The NA Movement: Revolution or Renaissance?

Alcohol Free Lifestyle

The NA Movement: Revolution or Renaissance?

The alcohol-free movement is having its moment, there's no doubt about that! How will we look back at this era in years to come? Mocktail MO explores whether we are in the midst of a revolution or a renaissance and what it means for us all.

In a world where we tend to name and define the characteristics of each generation, how will we look back at this moment in time when the alcohol-free movement has taken off and has started to change the way the world thinks about drinking? Will this era be defined as a revolution or the renaissance of social drinking? 

 

While a Merriam-Webster defines revolution as “a forcible overthrow of a…social order, in favor of a new system,” a renaissance is defined as a “rebirth or revival; renewed attention to or interest in something.”

 

If you take into account the relative millisecond from 2020 to now that it has taken to overthrow shelves previously dedicated to alcohol and replace them with nonalcoholic beverages of every category—and some that defy classification—one might call it revolutionary.  While a true revolution has an element of hostility that the alcohol-free movement lacks, we could call this a convivial and collaborative revolution of sorts, and we are in the midst of a global takeover!

 

What seemed to be a total shift for the beverage world, however, has become more of a reimagining that straddles the fence of revolution and renaissance as “big alcohol” is jumping on board with the non-alc movement with growing speed. After decades of focusing almost exclusively on alcoholic beverages, the fact that this industry is now fully embracing non-alc is significant.  It seems to me though that the motivation of big alcohol brands is not to create a wave of cultural change but an inevitable following the dollar signs that make it impossible not to join the trend. Nevertheless, moving into the alcohol-free space provides big alcohol an opportunity to recreate and expand on its traditional offerings which, in turn, gives more people the freedom to have a classic name-brand cocktail experience on their own alcohol-free terms. Good? Bad? Comme ci comme ça, it’s a bit of both.

 

The changing culture around the alcohol-free movement, however, is what is defining its success.  People are redefining socializing at booze-free retreats, in mocktail-making classes, and in hundreds of other small niches across the country where alcohol is not a part of the equation. It does look like a revival of the “spiritless” spirit. The current drinking climate hasn’t been achieved out of forced prohibition or temperance, but out of a growing desire for a more fulfilled existence. That desire spills over into a longing for more establishments to catch the wave and serve more and better alcohol-free cocktails. This renaissance is decidedly driven by the consumer educating the market. Our tastes are changing and we are altering the shape of social drinking with our determination to create a culture where the quality of the cocktail is not defined by its alcohol content.

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In my search for the terms to define this new era I called on a couple of friends to join me in considering this idea of revolution or renaissance.


I tapped Joshua James, owner of the Ocean Beach Café in San Francisco, for his firsthand knowledge of the impact a completely alcohol-free bar has on his neighborhood. He continues to be a pillar in the larger alcohol-free community with an eye toward the future.  

 

Josh told me, “There are aspects of both [revolution and renaissance] in this movement. If I had to choose between two of my kids though, I’d say renaissance.”  He went on to say, “I believe the NA movement is a shift in the fabric of culture itself since alcohol has historically been so embedded into our everyday lives. A trend, but certainly not a fad.  It is a renaissance with the pendulum swinging towards wellness.” 


I also spoke with Martha Wright of Clear Power Coaching. When she isn’t exploring the culture in Paris or Mexico City, Martha is a sober/mindful drinking coach who has her finger on the pulse of the way people drink around the world.


“I see clear elements of both revolution and renaissance…maybe a revo-ssance! The gigantic groundswell (led by Gen Z and Millennials) of people rejecting the status quo around drinking is definitely revolutionary. These generations are refusing to accept old paradigms, the idea that constant consumption of alcohol is just what adults do, or the concept that something bad needs to happen before someone should question [their alcohol intake]. They refuse to be neatly labeled as ‘sober’ or ‘a drinker.’ They want options and a new, inclusive, and ‘fluid’ drinking culture, where we don’t haze someone who isn’t drinking, where we don’t assume drinkers always drink, and where everyone has the right to the same level of hospitality via creative, layered, thoughtfully considered cocktails that provide…enjoyment of a ritual with friends.”

 

She continued, “At the same time, I see a renaissance underfoot as people reclaim pubs and cafes and other “third places” [with or without alcohol] as the “living rooms” that they always were”.

 

 So, is a “revo-ssance” possible? There is a general consensus that a new way of social drinking is underway and happening at breathtakingly revolutionary speed and that the concept of how we gather is simultaneously changing alongside it. The alcohol-free movement inhabits a space of rebirth for social drinking. Its hallmarks are creativity and innovation with a deferential nod to classical mixology, a combination that is creating an exciting alcohol-free culture. As we move forward, we acknowledge the universal desire for social connection “over drinks” at a time when society is suffering severely from a desperate need for connection and how the non-alc movement allows this to exist in a new healthy, and more sustainable way. In this respect, the alcohol-free renaissance of social drinking is truly revolutionary

Header photo: Hamilton. Original Broadway Cast.

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