you don’t really get an open discourse in society.

Dry January feels like a sticking plaster on a gaping wound.

Dry January feels like a sticking plaster on a gaping wound. For society. Even at a personal level. You might spend 11 months on and one month off, and if you’re a heavy user it probably feels good to you to know that you can do that one month off, but in the grand scheme it probably doesn’t do much good for your health or for your psychology – it’s, like, just a little reassurance that you’re still in control of something that, actually, you’re majorly out of control with.

Do you think Dry Jan or no-Gan Jan lead to introspection and thinking about your relationship to substances?

Not necessarily. I remember idealising smoking so much that when I stopped for no-Gan Jan, I had the mindset of a victory lap when it ended, like – now I’m free. I never really anticipated or activated the joy of sober, cos I was so excited to be free at the end – that was the focus. I remember I had all my friends round the house on day 30, and they rolled a foot-long and I remember feeling sick and thinking – well, that was pointless, that whole month.

A Footlong (image from Reddit)

Legalise It?

Would legalisation change things, do you think?

Yes!! Even now, people want it, they want moderation. I know people, like me, who mix CBD hash and weed into what they buy, to get a cleaner, smaller high. Stuff with 60% THC and 40% CBD is a very well balanced smoke – these kinds of mixes are the top sellers in Amsterdam.

If only we could talk without all the false pretences and bravado or humour about substances and how we use them – but with respect and honesty instead – that would bring change .

What generational differences do you see in attidues to substances? My last interviewee talked about how us over 50s grew up with a really bad attitudes compared to you younger guys – like we really suffer from normalisation and all that bravado, self-medication, seeing substances as a necessary social tool, all that.

That question is a double-edged sword, really. Yes, there’s major generational differences but then, a couple of generations back, you guys didn’t have it all – maybe there was cocaine and MDMA, but now there’s stuff like ketamine. Same goes for the weed – it was there before, but now the availability is so high, it’s beome ingrained in society. We had drug dealers in school. I think it wasn’t so widespread in earlier generations.

And then, the binge element has increased in younger generations. But, because of that, it’s also led to a reaction – we want safe, clean and less heavy highs, or different ways to use it. By the time you’re 16, you’re so used to psychotic and mind-numbing skunk that you’re like – just give me the fucking CBD, for God’s sake.

Legalisation (or decriminalisation) certainly handles that problem.

Yeah. But I also wish, I think it’d be nice, if we could move to a place where we respect substances – all substances – and use them responsibly, as a large-scale social change. It’s so hard to do things on an individual level, where you’re going against the grain of the wider culture around you. You end up buying into these futile things like one month of sobriety in a while year of bingeing. I wish we could have a whole-culture change.

A final word – a word to those who fell off the wagon? To the lockdown daytime drinkers determined to do less of that or the quarantine tokers trying to re-assess how long they can eke it out until they have to meet the dealer again?

Cutting down is good. And if you’re doing better today than yesterday, then you’re actually doing better. If you’re moving in any way at all towards becoming a person who isn’t dependent on substances, then you’re doing well, you’re doing ok – keep on.

WoBy’s final interviews, in Part Four, are with two specialists.

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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