Meet The Sober Caners

Influenced by reports saying mixing drugs and booze can be a toxic cocktail, there's a new breed of caners chasing a line of coke with nothing more than a bottle of water…


by Milly Mcmahon |
Published on

It’s a Saturday afternoon and 26-year-old graphic designer Lisa is sitting in a park, smoking a joint and talking to her friends about what they’re going to do tonight. Drugs will probably come into the equation, but unlike most of their friends, they won't be chasing lines of coke with a bottle of beer and a shot of something strong. They won't be drinking anything other than water.

‘I haven't really drunk in a couple years now and neither have quite a few of my mates. To be honest, drugs actually feel safer,’ she tells The Debrief. ‘We order MDMA online mostly, I've used the same website since Silk Road got busted, I prefer cutting out the fear factor of meeting a dealer in broad daylight.’ Later, dipping in and out of basement bars, Lisa and her five friends each carry a bag of MDMA. Sipping on water and dabbing the brown powder casually, they carefully avoid the glare of dance-floor lights. Law enforced bag checks at venue entrances are usually hurried and any suspicious looks laughed off. ‘I’m there to do drugs and have a good time – it’s just that I don’t want the booze. By the morning, my comedowns are pretty smooth and there’s no two-day hangover, like l used to get from drinking.’

All too aware of the destructive effects of mixing drugs and alcohol a new breed of reveller, labelled the 'sober caner', has become a bold new presence.

For these girls, drugs are no longer taboo, and it looks like they’re not alone. Government statistics show that one in three adults had used illicit drugs in their lifetime. A quick fix to a stressful week, when headed down the pub on Friday at the end of a manic few days at work, ordering in substances from a dealer, on speed dial, isn't now that unusual.

At the same time, though, news reports show that when combined with alcohol, drugs ketamine, GHB, cannabis, 2-CB, LSD, OCB, mushrooms and heroin all react adversely, sometimes resulting in death. So, all too aware of the destructive effects of mixing drugs and alcohol on the liver, kidneys, brain and central nervous system, a new breed of reveller – labelled the 'sober caner' – has become a bold new presence.

Published statistics revealed that the UK has become the addiction captial of Europe, tipping the scale with record consumption levels of cocaine, ketamine and opioid painkillers. Findings also confirmed Brits purchase significant amounts of their illegal substances online, more so than the rest of the entire EU. With weekend A&E departments overwhelmed with drug-related admissions, a shift in attitudes to using substances recreationally is becoming increasingly critical. In 2009, The Drug Abuse Warning Network report found that of visits to the emergency room from drug use, approximately one third of them were from drinking alcohol or mixing alcoholwith other types of drugs. These visits often included mixing alcohol with cocaine, heroin and marijuana. It begs the question, could getting high but remaining sober be the healthier, alternative way to unwind?

I can gauge where l'm at with a bit of coke or MD, but throw alcohol into the mix and I suddenly feel out of control

‘Drugs now feel like an inevitable part of city living,’ Lisa elaborates. ‘And traditionally you’d expect alcohol to go hand in hand with them, but booze just makes me feel tired or ill. I can gauge where I'm at with a bit of coke or MD, but throw alcohol into the mix and I suddenly feel out of control, which I’m not about – this isn't about getting beasted. In fact, l think it’s quite the opposite. Alcohol is responsible for so much bad behaviour. Sure drugs are illegal, but so many of my boyfriends end up getting emotional or aggressive after a few pints. But just because I don’t like booze doesn’t mean I don’t want to let loose – all that stress build-up at work would have nowhere to be channelled if I’d just stayed at home worrying. Plus, there’s more longevity to a night out taking whatever and avoiding drinking.’

Swerving the inevitable head pounding, dehydration and extra strain the after effects of boozing inflicts upon the body, Lisa is part of a movement that openly opts for a comedown rather than suffering a hangover. ‘I stopped drinking because I wanted to lose weight, but that didn’t mean that I wanted to miss out on my friends going out and getting wrecked,’ explains 24-year-old press officer May. ‘But what started off as a weight thing actually turned into a lifestyle choice. When you just do drugs and don’t drink, the hangover the next day is so much more chilled. Yes, I admit, I sometimes get paranoid two days after an ecstasy bender, but I don’t feel sick and I don’t get spotty and fluey in the same way I did when I drank. And I’m concentrating on my career, by not drinking over the weekend I’m much more switched on during the rest of the week, while still feeling like I’ve let off some steam. At first, my friends were a bit weird about it and would push me to drink, but when they realised I was no less fun without the booze they all came to terms with it. I’m sure that soon enough I’ll give up on the drugs as well when I settle down and stop wanting to go out clubbing, but for now what’s the harm?’

Using drugs whilst sober can easily allow destructive drug dependencies to exist, better concealed, for longer.

A main concern with regards to the 'sober caners' phenomena centres around addiction. Using drugs whilst sober can easily allow destructive drug dependencies to exist, better concealed, for longer. What may seem like an attractive, less painful way to get high, is just a more illicit disguise for what could develop into an uncontrollable habit. Dominic Ruffy, Resilience Programmes Director at the Amy Winehouse Foundation, went through rehab three times to overcome the various substance addictions that first took root in his early teens. Today he works with young people attempting to conquer similar destructive, addictive, drug-induced disorders. He too used to practise a strict no-drink policy when taking drugs. ‘It took me 24 years to stop using drugs, my justification was always that it was my way of relaxing… other people drank, I didn't like being drunk, nor the hangover, so l thought I could use cannabis in the same way. The reality was, however, that I used cannabis morning, noon and night from my early teens through to the end of my active addiction days. Of course I used a lot of other drugs too… cocaine, ecstasy, valium, crack and heroin and these drugs proved highly destructive. For a long time my justification was “it's OK… I work, I pay taxes, I lead a stressful life, so I'll use whatever I see fit to navigate through life”.

'Today I am 35 years' clean and I don't need drugs to relax or to deal with what remains an existence full of all the challenges that life holds. I am a million times happier, I'm not hurting anyone anymore and look back and think, “I wish I'd learned how to manage my emotions properly when I was a kid, because I wouldn't have let 22 years of my life drift pass in a haze of smoke." Clawing back rationale to justify compulsive and self-destructive behaviours is the pure essence of addiction. Initially, what can be viewed as self control within this abuse of narcotics is a worrying excuse for normalising breaking the law and abusing one's self, under the guise of escaping an innocent hangover.'

Whether you party hard for the sake of your sanity, cut lines to then chat more easily, smoke to forget or just simply use to feel young and just live, the morning (or afternoon) after the night before will always be riddled with pain, anxiety and guilt. That much is a certainty. Using drugs without alcohol may keep you slimmer and better in pocket. Without the soft buffer of alcohol to numb the intense, immediate effects of your narcotics you might prang out worse or float away more softly. There's no knowing, only honest to goodness common sense. What should, however, be known, acknowledged and always respected is that health is precious and once lost, irretrievable.

*If you’re worried about your relationship with drugs, make an appointment with your doctor – and for any advice on drug addiction contact The Amy Winehouse Foundation. *

*Names have been changed

** Follow Milly on Twitter @MillyMcMahon**

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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