The sober movement

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What you need to know:

  • According to data from WHO’s Global Status Report on alcohol and health released in 2018, one in five Kenyans aged 15 and above are binge drinkers.

  • Further, 89 per cent of young respondents in a study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that alcohol was present at their most recent celebration.

  • So deeply entrenched is the drinking culture that alcohol and partying are prevalent themes in Kenya’s music industry,

“Is it too early to drink?”

Sharon Mukami, 32, is a teacher at a private secondary school. She has asked this question many times, and in different ways. It could be in the way she raises a glass and points mischievously at a bottle of wine, or in the way she texts her friend a little too early in the day.

While in university, Sharon attended dozens of parties where alcohol was in good supply.

“That was how we socialised. It was the epitome of fun. What is a party without booze?”

She was 21. Young and free.

According to data from WHO’s Global Status Report on alcohol and health released in 2018, one in five Kenyans aged 15 and above are binge drinkers. Further, 89 per cent of young respondents in a study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reported that alcohol was present at their most recent celebration.

So deeply entrenched is the drinking culture that alcohol and partying are prevalent themes in Kenya’s music industry, with many hit songs glorifying the fun and excitement associated with drinking and partying. But, surprisingly, in recent years, a new trend seems to be growing among young people; a movement towards sobriety and giving alcohol a wide berth.

Research by Google done in 2019 showed that 41 per cent of Gen Zs associate alcohol with vulnerability, anxiety and even abuse, while 60 per cent associate drinking with a loss of control.

Moreover, there is a growing concern regarding what experts call a mental health crisis among young people. Nearly half of those interviewed said that mental health difficulties had a negative impact on their university experience.

“The only reason I used to drink that much was because I was feeling sad, and because others were doing it,” Mukami explains.

“Nowadays, whenever I’m sad, I turn to journaling or writing poetry, or anything that does not involve drinking.”

Photo credit: Pool

Hellen Talaso, 27
Works in government

“I was born in Marsabit County and I spent my childhood there before moving to Nairobi. None of my parents consumed any kind of drugs or alcohol.

I don’t recall much about my first encounter with alcohol, but I remember tasting wine from my friend’s glass out of curiosity. I had always wondered how it tasted or made one feel.It was tangy but I managed to swallow. The next time we went out with friends, I went for my own glass. Over the next couple of months, my drinking took an on and off pattern. There were days of drinking and others of sobriety. One day three years ago, I woke up and decided to fully embrace sobriety.

I thought to myself,  ‘this thing is not sweet, and secondly, it is of no importance to my body, so I am going to quit it for good.’

Given another chance, I would still make that decision because when sober, you get no hangovers, no crazy headaches, and you save money and get to spend your time on experiences you enjoy. For me, I love traveling, hiking, zip lining and camping. It was not a hard decision to make because my circle of friends is small, and they all respected and supported my decision fully.

Notably, self-discipline is key in life. If you develop the will to do everything in moderation. You become free. While I feel happy about the decision I made, I have friends who love drinking and wish they could stop. They would like to escape the nasty hangover feeling and the inability to be productive after heavy drinking. It is after a night of drinking that one often ends up regretting why they started drinking in the first place, and the cycle continues.

In case one is worried about what they can do to pass time once they quit drinking, they can consider engaging in outdoor activities such as hiking, bike riding, learning new things like painting, reading a book, of giving back to the community by visiting children's home and the less privileged.

In the end, you will realise that you were spending so much on alcohol, and you will definitely cut costs. Most people feel like they can't have fun without alcohol, but that's not true. Others think that they will be viewed as boring if they don't drink. This is actually false. Some of the most interesting people I have met are actually people who quit drinking at some point, or have never drunk at all.

When I’m not working, I engage in very constructive and meaningful activities. I want to show people that as a young person, alcohol is not the only way to have fun and enjoy your time with friends. 

Find a hobby that will replace alcohol and you will never miss it.

Allan Nganga, 30
Food scientist

I started taking alcohol in 2007, when in high school. I was introduced to it by a couple of friends. From then on, I began drinking regularly during the holiday.

I drank even more regularly when I joined university in 2012. I used to drink both on weekdays and on weekends. It was not a sustainable habit and I would frequently find myself in debt. My relationship with friends and family was also on the rocks.

Even after my parents ‘advice, I kept the drinking up. By this time, I had my own cash so I would drink regularly, frequent clubs, and invite friends to my house. I started my journey to quit in October last year when I stumbled upon a podcast by American neurologist, Andrew Huberman.

Andrew explained the effects of alcohol and I seriously began thinking about my choices. Also, I had joined church at around that time so I had spiritual clarity on how I should take care of my body, and of the effects of alcohol in my body, which is the temple of the holy spirit.

So far, so good. I no longer get strong urges to drink alcohol, but I sometimes find myself in tempting situations. I try to avoid situations that may lead me to take alcohol.

While making this transition, I had to drop some friends. Whenever I am in social settings where people are drinking, I stick to water.

Photo credit: Pool

Cyrus Waweru, 22   (Social and Community Development student)

“I was introduced to alcohol by my friends when I joined secondary school. I had difficulties socialising and they urged me to try alcohol for liquid courage. It worked!

It gave me some heightened sense of confidence. In fact, when I joined university, I vied for a student leadership position, thanks to the elevated feeling of confidence. With time, I became a prisoner of booze and it became part of my life. I had to get tipsy to face people or to do my school assignments.

I was brought up in a Christian family and I knew that my parents would vehemently condemn the habit if they found out. I used different tactics to ask for money from them while hiding my drinking habits. I used to spend at least Sh5,000 every week on alcohol.

Three years ago, I felt unwell and decided to seek medical help. I was diagnosed with a liver infection, and after that I knew that I had to call it quits.

Since then, my life has been amazing without alcohol. I still meet with my drinking friends, but I am very resolute in my decision.

In the past, I have tried my hand in businesses but eventually I shut it down due to financial challenges. I am currently job hunting.

When I look back and consider the much I could have saved if I had chosen to be a teetotaler from the start, I feel disappointed. I would never advise any young person to drink. I think it is a complete waste of time and money.

Photo credit: Pool

Brian Nyaga, 21

“On some occasions, the grownups around me would invite me to take a sip of the traditionally brewed alcohol they were taking. I would grimace with disgust, to their amusement.

When I joined university to study mathematics and computer science, I made friends with individuals who later became my drinking mates. There were many parties organised by different groups, and alcohol was a common guest. 

We attended at least two parties every week. Occasionally, we would pool some money to buy ourselves a drink.

Granted, I had a lot of fun while attending the parties, but I was also disorderly and often followed through with my friend’s decisions blindly.  It didn’t take long before it reflected in my performance. I once almost missed an exam, and this left me very worried and angry at myself because I am very keen on academic excellence. 

Sometime last year, my father gave me a pep talk that made me really think about my life. Based on that talk, I resolved to become a teetotaler. My decision to quit was further fuelled by the fact that I have a close relative who lost all they had because of alcoholism. His misfortune is a constant reminder to me of what alcohol can do to someone.

The best thing about being a teetotaller is that I get to complete my assignments on time and I do not need an alarm clock to wake me up.

Further, there are no hangovers or frequent headaches. Because of my changed lifestyle, I don’t get to hang out with my friends as much as I used to, and I am once again the shy young man I was before I met them.

I have been on the path of sobriety since August last year. For fun, I play video games and spend time with one of my friends who is a committed Christian. 

Looking back, I realise that the only reason I ever tasted alcohol was peer influence. It was never my own decision.


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