Are sober parties a thing of the future? Some Nova Scotians say yes

Are sober parties a thing of the future? Some Nova Scotians say yes

Jonathan Kanary, from Sydney, NS, works in event production by day and DJ duties at sober parties in Cape Breton by night.

“Growing up alcohol was always encouraged. Everyone was drinking and I really think that’s changing. I think people are paying more attention to that now,” he told CBC.

He says these events take the pressure off non-drinkers, who often feel compelled to drink at parties, while also giving them a chance to socialize and have fun. Kanary, who is recovering from drinking, recently helped out at a sober party in Sydney and more than 100 people came through the door.

“Last weekend the dance floor was packed all night, so I don’t think anyone would have a problem getting up with no alcohol and having a good time,” Kanary said.

“I think it’s important to reach out not just to people in recovery but to people who are more mindful, and I really feel like people are more engaged with events for the entertainment aspect, not just because it’s a good time to go and get drunk,” he said.

Another group, UNtoxicated Queers in Halifax, also had success this past weekend at their first sober holiday party, held in partnership with Sober City.

Liane Khoury is a health advocate at Mental Health and Addictions for Nova Scotia Health and helped found UNtoxicated Queers. The group supports people in the queer community to experience sobriety using a harm reduction model that encourages practicing less addictive behaviors rather than full abstinence.

Khoury, more people these days want to stay sober, including herself.

“I didn’t feel like I wanted to drink all the time, it was taxing on my body and I feel like it’s for health reasons too. I’m not young anymore I can’t handle, you know, waking up and having a two-day hangover,” she said in a phone interview.

So far this year, Kanary has held 12 private sober parties. Both he and Khoury say they have even more plans for the new year.

Kanary, who is originally from Glace Bay, says socializing in Cape Breton has traditionally not been conducive to sobriety, but that’s slowly changing.

Jonathan Kanary is an Events Producer and DJ based in Sydney, Cape Breton, throwing no-nonsense, approachable parties that are growing in popularity.
Jonathan Kanary is an events producer and DJ based in Sydney, Cape Breton, where he throws sober parties. (Joseph Cameron)

“Normally you go into bars here and you’re encouraged to drink by the staff or the venue or whatever, so you don’t feel that pressure in public [at a sober party] is really beneficial for the environment,” Kanary said.

And more non-alcoholic options are popping up that focus on quality, he adds. The Island Folk Cider House in Sydney makes its own non-alcoholic cider. Breton Brewing also sells non-alcoholic beer and a new seasonal low-alcohol brew that’s being advertised as “low alcohol but big in flavor”.

“I think people like variety and don’t necessarily want to just have one sugary drink when they go out… I know when I stopped drinking I was more health conscious all round. So when I was 11, drinking things like liquor or coffee at night wasn’t an option for me,” Kanary said.

Personally, he doesn’t find the holiday season difficult when it comes to making sober decisions, but some people do.

“If that’s the case, I recommend having some support,” he said.

Khoury said she would like to see that support from restaurants and bars in the form of more mocktail options in restaurants.

Having the courage to say no is also important, Khoury said, “and if you need an apology, always hold something like a bottle of water or a can of soda and say ‘no’.”

It’s also important to have more conversations about alcohol, sobriety and why or not to drink, Khoury said, especially around the holidays when the pressure to drink is greater.

“So it’s important to change the narrative that alcohol is the main focus of the party. I think the main focus should be that we hang out and have community,” she said.


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