I heard some gossip recently about a sixtysomething Madonna-era DJ who had to be sectioned by his PR last summer at a music festival because he’d taken so many drugs. Also whooping it up at that festival was a former pop star “completely off his nana” on booze. Which may sound funny, but his friends were seriously worried because it keeps happening and it’s not pretty.
So I wasn’t surprised to read the report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists warning that baby boomers and Gen X-ers need to get a grip on their alcohol intake. The number of deaths caused by drug or alcohol poisoning among the 50-to-69 age group shot up to 39.4 per million in 2016, from 16.5 in 2006.
Generation X is the first that has refused to grow up. The fact that Xers wish to remain eternally young is ironic since the cool new high is one that makes you feel like you’re on drugs when you’re actually not on drugs. It’s the lure at the heart of the “mindful drinking” movement.
Ruby Warrington, the author of Material Girl, Mystical World, has coined the clever phrase “sober curious”. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous, you don’t have to give up totally, but you tackle what might be causes of heavy drinking – fear, loneliness, chronic pain – with lots of social events, such as alcohol-free dance parties, sound baths and meditations. The New York-based Warrington says that younger generations drink less because “wellness is now seen as an aspirational lifestyle as opposed to hedonism”.
Yet it’s questionable if a GP is going to feel comfortable telling this to the 59-year-old dad slumped in front of him wearing a Ramones T-shirt and lying about his weekly units intake.
Indeed, according to Laura Willoughby, the co-founder of Club Soda UK, which launched the country’s first mindful drinking festival last year, doctors are part of the problem. She says that 55-year-old men are some of the biggest drinkers, and “a lot of those are doctors. They don’t know how to talk about alcohol.”
Club Soda UK, founded in 2015, has 15,000 members, 20% over 55. This suggests that some oldies are trying to learn old tricks. The company offers online courses and “mindful pub crawls” in which non-alcoholic drinks are encouraged.
It’s a shame, though, that the Royal College of Psychiatrists report lumps cannabis in with prescription drugs as an evil to be combated. In America, for example, the liberal new weed laws seem to be making a change in drinking habits. My friends in California, where it became recreational last month, tell stories of how they’re now smoking instead of drinking, or how their mothers are happily using CBD (weed with the trippy bits taken out) creams and drinks for help with chronic pain or anxiety (a factor the report mentions as a reason for excessive drinking).
Listening to the mindful drinking crowd can make you nostalgic for some old-fashioned alcohol-fuelled debauchery. Is talk from the mindful brigade of “being fully present with ourselves” and “diving deeper into connection” any less annoying than your sozzled friend slurring at three in the morning, “I really, really luuuuv you …”?
The actor Emma Thompson, who keeps her life impeccably together, once told me of the importance of going bananas every once in a while. She liked going to Scotland, drinking red wine, jumping into rivers and lochs and having “a regular hootenanny”. “Moderation’s a marvellous thing,” she said, “but it’s also terribly important to lose yourself in a communal wild riot.”
So there you have it. In the post-alcohol world of the near future, we will no doubt gain some lives – but we are going to lose a lot of great stories.