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The Sober Curious Movement

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Drinking alcohol has been a common social pastime in the US it seems. From wine-filled book clubs to bar-hopping adventures with friends after work to even a few beers while watching that night’s football game, our culture glamorizes and encourages people to kick back with a bottle. However, in recent years, alcohol-free festivities are becoming more and more common. In fact, some are calling it a movement—the Sober Curious movement.

The Sober Curious Movement Is Catching On

Recently, this movement has been gaining popularity. The creation of “Sober Bars,” as described by Kaitlin Luna in her podcast with psychologist and addiction researcher Dr. Kate Witkiewitz, [1] allows people to have a variety of mocktails while still having the fun benefits of being in a public social setting with friends and strangers alike.

However, it’s not just about officially-sanctioned sober establishments; I’ve noticed Sober Curious is becoming more popular as a way for individuals to challenge themselves to live without the effects of alcohol.

People who used to suffer from heavy holiday drinking binges are starting to participate in a month-long sobriety movement known as Dry January—and many of them are finding out that lowering their alcohol intake makes them feel better. There are even “Sober Raves,” which became all the rage beginning in 2017, dropping the rate of sober Brits down to 43% in one week. [2] Long story short—being “Sober Curious” is starting to catch on.

What Is “Sober Curious” ?

You may be wondering what exactly it means to be sober curious. Well, it’s a term to describe anyone who is curious what it’s like to live their life without alcohol. It can describe people like me, for instance, who needed to be on the path to addiction recovery, but who haven’t yet taken that first step. Sober curious can also describe people who find that they might drink a little too hard a little too often, and want to experience a life without hangovers and sickness. It’s even for people who are simply wondering if they might enjoy not drinking just as much as they enjoy drinking.

Understanding Dependency Research

The drive to drink less isn’t just a casual trend, however. Researchers are looking into what motivates people to pursue abstinence and sobriety, just as they are looking into what drives alcohol consumption, itself. In a report published in The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the research shows that even heavy drinkers may have long periods of abstinence in between their drinking periods. [3] In a way, this is reminiscent of the Dry January trend popularized by the Sober Curious movement.

Researchers from La Trobe University’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research in Australia also shared their findings in a study about alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 lockdown. They revealed that while people were still drinking during isolation, they weren’t drinking as much per sitting. This was especially true of the young, who tend to drink more in social settings than at home. [4]

Dr. Witkiewitz also reported that some heavy drinkers do stop without seeking formal treatment, and the amount of these “self-changers” has increased in the past decade. [5] This may be another sign that being “Sober Curious” isn’t just a hot new buzzword, but a “real” movement still growing and gaining popularity. People continue to at least consider what true sobriety might feel like, have begun to drink less and less, and are taking breaks from social and at-home drinking.

Why Are We Drinking Less?

Why Are We Drinking Less? Photo from Getty Images

I’m sure it’s hard for some people reading this blog to imagine a life in which they cut out alcohol entirely. And, yet, people are drinking less and less alcohol, going to alcohol-free events, and participating in month-long dry spells, regardless of how weird it may seem to everyone else.

So, why is this?

The Health Benefits

Drinking isn’t dangerous just because you’re at risk of developing an addiction. Alcohol is toxic, even in small doses. Despite what people will tell you, even if you drink less than the “heavy drinking” limit for your age, sex, and body type, alcohol can still make you very sick. It may even be responsible for damaging our DNA, [6] which makes it harder to fight off alcohol’s ill effects.

Alcohol use also increases the likelihood that you will miss work due to sickness, [7] a danger that affects both your health and your livelihood. As a result, people who are looking to be healthier overall will often cut out drinking in order to avoid these risks.

It’s Less Expensive

Did you know that the average American consumer spent over $500 in 2020 to buy drinks? [8] That’s $500 you can’t spend on food, school supplies, technology, clothes, or even vacations. If you’re a heavy drinker, consider that this amount could be four times higher, if not more. Drinking less or stopping altogether saves money.

While it’s not legally required in the United States, most bars and restaurants will serve free water if asked—and it is legally required in Europe and Australia. Bartenders may also give out free soft drinks to any designated driver, so if you want something a little more fun than plain water, you can have a root beer or Coca Cola instead without needing to pay a dime. Going sober doesn’t just mean that you’ll have less alcohol in your bloodstream; it also means you’ll have more money in your bank account each week, and that’s something nobody will complain about.

You Can Still Have Fun Without It!

