Sober October began as a charity effort but has become a part of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, a campaign that can bring awareness to alcohol abuse.

During Sober October, which began in 2013 as a cancer fundraiser through MacMillan, people obtain sponsorships as individuals or teams and raise money while abstaining from alcohol. Challenges like Sober October bring awareness to drinking habits and can lead to the prevention of alcohol abuse. They are also part of a larger substance abuse prevention initiative. 

What Is Sober October?

Sober October is a fundraiser designed to encourage people who drink socially to give up alcohol for the 31 days of October. Participants sign up for the sober challenge, and all funds raised support individuals living with a cancer diagnosis. Run by the United Kingdom-based MacMillan, the Sober October challenge also offers participants an app where they can learn how to make alcohol-free mixed drinks. 

Although this event began as a fundraiser for cancer, October now represents a time when people recognize the importance of substance abuse prevention and support those in recovery. Since 2011, October has been declared National Substance Abuse Prevention Month in the United States. Sober October aligns with the intent of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. 

Sober October can make people more aware of their drinking patterns. You may be wondering if you have been drinking too much. Cutting out alcohol during Sober October can help assess your drinking level and recognize if it has become excessive.

Why Stay Sober for a Month?

The main goal of staying sober for a month is to bring awareness to drug and alcohol abuse. In a 2018 study, over a quarter of adults reported they have engaged in binge drinking within the past month, and the consequences can be devastating. The same study reveals that 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes, and alcohol accounts for nearly one-third of traffic deaths.

Alcohol abuse is also a concern for teenagers, with 30% of high schoolers reporting they had consumed alcohol in the past month and 14% admitting to binge drinking. Youth who consume alcohol are also at risk of engaging in dangerous behavior, as 6% reported driving under the influence and 17% had ridden in a car with someone who was alcohol-impaired.

With alcohol abuse having such risky consequences, it is important to bring attention to the problem and make people more aware of their own drinking habits. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends limiting drinking to no more than three drinks in a given day for women and a total of seven in a week, and no more than four drinks in one day for men and a maximum of 14 per week. Staying within these levels of consumption significantly reduces the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. 

During Sober October, participants may become more aware of their drinking and recognize if they regularly exceed the recommended limits. Sober October also presents an opportunity for communities to come together and discuss the harms associated with alcohol abuse.

Beyond awareness, there are other benefits associated with staying sober for a month. You can replace cocktail hour with healthier habits, such as going to the gym or taking up a hobby. Sober October can become a time to focus on health and wellness in general. By living an alcohol-free lifestyle for a month, you might experience improved sleep, increased energy levels and weight loss. 

Can Sober Challenges Impact Substance Abuse Prevention?

Awareness is the primary reason for sober challenges, and the attention placed on sobriety can serve as an addiction prevention effort. Research shows that mass media prevention campaigns like Sober October can be effective. 

Impacting Teens

Prevention is especially important for adolescents, who are especially susceptible to risky behavior and addictions. Research shows that when people start drinking at a younger age, they are more likely to develop alcohol use disorders as they get older.  

When adults engage in sober challenges, they demonstrate to young people that drugs and alcohol are not required to have fun or be grown up. Adults who choose sobriety can also set a good example for teens and show them that alcohol is not a necessary part of socializing. 

Impacting Yourself

Sober October can have lasting benefits. After the challenge is over, some participants may find that they feel better without alcohol. This can encourage them to remain sober, which reduces the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. On the other hand, some people may drink alcohol again after completing the challenge, but with a better understanding of how it impacts their lives.

There is also evidence that prevention efforts such as staying sober for a month can reduce the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. For example, research found when people stayed sober for a month during an event called “Dry January,” they could engage in healthier drinking habits year-round.

Impacting People in Recovery

It is also relevant to consider the impact that sober challenges have on those in treatment for addiction. When people in recovery observe others making an effort to abstain from alcohol use, they may feel more supported in their own recovery. Witnessing others consume drugs or alcohol can also be a relapse trigger for those in recovery. When people around them remain abstinent, it may be easier for them to avoid relapse.

The level of awareness that sober challenges create can significantly impact the lives of people in recovery. During National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, people are encouraged to share their stories and reduce the stigma associated with substance abuse. Sober challenges add to this effort and inspire people living with addiction to seek help. 

Getting Started on Sober October

If you are wondering how to stay sober for a month, there are tools that can help you stay committed. Apps are available to track your sober days, and some will even show you how much money you’re saving by not purchasing alcohol. You can also find replacement activities to do instead of consuming alcohol. You might join an evening exercise class instead of going out for drinks after work. You can also stay sober by simply replacing a regular alcoholic beverage with a non-alcoholic drink, like replacing a glass of wine with a cup of tea while watching TV.

Seeking Help

Sober October can be an opportunity for people to abstain from drinking during National Substance Abuse Prevention Month. However, if you or a loved one is having difficulty cutting back on alcohol use, addiction treatment services may help you reduce your drinking. A caring professional from The Recovery Village can discuss your situation and provide you with more information about substance abuse treatment.  Reach out today to learn more.

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Editor – Melissa Carmona
Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

MacMillan Cancer Support. “Ready for a challenge?” 2020. Accessed September 25, 2020.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. “National substance abuse prevention month.” Accessed September 25, 2020.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol facts and statistics.” February 2020. Accessed September 25, 2020.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Drinking levels defined.” Accessed September 25, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Underage drinking.” September 3, 2020. Accessed September 25, 2020.

Hingson, Ralph, and Zha, Wenxing. “Age of Drinking Onset, Alcohol Use Di[…]s After Drinking.” Pediatrics, June 2009. Accessed September 25, 2020.

The White House. “Presidential Proclamation on National Substance Abuse Prevention Month, 2019.” September 30, 2019. Accessed September 25, 2020.

Das, Jai; et al. “Interventions for Adolescent Substance Abuse: An Overview of Systematic Reviews.” Journal of Adolescent Health, October 2016. Accessed September 25, 2020.

Piper, Richard. “Dry January: the evidence.” Alcohol Change UK, December 2019. Accessed September 25, 2020.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.