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How Society Can Better Support Sobriety

Saturday Spark #45

By Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder & CEO

I just completed Dry January, that post-holiday ritual that one of my favorite executive tweeters defined as “(noun):  Replacing wine with M&Ms for 31 days in an attempt to be more disciplined and healthy.” It’s the first year I have tried it in adulthood, unless you count the year I found out I was pregnant in January. The motivator was not what it should have been: sleeping better, reducing cancer risk, or liver health. It was driven entirely by a desire to fit into a dress that wasn’t zipping up for an upcoming event. Which meant the M&Ms were out too. It turns out it wasn’t that hard, but I also didn’t find it that transformational either. I can point to modest weight loss and the inability to sleep past 6am on weekend mornings, a mild productivity boost. 

What this month did highlight is how much our world, particularly the business world, revolves around alcohol. Not to mention how utterly lame most bars and restaurants are at providing creative, fun, non-alcoholic alternatives, particularly if you also screen for low-sugar. In the vast majority of events I attended, the only choices were club soda and Diet Coke. If I drink one more club soda with lime, I’ll probably start to look mildly green.

Given the enormity of two health issues in the US, diabetes and alcoholism, employers and the market should be championing mindful drinking and better low-sugar, no alcohol options.The estimated cost to employers and the health system is $237B for diabetes and $249B for excessive alcohol use. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working adults. That doesn’t account for the additional benefits of moderate drinkers just drinking less on productivity, weight, and long-term health. 

There are movements afoot to champion a lower alcohol lifestyle. Ranging from Sober Curious to Mindful Drinking, they tap into the idea that not drinking or drinking a lot less can be driven by a desire for overall health and wellbeing benefits versus confronting an addiction issue. Services are popping up to meet this growing trend from sober bars to non-alcoholic wines and low sugar, booze-free cocktails.

For a lower alcohol lifestyle to become mainstream, however, separating non-drinkers from the drinkers can’t be a requirement. The alcohol-free choices need to become as common and integrated and frankly, as fun, as the alcohol is. You need to be able to get a Curious Elixir on an airplane, to get non-alcoholic wine at a restaurant, and to have the mocktail part of a menu have fun names and garnishes and glassware, just like the cocktails.

My personal experience is that these low/no alcohol choices are still largely niche. I was planning an event recently and asked the liquor company recommended by the venue if we could provide Curious Elixirs or no-alcohol wine. They didn’t carry either, leaving us to find alternatives on our own. Hotels haven’t offered these choices either, which means they aren’t available for their events, from business functions to weddings. 

So what can leaders do to include mindful drinking as part of their wellbeing strategy?  A number of companies have decided to no longer provide or fund alcohol at work. WeSpire used to have Wine Wednesdays, but we stopped about five years ago. Washington state has actually banned alcohol in the workplace during working hours. To me that seems a little draconian, although it certainly makes sense for industries where any amount of alcohol in your system represents a safety concern, like healthcare, transportation, or construction. 

When you are going to offer alcohol, there are several things you can do to support mindful drinking. In a restaurant or bar, buy a first round but don’t leave the tab open. If you are throwing a large event, consider drink tickets to limit consumption. Make good low-sugar, no-alcohol choices easily available. Think coconut water, kombucha, VitaminWater Zero, Spindrifts and sparkling cider, in addition to the new no-alcohol wine/beer/cocktail options. 

Finally, tone at the top matters. I’ll admit that in the first few years of WeSpire, I was often the social ringleader, known for getting our team out bar hopping and even out dancing late nights on a few occasions. Was it fun? Absolutely. Was it setting the right tone on wellbeing? In hindsight, probably not. Our team now does events like bowling, sailing, and making pasta. Yes, many people will still choose to get a drink, but drinking is no longer the primary focus. 

Your team’s wellbeing is critical to performance and so it’s in your best interest to encourage healthy behaviors. Rethinking the role alcohol plays in your employees lives at work is a great place to start.

Quote of the Week:  “Almost anything can be preserved in alcohol, except health, happiness, and money.” —Mary Wilson Little

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What is Saturday Spark:
As the leader of a purpose-driven company, I’m challenged daily to ensure our company is “walking the walk” and that I’m personally leading with purpose and impact at the forefront. The result is that I read, think, and learn a lot about the intersection of purpose, impact and leadership and have a few successes and a lot more “lessons learned.” I realized that my own insights may be helpful to other purpose-driven professionals if I took the time to reflect each week. If you find this inspiring, practical or helpful, I’d be honored if you shared it with your colleagues, your families and your friends.

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Read Previous Week’s Spark: If the Superbowl Can Go Plastic Free, Can We?

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