Dr Emma Davies is a lecturer in the Department of Psychology, Social Work and Public Health at Oxford Brookes University. In this article, she provides some reflections on alcohol free events, such as sober raves, as a topic for research in drug and alcohol misuse.
Strategies for reducing drug and alcohol misuse tend to focus on encouraging people to either stop or cut down in order to reduce harms. But substance use is often driven by the pursuit of pleasure, rather than by the avoidance of harm (Global Drug Survey, 2015; Hutton, 2012), and drugs and alcohol are present in many social situations. People are very often already aware of the risks associated with their behaviour, but on balance they decide it is worth the risk to have a good time. Furthermore, and especially in social situations where alcohol is flowing, people’s good intentions often fail to map onto their behaviours (Sheeran, 2002).
One problem with current approaches to prevention could be the lack of acknowledgement of the social pleasures that people get from drinking, such as bonding with friends (de Visser, Wheeler, Abraham, & Smith, 2013). A further problem is the lack of credible alternative socialising opportunities, meaning that people may ‘default’ to drinking (Herring, Bayley, & Hurcombe, 2014). Non-drinkers, for example, often feel stigmatised, and may adopt strategies that include pretending to drink, when they attend social events (Conroy & de Visser, 2014). Even very young teenagers report that they expect to drink when they are older because it is an inevitable part of culture (Davies, 2016). So what are the alternatives?
The ‘sober rave’
Something that has piqued my interest recently, is the rise of so called ‘dry events’. As someone who enjoys listening to and dancing (badly) to a wide range of music, I was particularly drawn to the idea of the ‘sober rave’. While there are a number of these types of events around the world, Morning Gloryville, which began in London in 2013, claims to be the first movement to bring ‘conscious clubbing’ to the masses. They now hold events in a number of cities around the world, including Sydney to San Francisco and beyond. Earlier this year, they received an award from Alcohol Concern at the Zero Alcohol Awards for Best Zero Alcohol Initiative.
Accompanied by my partner, who is a big dance music fan, I attended Morning Gloryville West London in May. Saturday events (‘rave your way into the weekend’) run from 9.30am-1.30pm at Mode nightclub in Notting Hill. After a very early start to travel to London from Oxford, we were greeted by hugs from the glitter clad welcoming crew. In the lobby area, there was a long queue for glittery face painting and the smell of coffee permeated the air. The bars were selling cakes and fruit smoothies, with free drinking water not only readily available, but with crayons provided alongside them for you to write your name on your cup. Another noticeable difference to a ‘typical’ clubbing experience was that the lights were up pretty much the whole time on the dancefloor, giving much more of a feeling of openness. We had a fantastic time dancing as part of a very friendly and vibrant group of people. The crowd was incredibly diverse, from young to old, all with wide and genuine smiles. It was an uplifting experience and one I am keen to repeat – I’m wishing there was an Oxford branch (perhaps I should try to set one up?).
What does the research say?
Morning Gloryville certainly felt like the ‘real deal’ in terms of a clubbing event to me, but of course, these reflections are my own subjective experience. Perhaps my enthusiasm says something more about my age and my preference for early mornings over late nights these days. But what about the research into the ‘sober scene’ -could this tell us anything new that would add to our knowledge with the prevention field? It appears that the literature on such events and people’s experiences of them is sparse at present. One study from the United States examined the effectiveness of a programme of late night alcohol free events put on by a college, such as showing free films, crafts and board games (Patrick, Maggs, & Osgood, 2010).The researchers asked students to complete 14-day drinking diaries and found that they did drink less on days they attended these events, compared to normal weekend days. However, attending an event and playing a board game is not the same as attending a music event, where drinking is normalised (Martinus, McAlaney, McLaughlin, & Smith, 2010). The study also did not tell us about participants’ views about the events. What we do know from our recent research with young people in the UK is that they are seeking alternative, credible experiences, where they don’t feel pressured to drink (Davies & Hennelly, in preparation). Could the ‘sober rave’ offer such an alternative? Alongside these events, there has been an increase in dry bars, such as Sobar in Nottingham or The Brink in Liverpool and even juice crawls in New York.
I am interested in hearing from people who would like to collaborate on research projects to understand more about this area in the near future. I would like to set up a small scoping study, perhaps a survey, to explore views and experiences about attending ‘sober scene’ events. Perhaps this type of research has the potential to inform our intervention efforts, and put the ‘fun’ into prevention. Please get in touch if you too are interested in planning some research on this topic, or if you know of any existing studies or research groups already looking at this area.
About the Author:
My name is Emma Davies and I am a lecturer in the Department of Psychology, Social Work and Public Health at Oxford Brookes University. I conduct research into young people’s health and wellbeing, with a specific focus on exploring behaviour change theories, intervention design, and reducing alcohol misuse. You can find me on Twitter @I_am_emma or email me edavies[at]brookes.ac.uk.
Conroy, D., & de Visser, R. (2014). Being a non-drinking student: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Psychology & Health, 29(5), 536-551. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2013.866673
Davies, E. L. (2016). Feasibility of the Prototype Willingness Model as the basis for school-delivered alcohol misuse prevention: A qualitative think aloud study to explore acceptability of ‘The Alcohol Smart Quiz’ with adolescents and teachers. Journal of Health Psychology, online first 1-15 doi: 10.1177/1359105316648481
Davies, E.L. & Hennelly, S. (in preparation). ‘You have to be prepared to drink’. Young adults’ reflections on drinking and university culture.
de Visser, R. O., Wheeler, Z., Abraham, C., & Smith, J. A. (2013). “Drinking is our modern way of bonding”: Young people’s beliefs about interventions to encourage moderate drinking. Psychology & Health, online first, 1-15. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2013.828293
Global Drug Survey. (2015). Drug Pleasure Ratings. Retrieved 31st May, 2016, from http://www.globaldrugsurvey.com/facts-figures/the-net-pleasure-index-results/
Herring, R., Bayley, M., & Hurcombe, R. (2014). “But no one told me it’s okay to not drink”: a qualitative study of young people who drink little or no alcohol. Journal of Substance Use, 19(1-2), 95-102. doi: 10.3109/14659891.2012.740138
Hutton, F. (2012). Harm reduction, students and pleasure: An examination of student responses to a binge drinking campaign. International Journal of Drug Policy, 23(3), 229-235. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2011.10.001
Martinus, T., McAlaney, J., McLaughlin, L. J., & Smith, H. (2010). Outdoor music festivals: Cacophonous consumption or melodious moderation?. Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 17(6), 795-807.
Patrick, M. E., Maggs, J. L., & Osgood, D. W. (2010). Late Night Penn State Alcohol-Free Programming: Students Drink Less on Days They Participate. Prevention Science, 11(2), 155-162. doi: 10.1007/s11121-009-0160-y
Sheeran, P. (2002). Intention-behavior relations: A conceptual and empirical review. In M. Hewstone & W. Stroebe (Eds.), European Review of Social Psychology (Vol. 12, pp. 1-36). Chichester, UK.: John Wiley & Sons.