Party4Health: A good cause that’s over-hyping itself

Editor’s Note: At the end of the article, we've included a fact-checking section where we clarify the legitimacy of some claims made by Party4Health.

I’ve never gone to a party and chosen to stay sober. Drinking, to me, is the essence of partying – the party’s real core. On nights when I haven’t felt like drinking, I’ve stayed in. Simple as that.

Party4Health, a UBC club founded in January, is trying to break up that codependent, party-substances relationship by advocating for super-fun, sober parties.

When I spoke with the group’s founder, Jacques Martiquet, I was skeptical.

The mission of partying for health is simply that: for your health. This means no drugs or alcohol. To explain why, Martiquet pointed out some sobering facts (pun intended): “In Canada, alcohol hospitalizations just exceeded hospitalizations for heart attacks,” and in BC specifically, “we have the fentanyl crisis,” which is on track to kill 1,400 people this year.

Martiquet put it bluntly: “It’s never been more dangerous to try drugs.”

But Martiquet believes subtracting substances from partying doesn’t inherently make for a lame party.

At Party4Health’s parties, “you get those endorphins going and see those incredible smiles [and] it just resets your mental health and physical health,” Martiquet explained.

This idea repositions partying as a tool for relief and stress management, rather than “a vice.” Martiquet believes partying should be used for its “revitalizing” purposes, although, admittedly, this is a subjective view of what it means to feel revitalized. There are some mornings, when I’ve woken up with a crushing headache and queasy stomach but felt, with total certainty, the previous night was exactly what I needed.

On the other hand, how can I be sure that it was truly my idea to drink? It’s true that the forces that push substance use are strong.

“Social norms are in play, there’s peer pressure, a pressure to belong, and there’s people’s upbringings,” said Martiquet, who also talked the presence of intoxicants in pop culture.

Few musicians would be caught dead singing about sobriety. Party4Health’s counter-campaign against these powerful social norms is to simply plan a superior party.

“We throw events so extraordinary and novel they undermine the necessity for drugs and alcohol in partying,” Martiquet said, insisting that at their parties, “people are actively engaged in present reality with the people around them. People don’t feel judged, they behave mindfully and courteously. They respect the environment in a ‘leave no trace’ manner and they get naturally euphoric.”

Martiquet used the phrase “natural euphoria” several times throughout our interview. I’ll admit, it made me cranky, just as so much of Vancouver’s yoga/hippie/meditation/wellness scene makes me cranky. It’s not that I don’t believe in natural euphoria (I feel it hiking, talking to people I love, etc.), but it’s a buzzword that sometimes belies hard science.

Jacque’s response showed a conscious effort to distance the group from the aforementioned insufferable wellness scene. “We don’t, like, bring shamans or healers to our events.”

Something Martiquet and I saw completely eye-to-eye on was with Vancouver’s reputation as a “no-fun city.” Martiquet believes that Party4Health “is basically the best thing that could happen for the tourist industry in Vancouver.”

They’ve had loads of success so far. When I interviewed Jacques, he noted, in a rush of what you might call “natural euphoria,” that they’d been on the news three times that week.

Their last event was on October 6 in the Nest and was called “Party Safari.” It was a full day, with a morning rave at 7 a.m., a guided campus “party tour,” a flash-mob-style silent disco in the library and lectures about the benefits of “natural euphoria” from professionals.

It seems like Party4Health’s heart is in the right place, and alcohol/drug abuse in party culture is undoubtedly an issue that merits caution and education. Just be careful not to get too sucked into the hype.

On their Facebook events they describe themselves as “the future of partying.” But most students will probably still get their euphoria elsewhere.

Fact-checking and context

Claim: “In Canada, alcohol hospitalizations just exceeded hospitalizations for heart attacks.”

Mostly true: The statistic that Martiquet references comes from a report by the Canadian Insitiute for Health Information (CIHI) entitled “Alcohol Harm in Canada: Examining Hospitalizations Entirely Caused by Alcohol and Strategies to Reduce Alcohol Harm.” While the statistic itself is accurate, the context that Martiquet uses it in is a misrepresentation of the report.

By referencing this in the context of student life and party culture, he implies that this statistic is in some way a representation of the harm that alcohol has on this particular social scene and demographic. The reality is that three out of four hospitalizations that were entirely caused by alcohol were the related to mental health and addiction rather than as a result of excessive drinking in a social setting.

By this math, no more than approximately 19,250 of the 77,000 people reported to have been hospitalized in Canada last year due to alcohol poisoning could be considered a relevant statistic and that still fails to take into conisderation the age demographics and economic factors which the report also factored in.

Because this report does not directly focus on students, instead seeking to draw conclusions about the Canadian population as a whole, it cannot be considered a valid statistic for Martiquet’s cause, beyond observing the general harm that excessive alcohol consumption can have.

Claim: “It's never been more dangerous to try drugs.”

True: This is absolutely true. With the opiod epidemic showing no signs of lessening, the dangers of taking recreational drugs are greater than ever before. For more context, read this article from Vice.

Context: Natural euphoria

The idea of a “natural euphoria” is one often used in the context of yoga, mediation and exercise. It is best understood as the rush of dopamine that your brain recieves when experiencing pleasure.

While an attendee of a Party4Health event is very likely to experience this sensaition, calling it “natural” can be misleading because of the inherent associations people will make with the popular natural health movements.

The reality is that “natural euphoria” is a term that could be applied to almost any feeling of pleasure that is not caused by drugs or alcohol. Eating a really good burger, listening to your favourite album or having sex would yield something that could be called the same thing. This means that Party4Health’s claims are not incorrect, but they do hype-up the term considerably.