Yes, you read that right. While having some drinks can seem like it’s part of the fun—not drinking can be just as fun and just as rewarding. Do you still want to be part of the “in-crowd” but are afraid to be questioned about your lack of a drink? Check out a Sober Bar and enjoy some non-alcoholic mocktails or get involved with a group like the Sober Girl’s Society, which offers social events for those involved. [9]

How to Get Involved

Being sober might sometimes be described as “stone-cold” and “boring,” but people like me who have truly suffered from alcohol dependency tend to see sobriety as warming and energizing. Done the right way, sobriety can feel almost like sunshine, offering you more confidence and skill as you learn to navigate social situations without it. [10] Remember, it’s OK not to have a drink, and you’ll often have even more fun if you’re in control and not under the effects of what is essentially America’s most prevalent drug.

Due to the amount of alcohol abuse leading to serious and life threatening additions, The Food and Drug Administration is even starting to recommend “no heavy drinking days” as a potential alternative to abstinence as a solution to alcohol abuse. [11]

Of course I believe in abstinence for those in recovery, I can understand how supporting ideas like “no heavy drinking days” can have a positive impact for some that might still not be ready for professional treatment, but need to start to reduce their alcohol intake.

Trying Sobriety on Your Own

If you’re used to drinking daily or frequently, cutting down on your consumption and especially swearing off alcohol entirely may seem like a bit more than you bargained for. Whether you’re fully dependent, drinking occasionally to cope with loneliness, boredom, or depression, or even if you’ve taken to going out to bars with your friends, stopping a habit can be extremely difficult. In fact, that’s why I support meeting people where they are—if stopping completely is overwhelming, trying out sobriety as part of this movement could provide health advantages.

So, how can you get involved in the sober curious movement without too much stress or struggle? Here are a few tips and tricks you can use.

Find An Sober App

Various apps exist to help people stay healthy, with daily reminders and hourly updates, and even suggestions to improve your routine. It’s no surprise that these apps exist for helping to deal with alcohol intake, as well. Sober Time tracks how long you’ve stayed sober, providing not only an easy way to log your progress but also has a community section, allowing you to get in touch with other people who are going through the same thing, and it’s not the only app that offers these features. There are hundreds of options on the various app stores, so you can be sure that whatever you try, you have another choice if one of them doesn’t work out.

Start A New Exercise Routine

Studies show that exercising regularly can help people recovering from substance abuse. From morphine-addicted rats that started avoiding morphine[12] once they grew stronger to fifteen out of twenty test subjects decreasing or stopping their drug intake after taking a group exercise program, [13] exercises proved to be a good way to avoid drugs. In fact, regular exercise is associated with better mental health, likely due to “an increased expression of neurotrophic factors in some brain areas,” as explained in a report by the British Journal of Pharmacology. [14]

To put it in simpler terms, exercise is good for the brain. This is, in turn, good for our physical and mental health. Going to the gym a few times a week can serve as a natural stress release and help lessen your dependency on drinking alcohol.

Get Others Involved in Your Journey

As discussed previously, one of the biggest causes of drinking among young people is social pressure. We were all told as kids not to give in to peer pressure, but people are more likely to have drinks when out with their friends in a public setting—especially if everyone else is also drinking.

You can use this and turn it around in your favor if you can get your friends to also try being Sober Curious for a little while. The more of a community you can build, the easier it’ll be to handle not drinking, even if you’re out at a party. Try making yourself some alcohol-free mocktails or drinking punch instead, and you and your friends can still have fun without getting drunk.

Look for Support Locally

Aside from the tips listed here, there are many other options available to you, and some of them might be in your very neighborhood. You may have a local resource for the Sober Curious movement available to you, such as a nearby Sober Bar or alcohol-free event coming up. You may find a local group similar to the Sober Girl’s Society, or you can create one with the help of the community you’ve built. Knowing what your resources are can help you stick to your goal without going out of your way.

Not Just for Those Struggling With Dependency

Sober Movement Photo from Getty Images

Maybe the idea of being “sober curious” isn’t for everyone, but I think it’s an idea worth talking about. No matter what your take is on the movement, you can clearly see the benefits of reducing your consumption far outweigh any drawbacks. Alcohol has become a huge part of our modern life and culture. The sober curious movement might be just what we need to help those that are struggling with dependency find the help they need, even if it starts by just becoming curious what their life might be like without alcohol.

Are you considering trying some of these tips? Are you already “sober curious” or learning about it for the first time? Do you think this lifestyle may work out for you? Remember—there are many ways to reduce or eliminate alcohol intake. If you are curious, I strongly suggest you consider the benefits. And, remember, you’re not alone. I believe in you!

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