Unless you happen to be one of the country's 18 million alcoholics, having a few drinks is fine. But for others, a drink, a toke, or a snort aren’t just fun; they can take someone down the road of addiction. In fact, new research shows that what are supposedly life’s most fun years—when you’re young—are also the same years when people are most vulnerable to developing an addiction.
Recent studies make clear that the earlier you began to drink, the more likely you are to develop an addiction to alcohol. A review done by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that teens who began to drink as 15-year-olds were at higher risk than those who delayed drinking into their 20s and beyond.
So let’s say you fell into that group, but your story has a happy ending: You got treatment and you got sober. Congratulations! Now what? You’re still young, you still want to go out—but where do you go now that bars are off-limits, or at the very least probably difficult to hang out at? “Movies and television show people drinking and having fun. The message is that it’s no big deal. But that’s not true when you can wind up wasting years struggling with addiction,” says Patti Schneeman, clinical director for Phoenix Houses of the mid-Atlantic region.
One of the main attractions of drinking and drugs is, of course, their social context. Although most of us associate partying with various substances, it’s the friends we hang out with that are most essential. So how do you keep the social and get rid of the booze and drugs? A nonprofit group of 20-somethings in Chicago has tried to meet that need. The group is about to launch a new concept for a club that’s alcohol-free. Called The Other Side, it opens in late April in a warehouse/loft space in the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake and will offer large-screen TVs, pool tables, video games, live bands, and DJ’d dancing. To gain entry, clubbers will have to go through a security check to confirm they’re at least 18—and that they are sober.
In an interview with the Chicago-based Daily Herald, Chris Reed, a board member of New Directions, the addiction recovery group that started the club, said that the funeral of a 21-year-old friend who died of a heroin overdose was a wake-up call for the group—and a call to action to create a different sort of space for young adults who want to stay sober but also have a place to go to hang out that’s not someone’s living room or the movies. “If you're choosing a sober lifestyle, [The Other Side] will be a healthy atmosphere. It's an important place for people in recovery," said Reed, himself a former drug addict.
Phoenix House’s Schneeman is enthusiastic about clubs like The Other Side and says that the mid-Atlantic region she oversees also has several “recovery clubs.” Though these aren’t modeled on traditional nightclubs (they could be a "club" in any setting, like a rec room), many serve as meeting centers for those in recovery. In addition to hosting parties and dances, they also encourage community service activities. “It’s invaluable to find social outlets that support non-use,” she stresses.
While it’s too soon to say whether The Other Side will start a bigger trend of more clubs like this around the country—and there are other examples outsid the U.S., like The Brink, in Liverpool—the notion of friends banding together to help each other as they party is an innovative solution to an age-old problem—and one that other communities could easily replicate.
Do you know of any clubs like this in your area, that are alcohol-free and support people in recovery from addiction? Would you go to a club like this?
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Alison Rose Levy has covered health, food, and the environment on Huffington, AlterNet, PsychologyToday, and Intent.com. The writer of two best-selling health books, Alison talks to health and eco leaders on her weekly radio program, Connect the Dots on the Progressive Radio Network. @alisonroselevy | TakePart.com