The problem with Dry July (revisited)
Turn away now then if you’ve got no time for an opinion piece. Otherwise I’d like to hear your feedback.
Firstly, you should check out the Dry July website. To sum up the concept, the idea is that participants agree to go ‘dry’ – alcohol free – for the month of July. No booze for the month, all in aid of cancer patients. Further, participants can opt to purchase (or have purchased for them) ‘Golden Tickets’ to drink during the ‘dry month’.
As a point of clarification, my gripe is not about the fundraising aspect of it. Far from it, as I think everyone can agree that the more assistance that cancer patients can receive the better. My issue is more about the deeper themes behind it.
Much of the problems start with the Dry July (and indeed Febfast and Ocsober) mission statement. It says that the aim of Dry July is to ‘raise awareness of drinking habits and the value of a balanced healthy lifestyle’.
Yet I’d argue, instead, that the reliance on forced abstinence and its supposed health benefits does nothing but encourage unhealthy boom-bust drinking habits instead.
These drinking habits are well known – weekend binges, where typically 6 plus drinks are consumed in a single night, with imbibers ‘drinking to get drunk’. Such binges are then typically followed by a mid-week abstinence, before the cycle of heavy weekend consumption starts again.
What Dry July et al is thus doing, in my opinion, is feeding into this cycle, extending the abstinence out to several weeks before it continues again (Wet August).
Obviously there are no health benefits from such a pattern, as it just perpeutates the boom/bust, drink/abstain, Dry July/Wet August binge drinking culture that the scheme is meant to be raising awareness of. Heck, the participants are even allowed (via the ‘Golden Tickets’) to indulge in a binge in there too. Plus the whole month is finished off with boozy Dry July break-up parties (also binges).
All of which, in my opinion, just points to the fact that Dry July, as a concept, is flawed. That, whilst it may well help to raise money for charity, it’s not helping our drinking habits at all. It might even be creating unhealthy habits instead Further, what it/we really should be doing instead is encouraging a cycle of ‘moderate drinking’ – drinking in moderation.
Now I don’t want to be drawn too far into a conversation about said benefits (or not) of moderate alcohol consumption. I’m biased on the subject, so I’ll leave it. But I do want to at least point out evidence that moderate drinking might be doing good (read more from the WFA here).
Beyond just the studies though, you’d have to agree that if we could encourage more moderation and less binges, we could probably avoid the anti-social behaviour and health problems that such risky drinking brings.
Speaking of risky binge drinking habits, if you want to see evidence you need only venture into any major city on on any given Saturday night. There is no escaping that there are problems, perceived or otherwise, that could do with addressing.
Again, the concept of Dry July doesn’t help, with drinkers going ‘cold turkey’ for a few weeks before the binging inevitably returns with a bang (hello again ‘wet August’).
Obviously I’m generalising about a Wet August, but based on what I’ve seen from previous years it appears too common. Again, where is the ‘healthy lifestyle’ in that?
Regardless, that concept of moderation, needs more exploring, as it’s important.t.
Moderation, I think, is the idea that you can have a glass of wine or two with dinner and still be ‘healthy’. Moderation is not drinking to excess and not drinking to get drunk. Moderation is recognising that drinking need not be just a drug (alcohol) delivery system. Wine, in particular, can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle (as Kendall Hill describes amusingly here).
A further problem with Dry July is that it demonises alcohol. Subtly perhaps, but it does. That’s in spite of evidence indicates that alcohol is largely a problem when consumed to excess.
The messages from Dry July don’t support that notion though. It just feeds into the (unfounded) fear that the neo-prohibition movement seeks to encourage. Oh and its sneakily lumps drinking wine in with things like smoking.
So then if Dry July is so flawed, what is the answer ? How do we raise money for a needy cause without demonising?
But I have an answer.
It’s called ‘Drink Less But Better July’. The idea is that participants buy a $20 bottle instead of a $10 one (for example) and share it with 3 people (or such). Drink less wine, but make every glass a good one, with the dollars saved sent to a relevant charity.
For the wine industry I can only see positives in such an approach. Sure volume is decreased, but the turnover is not. Drinkers drink better wine, producers make better wine, everyone wins. Obviously it’s not quite that simple, but surely it’s better than a month of industry-threatening forced abstinence like Dry July?
What do you think? Who’s with me?
(Footnote: Kate Giles has also proposed that Dry July be redone as ‘Drink Dry in July’. That’s where drinkers only drink dry wines in July. It sounds fun. Follow her on twitter for more details)