Sean O’Connor and Barry Tyson, founders of Mindful Drinking SA recently hosted Cape Town’s first Mindful Drinking Festival at the Kirstenbosch Stone Cottages.
Well-timed on the back of “Sober October” the event that was attended by over 1000 visitors. The drawcard was a wide range of “non-alcoholic” or “alcohol-free” drinks that included “beers, wines, sparkling wines, gins, spirits, as well as tonics, natural juices and kombuchas.”
What makes this festival so interesting is that not only did they promote only “alcohol-free” drinks but that the thrust of this festival hinged on the practice of “mindfulness”.
For those that may not know, “mindfulness” is a colloquial term closely associated with personal behaviour change and transformation practices in behavioural psychology. These practices are commonly used across the spectrum of addiction recovery (albeit by many different names and formats). The practise teaches awareness of self, emotional states and regulation.
Festivals of this nature reignite the juxtaposing debates about the risk vs rewards of people in recovery starting to consciously consume non-alcohol-associated beverages.
Not an entirely new narrative and in circles of “harm reduction” and “abstinence” or whichever motivational circumstances that people find themselves in for/against drinking non-alcoholic drinks while in recovery.
Conventional abstinence wisdom takes the stance that “non-alcoholic drinks are intended for non-alcoholics”. In other words a person in recovery from alcohol, should not be toying with any products or prospects that have an association to consuming alcohol. Under any circumstances.
These hardline principals may be effective and valid in many cases, yet they also don’t any leave room for people on the fringes of alcohol use disorders or individuals with unique perspectives about what they “should and should not” do within their personal alcohol or non-alcohol consumption or recovery.
In reality, it is commonplace to find people in alcohol recovery, openly opting for non-alcoholic alcohol-associated drinks at social events e.t.c Yet while still maintaining their abstinence from alcohol. Enjoying a “beer” with mates while watching the rugby world cup for instance.
Under most “normal social circumstances in South Africa”, the introduction of mainstream non-alcoholic products may work well when coupled with “mindful drinking”, “non-drinking”, “responsible drinking” social acceptance.
If it becomes socially acceptable amongst “drinkers” for other people in their circles to opt for sober non-alcoholic drinks or to be moderating their alcohol intake by drinking non-alcoholic alternatives. Great!
Promoting “mindful non-alcoholic drinks” may very well be a positive step toward dismantling the social pressures surrounding alcohol consumption inside South Africa’s prominent “drinking culture”.
“Sorry folks, I’m switching to non-alcoholic drinks for [XYZ reasons].”
The non-alcoholic target markets in South Africa
The rapidly growing sober options market has been identified by many alcohol brands and the introduction of new alcohol-free products appeals to a far wider audience than one might expect.
- People in recovery
- People that want to moderate their usage
- People that don’t like alcohol
- People that don’t drink alcohol for religious reasons
The caution, however, is that these alcohol-free products are legally permitted to advertise as aspirational lifestyle products on mainstream supermarket shelves nationwide; which is a big no-no in the alcohol advertising industry.
Consumers, children, people in recovery etc are all exposed to unregulated alcohol brands and even if the products themselves don’t contain alcohol the exposure to alcohol-associated brands is still debatable.
It is that association that is the sticky point.
- Would you send your child to school with a six-pack of non-alcoholic beer?
- Would you uncork a bottle of non-alcoholic wine at your desk at work?
As consumers, we are still mindful of these associations and aware that they are still alcohol branded and associated drinks. Even if they do not contain alcohol they are inappropriate for the school playground, inappropriate to give to children and inappropriate in a professional workplace.
While it is not against the law: The responsibilities around alcohol brand associations still lies on the consumer making more conscious decisions when purchasing or consuming these types of products.
The fact that product deviations of this nature allow alcohol brands to successfully sidestep the many imposed boundaries of alcohol promotion, means only that we should be asking more questions of them and more importantly ourselves.
That is the whole point of “Mindful Drinking”.
The bottom line is that this alcohol is deeply stitched into the fabric of our society. There will always be a supply and demand chain and like it or not there will always be levels of promotion that we will have to deal with and accept the responsibility on.
Better decision-making is where mindfulness plays such a crucial role. Consciously choosing how, when and where you wish to engage with the process.
Mindful Drinking Festival accepts this responsibility with a far healthier dynamic, ethos, and etiquette. Albeit in some association to an industry that has a murky history and lacks in such candour.
Alcohol & Harm Reduction
A growing wave in the recovery community includes “recovery” in the format “harm reduction” or reducing the harm created by excessive alcohol use.
Alcohol Harm Reduction in practice is where people enter “alcohol recovery” but do not outright stop drinking. The intent is to maintain alcohol use yet with a more “conscious” or “mindful” strategy to mitigate excessive or self-destructive drinking.
Harm reduction as a concept it is worth highlighting, not only as a frequently requested practice at our treatment centre but in that non-alcoholic drinks can and do play a role in the process of learning to meditate harmful drinking.
Gary outlines harm reduction in his “successful drinking video”.
While most treatment centres advocate the view of total abstinence; Recovery Direct is one of the few treatment centres that holistically looks at the underlying causes for problematic alcohol use and offers client-centric solutions and support to help these people to re-establish control of their drinking.
Practising harm reduction for alcohol requires a deeper understanding, observation to conscious limitations through a range of progressive personalised strategies to be successful.
Building the resilience and ability to stop destructive alcohol use cycles and “drink normally again” is not “hard science” and requires ongoing assessment and direction.
People struggling with a present trauma event like a divorce, death, relationship issues, work stress may well be successful candidates for harm reduction treatment on an outpatient basis. It all comes down to accurate assessment, understanding where you are in the cycle and making personal growth choices based on the evidence and the mindful reality of each circumstance.
More about harm reduction
If you would like to know more about harm reduction therapy please contact our centre here.