You dont *have* to get wasted all summer, Toronto

Summer's almost here, and with it will come a cheerful onslaught of seasonal novelty beers, inviting patios, tipsy park hangs.


Summer’s almost here, and with it will come a cheerful onslaught of seasonal novelty beers, inviting patios, tipsy park hangs and booze-sponsored arts and music festivals.

It’s going to be great.

But there’s something else going on. Anyone else notice that there are more young people talking about ditching alcohol completely and going sober lately?

New York has seen the rise of concepts like sober juice crawls, but the sobriety movement among millennials in Toronto (thankfully) appears to be less about being on-trend and more about taking care. In the last month, local writers like freelancer Anne T. Donahue and Buzzfeeds Lauren Strapagiel have shared personal essays about their struggles with alcohol and what its like to be sober. Booze-less dance parties have popped up at venues like Double Double Land and all-ages, alcohol-free cafe D-Beatstro. This past week, Budweiser launched its new soft-drink competitor Prohibition Brew in Canada, which tastes just like Bud but with the alcohol removed.

Toronto art student Inez Genereux had never considered sobriety as a realistic option until she met a fellow artist and alcohol and drug counsellor on the internet. He took unflinching, realistic photos she admired and was well-liked among her friends in the local art scene. He was also a recovering alcoholic and had been sober for two years.

They went to rehab and were really passionate now about being sober and about how much their life had changed since getting sober, the 24-year-old remembers. We just started talking about it and I was like, Everything youre saying makes so much sense and youre not some loser whos just like sitting at home with no friends and no social life, and youre actually like out there, making art, living your life to a very full potential. I was like, That looks really appealing. That looks amazing.

But if youve ever experimented with a Dry January or gone booze-free because youre broke, you know its not exactly easy to be sober in Hogtown.

Our main source of culture in Toronto is entertainment, and by entertainment I mean restaurants and bars, the now-sober Genereux says. Everything is set up to be based around drinking. Every single experience you have in your adult life you go to a wedding, you go to a funeral, you go to a birthday party, you go to a staff party, youre hanging out with your friends, you go to the park, youre going on a first date, youre breaking up with someone literally everything, its just so normal to pair those things with alcohol.

She’s not wrong. A 2013 CAMH study reveals Canadians drink more than 50 per cent above the global average and we binge-drink more than most Europeans. And according to the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, contrary to British stats on millennial drinking, our level of consumption has stayed pretty consistent among adults of drinking age.

But the percentage of risky drinkers which, by the way, is someone who drinks just three to four drinks on a single occasion at least once a month has decreased slightly for people between the ages of 20 and 34 in recent years. Similarly, CCSA reports that some alcohol serving programs report that people are more sensitive to overdrinking now, and as a result they train servers and bartenders to be more diligent monitors of that behaviour.

Whether its because of the new research that links alcohol consumption to more than 200 different diseases or types of injuries, or because of a heightened awareness of the nature of problem drinking, this minority of millennials is health-conscious, self-aware and perhaps more informed about the risks than previous generations.

“You hit a point where youre like, ‘I either have to be a sober person or I will accept that my life will go in this other direction that is probably quite dangerous for myself or other people,’ says Anne T. Donahue, who is 30 years old and recently marked her third year of sobriety in her weekly newsletter. “I’m really stubborn, so as soon as I decided I wasn’t going to drink for real, I wasn’t going to drink for real. It was very easy for me in that way.”

Some of us (myself included I love summer novelty drinks!) would find it much more difficult.

Fortunately, there are options and young sober people dont have to be hermits. Most bars serve non-alcoholic beer and/or mocktails. Local craft breweries are an exception. Reps at Bellwoods Brewery say they would prefer to serve naturally fermented options such as kombucha as opposed to alcohol-free beers (the alcohol in beer occurs naturally, so the process involves equipment designed specifically for the purpose of removing it), but none have passed the smell test quite yet.

Alcoholics Anonymous remains one of the more popular options to find support. But ask, and ye shall receive (from the internet, anyway): Reddits /stopdrinking threads are a support group in your pocket, linking sober people from around the world. Theres even a daily check-in for members to unify and commit to sobriety for the next 24 hours, no matter what their reasons are for ditching booze for the day.

Sober Grid is an app that launched last July and similarly connects users, but geographically. You can track your progress and call on nearby sober allies, the majority of which are between the ages of 25 and 40, in times of need or a risk of relapse. And for people who work in the service industry, ROAM Toronto was created to provide healthy living resources to local hospitality workers.

If you have a friend that has decided to stop drinking, don’t make a huge deal out of it. Says Donahue, “Only weirdos made a big thing out of it. No real friend did that.

But if your relationship has been largely based on hanging out and drinking, do not be shocked if those encounters become fewer and farther between.

Genereux suggests befriending sober people to offset Torontos boozy culture. She doesnt relish going to bars anymore, but shes retained a social life and says overall, sobriety has served her very well.

If anything, its had an extremely positive effect on my life, she says. Its been literally nothing but positive. All of the maybe negative things that have come up are just because now Im actually dealing with issues in my life. So there are times when Im like, Oh I dont feel confident today, I wish I could just have a drink and relax with my friends. Its like, well, theres a bigger issue there that needs to be addressed. And now I can do that.

kater@nowtoronto.com | @katernow

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