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Here's why sober culture and events are becoming more popular in Vancouver

Two sober community builders weigh in on sobriety in the city.
Two Vancouver sober community group founders Derek Bolen (VanSober) and Kaitie Degen (Sober Saturdayz) weigh in on sober culture in the city.

With festive cocktails and holiday booze a part of the past, some folks have resolved to drink less alcohol in January, or stop drinking entirely, in the new year.

But how easy is it to stick to this goal in a city like Vancouver?

In what appears to be a recent shift, more and more locals are turning to or are interested in exploring sobriety, and for them, there are more resources and options than before. 

How big is the sober community in Vancouver?

There are several community-founded groups in Vancouver, such as VanSober, Sober Babes Vancouver, and Sober Saturdayz, for sober and sober-curious locals who want to explore and discuss alcohol-free lifestyles.

Though Vancouver does have Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups, those can be "really overwhelming and daunting for a lot of people ... who don't identify as traditional addicts or alcoholics," explains VanSober founder Derek Bolen. 

These sober community groups are more than places to talk about personal experiences with alcohol. For most, they're places to meet new people, have fun, and learn to socialize without the presence of alcohol. 

The VanSober group focuses on group discussions, facilitating spaces to talk about one's struggles and journey with those who can relate and understand.

Typically the group would get together once a month at a coffee shop at Whole Foods where they will meet new members and split off into discussion groups. The topics covered don't "even necessarily have to be [about] sobriety," Bolen adds. 

The group also does several outdoors events such as hikes and social outings, with an occasional escape room or bowling night here and there. Essentially, the group explores fun activity options available in the city for those who don't drink. 

However, other groups have different approaches to sobriety. Sober Babes Vancouver is for women and LGBTQ+ folks to make friends and socialize without drinking, while Sober Saturdayz also teaches natural remedies, tools, and techniques to help individuals heal and socialize throughout their sober journey. 

Though Sober Saturdayz has shifted to virtual events over the pandemic, founder Kaitie Degen tells Vancouver Is Awesome that she plans to bring back in-person events to Vancouver in the spring. 

"Our events are always alcohol-free but they're psychedelic and cannabis-friendly," Degen shares. "Our environments help you learn how to socialize without being under the influence [of alcohol], create friends who are like-minded, and get creative."

Degen shares that the first event will be a mix of fashion shows, art, performances, and education on plant medicine, along with a panel on sobriety and harm reduction. 

How popular is sobriety in Vancouver?

Vancouver has become increasingly accommodating to sober lifestyles as many bars and restaurants continue to expand their "mocktail" menus.

Sober community leaders like Bolen point to lessons learned through the COVID-19 pandemic as a primary reason for the explosion in interest in alcohol-free living.

"We've definitely seen a lot more people interested in sobriety or wanting to drink less," Bolen tells V.I.A., adding that the pandemic has especially accelerated this trend.  

From Bolen's observations, more people are becoming aware of alcohol's effect on their lives and are choosing to be more intentional about the way they live. "They're realizing that drinking doesn't really offer that much to them. That's probably the leading reason I hear now," he says. 

However, this frame of mind was not always the case. 

When Degen moved to B.C. from Alberta, before the COVID-19 pandemic and soon after embracing sobriety, she recalls the attitude towards alcohol among Vancouverites as fairly similar. 

Her friend groups didn't want to talk about the impact of alcohol, nor did they want to hear it. 

"It's so ingrained in our culture. In the western parts of the world that I've experienced, you use alcohol to celebrate, you use it to greet, you use it as a gift," says Degen.

It was only after the pandemic had swept through the world, causing many people to fall back upon alcohol as a way to self-soothe, that both Bolen and Degen noticed more interest in sobriety. 

Still, Vancouver's nightlife and evening activities remain fairly alcohol-centric, says Bolen, and for many locals their social lives are alcohol-centric as well. "When I stopped drinking, all the activities I used to do were no longer relevant to me," the sober group founder shares.

When taking on a significant change like cutting out alcohol, finding alternatives can be the most challenging part. While discussing personal struggles can help create an environment of community and understanding, exploring new activities and hobbies can help fortify sobriety. 

Sober community groups are only the beginning. 

Bolen tells V.I.A. that he's spent a lot of time within sober communities in Vancouver and other locations, discovering new ways to interface sobriety with traditional socializing. "Other cities have sober bars where there's no alcohol served at all and people can just go and hang out," Bolen notes. "That's something I'm very interested in bringing to Vancouver."

What is it like to go sober?

While the experience of going sober can be lonely for some, Bolen notes that his friend groups have largely remained the same. In fact, he's been able to meet a lot more people with similar interests through the sober movement. 

Degen, recalls a different, more isolating experience with sobriety. 

She describes starting her online sober community like "pulling teeth" and shares that she lost a lot of friends when she began her sobriety journey. 

"I felt so alone," she tells V.I.A. "I dealt with my sobriety on my own. I was in university. My friends didn't want to hang out with me at the time. I was just in my apartment by myself so depressed and I needed support. I didn't resonate with [Alcoholics Anonymous] and Western forms of healing from this sort of thing so I decided to make my own online Instagram account."

In her own journey with sobriety, Degen used herself as a self-described guinea pig, placing herself in alcohol-centric environments to find her trigger points and to better understand others who are going through the same process. 

In the end, she realized that one's relapses and sobriety are heavily influenced by their environment. Simultaneously, Degen began to dig deeper into plant medicine, alongside traditional Chinese medicine, Reiki, and energy healing. 

For Bolen, sobriety opened up more doors.

"I feel like there are a lot more options available to me since I'm not just laser-focused on getting that next drink or going out and partying with my friends like I used to. I'm able to look at all the options available," he shares.