Thoughts on abstinence: one month a year or one day a week?

With a number of Quebecers abstaining from alcohol during February now, we thought this would be a good time to take a closer look at the phenomenon. More than one abstinence movement has sprung up in recent years. It all started in Australia, with “Ocsober.” Then came “Dry January” in the United Kingdom. Not long ago, the “Défi 28 jours” was introduced in Quebec by la Fondation Jean Lapointe and the Canadian Cancer Society started “Dry Feb”. All are campaigns to raise money for worthwhile organizations.

It is perfectly legitimate for people to choose abstinence, whether for a day, a week, a month, a year or a whole lifetime. Éduc’alcool has the utmost respect for such a decision, as choice is a golden rule of the culture of moderation that we promote. We even provide recipes for non-alcoholic cocktails (www.alternalcool.com) since we recommend that people who do drink alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

But when you highlight a whole month of abstinence as an exploit to crow about, doesn’t that raise some deeper questions about our society’s relationship with alcohol?

Such as, how is abstinence, however long it lasts, a remarkable accomplishment? Sure, it’s nice to have a drink, and not drinking for a month means temporarily depriving yourself of the pleasure. But it shouldn’t be a heroic act. If people find it hard to abstain, it may mean they have developed a dependence on alcohol, or that they are feeling social pressure to drink.

This is an issue that concerns us all. In the United Kingdom, it was noted recently that on the last day of January, i.e. the last day of Dry January, alcohol sales skyrocket, as temporary teetotalers go overboard to “compensate” for the deprivation of the previous month. Drinking excessively for 11 months and then having no alcohol for one month is not exactly an ideal model for drinking.

Without taking anything away from any of these initiatives, which fund organizations that deserve every penny raised, Éduc’alcool simply asks those who drink to abstain from alcohol one, or, ideally, two days a week. This helps prevent alcohol dependence, in keeping with the low-risk drinking guidelines. That way, abstinence, for whatever time period, is neither experienced nor perceived as a heroic exploit. It is just another minor deprivation—like shaving your head or growing your mustache—that people agree to in the name of a good cause.

Day by ordinary day, moderation is always in good taste.

Hubert Sacy
Director General, Éduc’alcool