Heroic journeys through sobriety: How temporary alcohol abstinence campaigns portray participant experiences

Ashlea Bartram, Scott Hanson-Easey, Jaklin Eliott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Background: In Australia, recent years have seen a rise in the popularity of temporary abstinence campaigns, in which people pledge to abstain from alcohol for a month while raising funds for charity. In addition to their fundraising aims, such initiatives have been viewed as tools for broader behavioural and cultural change around alcohol, encouraging participants to reflect on their drinking and make longer-term changes to their behaviour. The extent to which these initiatives promote enduring change may depend on how they portray the experience of temporarily abstaining from alcohol, and how they position participants.

Method: We conducted a thematic discourse analysis of e-mails and website content from the 2016 editions of Dry July™ and Ocsober™, two Australian temporary abstinence campaigns.

Results: Both campaigns featured an overarching portrayal of participation as a hero's journey through sobriety, with participants embarking on a quest to fundraise for their cause, and returning from their experience transformed. However, the campaigns differed in the way they positioned participants. Dry July™ consistently positioned participants as heroes, promoting both fundraising and reflection on longer-term behaviour changes. In contrast, Ocsober™ offered varied and inconsistent positions which were less likely to engage participants or prompt enduring changes in behaviour, for example positioning participants as alcohol abusers or on a detox.

Conclusion: Our findings emphasise the need to attend to how campaigns materials position participants in order to strengthen the effectiveness of such campaigns as health promotion tools.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-87
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusPublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Abstinence
  • Alcohol
  • Australia
  • Health promotion
  • Positioning theory
  • Qualitative research


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