Have you ever gone to a party and chosen to stay sober? For some people, that’s completely unimaginable. I’ll admit it makes me a little uncomfortable to think about. There have certainly been Saturday nights when I haven’t wanted to drink, and the solution has always been to forgo all partying completely. I’d stay home and watch Netflix by myself before I’d attend a party sober. But Jacques Martiquet, founder of UBC’s Party4Health, sees middle ground: What if partying sober was fun and cool? What if you could have your cake and eat it too?

Party4Health is two things. It’s an on-campus organization founded by Martiquet in January, and it’s also a style of partying that predates the organization’s founding. 

The style of partying for health is simply that: for your health. One facet of this means no drugs or alcohol. To explain, Martiquet points out some sobering facts (pun intended): “In Canada alcohol hospitalizations just exceeded hospitalizations for heart attacks” and in our province specifically, “we have the fentanyl crisis,” which is on track to kill 1,400 people in BC this year. Martiquet puts it bluntly: “It’s never been more dangerous to try drugs.” 

But the other side of the health approach is a far more positive one. Sober partying isn’t only a way to avoid the scary realities of drug and alcohol abuse, but can also be incredibly healthy. 

“When you get those endorphins going and see those incredible smiles it just resets your mental health and physical health,” Martiquet explains.   

In truth, I had never thought of partying as a tool for relief. Martiquet notes that partying is often viewed as “a vice.” 

But, in reality, “partying can be revitalizing. It can be a stress management tool, a tool for socialization.”

Partying, in many cultures and social groups, is simply a place for “celebration and festivity,” as Jacques notes, and there’s no fine print that says it must include the use of substances. 

But the forces that push substance use, that make it seem like a rule, are strong. “Social norms are in play, there’s peer pressure, a pressure to belong, and there’s people’s upbringings.” Martiquet refers to musical artists today. Is there any artist you can think of who overtly promotes sobriety? 

The solution, then, is to up the ante when it comes to party planning. “We throw events so extraordinary and novel they undermine the necessity for drugs and alcohol in partying,” Martiquet says. At Party4Health’s 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.” 

“Natural euphoria” is a phrase Jacques repeats throughout our interview. It gives me pause to think: when was the last time I felt naturally euphoric at a party? In fact, when was the last time I felt euphoric at a party period? Even with a red Solo cup in my hand. 

There are many other things that make Party4Health’s events unique, beyond the promotion of “natural euphoria.” The events try to engage all sorts of people, regardless of background. “I’m pro all-ages partying,” Martiquet says. “We don’t think partying should be cliquey or restricted to a certain age group or that people should be judged for who they’re partying with.” This even includes, ironically, people who drink and take drugs. “We have a lot of haters who think we’re saying drug use is unhealthy. That’s not our message.” Party4Health is also always contemplating ways to include introverts, or “people who get energy from being alone.” 

The type of people who usually come to Party4Health’s events is hard to pin down. The common denominator seems to be “people who are open minded, people who are pro-health, and people who really value fun as a measure of their life satisfaction.” 

These are the values that underpin the entire concept of partying for health, but also the UBC organization itself. A lot of it comes from Martiquet’s background. He’s worked as medical and harm reduction staff at festivals like Shambhala and UBC events. There, he says, he “gets to see the extreme versions of substance use.” 

Partying in Party4Health’s style can also be a way to address larger public health concerns, which Martiquet is well versed in from his background in health education. Time Magazine released an article in 2015 declaring loneliness as a public healthy epidemic. The article referenced a study that claims the feeling of loneliness increases risk of death by 26%. And the city of Vancouver, in my own anecdotal experience, seems at high risk of this trend. 

Treating loneliness and lack of connection as a public health concern also explains the city’s “wellness culture.” All those yoga, acupuncture, and mediation rooms that dot the city are there for a reason. Party4Health, then, is new avenue for combating the issues of loneliness, although Martiquet is reluctant to jump on the “wellness” bandwagon. “We don’t bring, like, shamans or healers to our events,” he says. 

Partying for Health is also important for Vancouver’s reputation. The fentanyl crisis and loneliness aside, the city has a bad rep when it comes to having fun. Martiquet says, “our public programming has the potential to transform this unfriendly, “no fun city.”” 

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase. “No fun city.” Perhaps you’ve felt it. The city’s nightlife and general culture is not fun-oriented. Shows have been canceled, venues shut down. 

This is why, in Martiquet’s mind, “[Party4Health] is basically the best thing that could happen for the tourist industry in Vancouver.”  

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

Their next event is expected to continue riding the wave of success. The event, called Party Safari, occurs October 6th in the Nest and is, you guessed it, about channeling your inner “party animal.” It’s a full day event, with a morning rave at 7 am, a guided campus “party tour,” a flash mob-style silent disco in the library, lectures (fun ones!) about the benefits of natural euphoria from leading medical researchers, and much more. 

And, to top it all off, “you can study the next day because you’re not going to be hungover.”