There is a new emerging trend relating to alcohol use that you may be hearing about – the “sober curious” or “elective sobriety” movement. This new trend consists of people who are not considered to have a drinking problem or to be misusing alcohol, but who make the decision to be sober. This decision is not necessarily a lifelong or full-time commitment and is often done for health and lifestyle benefits.
What Is Sober Curious?
“Sober curious” is a term that is used to describe people who do not identify as addicts but decide to experiment with sobriety to see what changes it can bring to their health or to their lifestyles. The “sober curious” are deciding to abstain from drinking alcohol to see what kinds of positive effects sobriety can have on their lives, not because they have a clinical drinking problem or for religious reasons.
This decision is not necessarily a life-long commitment to sobriety and is often done out of curiosity of what it is like to be sober, hence the term “sober curious”. It’s seen as an alternative to traditional sobriety in that participants are encouraged to experiment with how alcohol fits into their lives vs complete abstinence from alcohol.
Many of those in the sober curious movement are female, but the movement is not exclusively for females. The sober curious movement has led to the creation of sober curious groups and clubs. Because of the role that alcohol plays in many social interactions, these groups allow those who are experimenting with sobriety a way to have the social interactions that they previously had that were centered around alcohol. These groups also allow people to discuss what sobriety has done for them and the changes that they have noticed in their health and lives.
While these groups are an excellent resource for those within the sober curious movement, other venues and businesses are starting to take note. Many people who have made the decision to be sober will still visit bars which is creating an increased demand for non-alcoholic alternatives, like mocktails and non-alcoholic beers.
The sober curious movement also aims to destigmatize sobriety and have a sober lifestyle be more accepted in our mainstream culture.
Reasons for Upticks in Sober Curiosity
The recent uptick in sober curiosity is likely due to multiple factors. As society becomes more health-conscious, people who realize that there are several negative effects of alcohol use are deciding to avoid alcohol in order to have a more healthy lifestyle. Alcohol consumption, even when not considered heavy or excessive, can still lead to negative health effects such as weight gain, risk of developing alcohol dependence, increased risk of injury and memory problems.
Another potential reason for the increase in sober curiosity is that there is a large number of people who use heavy amounts of alcohol or binge drink but are not clinically considered alcohol dependent. These people will sometimes suffer from hangovers and decreased functioning or disruptions in their lives due to their alcohol use, but are not considered an alcoholic and are not addicted to alcohol. The negative effects that this heavy drinking can cause leads some people to realize they would be better off without using alcohol and makes them want to try out the sober lifestyle.
“It just feels like there’s been a really profound shift in the way people are thinking about drinking,” says Ruby Warrington, author of “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol.”
The sober curious movement also coincides with the growing popularity of other mindfulness activities. When searching for more information on what it means to be sober curious, you’re very likely to run into descriptions that include “mindful drinking.”
Benefits of Sober Curiosity
Sober curiosity can lead to several benefits. The first and most recognized one is the lifestyle benefits that it creates. This includes improved memory, especially those memories of times spent socializing with friends. Sobriety also helps to avoid potentially embarrassing situations that can occur while using alcohol.
Abstaining from alcohol use provides more time in people’s lifestyles by reducing the time spent recovering from alcohol use and the hangover sometimes experienced after a night of drinking. People who try out the sober curious lifestyle often report feeling more focused and being able to function better in their lives.
Sober curiosity also leads to health benefits. Abstaining from alcohol can lead to weight loss, improved memory and other health benefits as well as mitigating the short- and long-term health risks associated with alcohol use. While people like to point to the health benefits of using moderate amounts of alcohol, most of these benefits can also be obtained from drinking grape juice. People do report a more subjective feeling of improved health and wellness after joining the sober curiosity movement, and many people are trying out this new lifestyle.
While the sober curious movement tends to involve people without an actual addiction to alcohol, there are people who desire a sober lifestyle but find that they are having difficulty with quitting alcohol use. This can indicate that alcohol addiction may be present, and these people may require professional help to safely stop using alcohol.
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Lucas, Amelia. “Fewer Americans are Drinking Alcohol—So Bars and Brewers are Adapting.” CNBC. June 1, 2019. Accessed June 15, 2019.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health.” Jan 3, 2018. Accessed June 15, 2019.
Esser, Marissa B. et al. “Prevalence of Alcohol Dependence Among US Adult Drinkers, 2009–2011.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Nov. 20, 2014. Accessed June 15, 2019.
Schoenber, Nara. “They’re Young, They’re Fun and They’re Alcohol-Free. The ‘Sober Curious’ Movement Takes off in Chicago.” Chicago Tribune. Feb. 27, 2019. Accessed June 15, 2019.