Dry February: Does alcohol control you, or do you control it?

Dry February

February is here – and for some Czechs that means putting down their pint glasses and taking a break from alcohol consumption for the month. The ‘Dry February” campaign aims to shed light on the problematic reliance some have with alcohol, and encourages individuals to rethink their relationship with it. To learn more about the campaign, I spoke with Petr Freimann from the Dry February organization.

For our listeners who may not be familiar with the concept of ‘Dry February’, could you explain it?

Petr Freimann | Photo: Klára Škodová,  Czech Radio

Dry February is a campaign that sheds light on the fact that over one million people in the country are considered ‘risky drinkers’. Most of these people do not know if they control alcohol or if alcohol and other addictions control them.”

You said one million people here?

“It’s actually over one million. Addiction experts talk about the number being closer to 1.3 or 1.5 million people.”

And you said ‘risky drinking’ – is that drinking that could be classified as alcoholism?

“Alcoholism or heavy drinking is considered to be a different thing, but risky drinking means that an individual could be one step below what we would consider an alcoholic. That’s why Dry February is the perfect occasion to try and experience if we control alcohol, or if it controls us.”

You said one million are going to participate this year, is this the number you’re aiming for?

Illustrative photo: Michael Discenza,  Unsplash

“We hope. The last two years, there were about 900,000 participants. For 2024, we would like to reach one million.”

How do you measure the number of participants? Do people voluntarily declare that they are participating? Where do the numbers come from?

“The agency Nielsen conducts standard research on the Czech population. From their data, we know it’s about 13 percent of the Czech adult population, which is about 900,000 participants. There is also a fewer number of people who are directly registering on our website.”

In North America, the month of abstaining from alcohol lies in January, and I recently read about a concept called ‘Damp January’, where instead of cutting out alcohol entirely, you reduce your consumption and think more critically about how much and when you drink. This avoids the binary of going from the holiday season where you might drink heavily to drinking nothing – and encourages being more conscious of your alcohol consumption. What do you think about this concept?

“I would like it if you sent me this campaign! But I think Dry February here could be the same – we aren’t pushing people to stop drinking entirely, we don’t want prohibition. But many people do exactly what you said – they realize how often they consume alcohol, and somehow make their consumption slightly healthier.”

And when it comes to alcoholism in the country – what exactly are the numbers?

Photo illustrative: congerdesign,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

“There are 1.3-1.5 million risky drinkers. If we look at the World Health Organization and their statistics, we in the Czech Republic consume 14.4 litres of 100% alcohol per person every year. If we make a brief calculation, it shows that we are drinking much more than the recommendation by the W.H.O.”

Given these high numbers of alcohol consumption here in Czechia, is participating in Dry February enough to properly deal with the high levels of consumption? Or does society have to undergo a shift in the way we think about consuming alcohol?

“It’s a very interesting question, and there are two perspectives. One is that we are seeing a shift in society, and people are starting to realize that re-thinking their drinking habits is important, and Dry February provides a good kind of societal pressure that creates a snowball effect.

“The second perspective is that Dry February is a campaign that does not receive public money. We try to do a good job in educating the public, but when it comes to prevention and awareness, there is not sufficient financial support for Dry February or other NGOs that make campaigns like this from the government. We don’t understand why the government does not support campaigns like this.”