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Sober Nightclub: A one-of-a-kind club changing the narrative on sobriety

Gwen Dudley said her life was completely out of control. (Credit: Larry Deal)
Gwen Dudley said her life was completely out of control. (Credit: Larry Deal)
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Alcohol is among the biggest causes of preventable deaths in America.

Reporter Mark Hyman takes us on the first-ever look inside a one-of-a-kind nightclub that wants to change the narrative about a night on the town in this episode of Inside Your World Investigates.

I reached the bottom. There was no question that my life was completely out of control and that I was going to lose my life if I didn't stop. And so that desperation was a gift,” Gwen Dudley told us.

A year earlier, Gwen woke up one morning in a drug and alcohol stupor. Her father had recently died of cancer, her partner suffered a fatal overdose, and she’d been struggling for years to get sober. At that very moment, she made the decision to reclaim her life.

Gwen explained, “The gift of desperation is being brought to your knees in pain and in addition to the point of needing help.”

At the age of 17, Chad Ritchey nearly lost his life. Driving drunk, he caused a near-fatal car crash.

Ritchey said, “I was in shock trauma for about three weeks. But that one incident didn't stop me from drinking. I just kept going and it got worse.”

“The war was over. It won I lost. I know when I drank I could not stop. And I tried to control it and it controlled me,” Chad Ritchey said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2021, 45,000 people died from motor vehicle accidents, 48,000 by firearms, 48,000 to suicide, and 81,000 by synthetic opioids.

Opioid deaths have been declared a “public health emergency.” An even bigger killer is alcohol-related deaths with 141,000.

To better understand the causes behind alcohol abuse Inside Your World met with addiction and recovery health professionals.

Victor Hillaert told us:

People are usually trying to escape from one thing or another. I think a lot of people turn to alcohol because it is so mainstream, it's so public, it's so easily accessible.”

Hillaert is a nurse practitioner at Avenues Recovery, an inpatient treatment center in southern Maryland. He trained for this work after retiring from professional baseball. He was adamant that those who believe alcoholism is a lifestyle choice or a moral failing are flat-out wrong. He was unequivocal, “It is 100% a medical condition.”

Like Gwen and Chad, 1 in 16 adults has an alcohol disorder. Another 623,000 who are suffering are between the ages of 12-17. For most, the road to sobriety is not easy.

Licensed therapist Brittanny Ryan told us resolving the underlying trauma can be key to ending self-destructive behavior. And she believes establishing friendships in safe environments is a building block for recovery.

Brittany said, “Fellowship is that sense of community, having that support. Addiction is an isolating disease.” She added that getting sober alone is very difficult. Chad Ritchey agreed. He admitted, “You don't want me to blaze a trail by myself. Who knows where I'll end up.”

Gwen and Chad found that sense of community at Club 164, a vision of restauranteur Brock Anderson. During a visit and tour with Anderson Inside Your World observed, “If someone uses the term night clubbing, we tend to think nighttime, dark interior, lots of people, music, entertainment, a bar. Club 164 has all of that except?”

“No alcohol. No alcohol,” Anderson replied.

“The environment is just miraculously accelerating the rate at which people are getting sober,” said Brock Anderson, founder of Club 164

Open early morning until late, Club 164 has food and beverage, a game room, flat panel TVs, free childcare, entertainment, a bookstore, and big events on those days that most tempt people to drink.

Chad shared his enthusiasm for the club.

Coming in here is fun,” he said. “The Super Bowl, we had hundreds of people here. Thanksgiving dinner, my parents came here, my daughter came here. Christmastime, we have a big spread. The club’s impact on Chad, who’s been sober for 27 years, is profound. “And I guess from a personal aspect, I've never been happier in my life.”

On one of our visits, we watched dozens of people file in and out of some of the nearly six 12-step meetings held daily. Each with a goal to remain clean and sober.

In our conversation with Gwen when we asked her to tell us about Club 164 she replied, “I have chills.” She continued, “It was the new experience that I needed to be successful in sobriety.”

Chad and Gwen both believe the club is a success, but what about its founder? We asked Brock - who’s been sober for three decades – how would he measure this non-profit club’s success just 18 months after opening?

He was proud of the early returns. “We have 20 people celebrating their first year of sobriety in the two months of February and March. I can tell you that is unheard of. That is staggering.”

But this first location is not enough. Brock told us he’s only just starting. He’d like to see venues nationwide. And he hopes that one day, clubs like this will “change the narrative on sobriety. Make sobriety fun.”

Not just fun. But also be a presence in every community.

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Note: If you or someone in your life has problems with drugs or alcohol then you should call the 24-hour National Drug and Alcohol Helpline for information about treatment programs in your local community. That number is 800-662-HELP (800-662-4357).

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