Mental Health

Sober Curiosity—Why More People Are Drinking Less

What does it mean to drink alcohol mindfully? Find out why the sober curious movement questions your drinking habits but is different from sobriety.

By Debashruti Banerjee
02 Dec 2021

Abstaining from alcohol has been around for as long as the consumption of it. Present in recent campaigns like Dry January and Sober October to the Total Abstinence Society of Father Theobald Mathew (an Irish Catholic society from the early-19th century)—sobriety and teetotalism are not products of nascent history. What is, then, the sober curious movement? Why has it garnered much buzz and traction in the past few years, especially on the internet?


It all took a solid shape in 2018, when author Ruby Warrington wrote all about how she began questioning her relationship with alcohol in her book Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. Sober curiosity, as opposed to sobriety, is a "grey-area" in drinking—where people may choose to cut back or cut out alcohol intake in a more mindful approach towards life. It is considered a grey area as being sober curious is not synonymous with being an alcoholic. The sober curious movement has broadened the scopes of sobriety by including various levels of moderation—even for occasional drinkers.



The basics of the sober curious movement

1. Knowing why you're drinking

The first step to mindful drinking, according to Warrington, is asking yourself why you're drinking. Is it a social aid or a coping mechanism? How will the drink impact your health and productivity the next day? According to a 2018 paper published in the Frontiers journal, the two most common motives of alcohol consumption are reward-oriented (generating positive feeling and enhancing performance) and relief-oriented (from stress or trauma). By knowing your triggers and the aftermath, you can begin looking for alternative ways to fulfill the same impulses—like bonding with friends or alleviating stress.


2. Discovering healthier alternatives

Sober curiosity can not only help you save money (both at home and at social places), it can also allow you to find other things to enjoy. Swap your usual cocktail for a fermented or sparkling beverage, soda with fresh fruit or delicious mocktails and punches. You can also try meeting your friends or family at a non-alcoholic establishment, or even outdoors. You can invest your time in finding new hobbies as well as focusing on diet and exercise.


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3. Finding empathy and support

Your journey of sober curiosity doesn't have to be a lonely one. In fact, it is necessary that you find support. Warrington herself is the founder of a mindful drinking community called Club SÖDA NYC (Sober or Debating Abstinence) as well as the Sober Curious Podcast. Apart from support groups and forums, you can also find a friend or family member to do this along with you—so you can hold each other accountable. Even if they're not doing this with you, find a friend who you can trust to get you a non-spirited drink and have your back when you need them.


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4. Improving physical and mental well-being

Even if you aren't cutting out booze completely (especially in the beginning), research suggests that taking breaks has its benefits as well. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (USA), heavy drinking can damage your liver, heart, metabolism and cognitive function as well as increase risks for cancer, depression and other conditions. Therefore, even reducing your booze intake can help your body repair itself—both from the hangover symptoms (headache, nausea, dry mouth and more) and in the long term.


5. Understanding it's not a trend

Being mindful of your own well-being goes hand in hand with that of others. Since the sober curious movement has found the majority of its momentum through online mediums, there remain risks and instances where certain influencers may try to hijack the cause and reduce it to a trend or a fad with no substantial understanding of the issue or long-term results. It is crucial to remember that sobriety is a very sensitive topic, and a necessity for people with alcohol and addiction related disorders. A 2008 paper published in the journal Alcohol Research and Health suggests that "alcohol-dependent people are more sensitive to relapse-provoking cues and stimuli than nondependent people". For them, mindful or occasional drinking may not be an option at all—due to health emergencies, withdrawal symptoms and risks of relapse.


6. Remembering what not to say

Cultural expectations and stigma can play a big part in both drinking and not drinking. The National Institute on Drug Abuse, USA, says that stigmatised language can evoke negative emotions in an individual as well as reduce their willingness to continue on that path of wellness. Parties, gatherings and such can be especially difficult situations when you're trying to be sober curious. Though you do not need to explain yourself, you can keep certain replies at hand, like "I'm driving", "I have work tomorrow" or "I don't like the taste". This is also in tandem with what not to say to a sober curious person (as well as a person in recovery). Judging them for not drinking, assuming they are pregnant or pushing them to have "just one drink" are all bad ideas.


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