Therapists love to ask clients to be open and “curious” about themselves and situations in their lives. It is convenient, then, that there’s a new buzzword in the wellness world: Sober Curious.
What is “Sober Curious”?
Being sober curious means examining one’s alcohol use in order to answer an important question: What is my relationship with alcohol? Sober curiosity is not the same as abstaining from alcohol use in other contexts – during pregnancy or for religious reasons, for example. It is also different than being in active recovery from an alcohol use disorder or addiction. Sober curious folks are eager to challenge their current use patterns and discover how their life feels when they drink less.
Reasons to be Sober Curious
Whether it’s drinking less after a wake up call following an embarrassing moment, or a month-long challenge like Dry January, or cutting back for health reasons, many people are trying drinking less alcohol on for size.
The reasons people try it are varied, but the result is unanimous: sober curious people seem to be enjoying life more. As Jen Gilhoi, co-founder of the Zero Proof Collective, points out with her hashtag #sobernotsomber, sober does not equal boring. Another sober curious writer backs up this point by saying that drinking less “isn’t about sacrifice – the lucidity I’m able to bring to my important moments now intensifies their brightness and hue.” Having fun without the hangover? That’s enough to pique many people’s interests. What can follow in terms of health benefits makes a lot of people stick with it.
Cutting Back for Health and A Clearer Mind
Alcohol is a chemical that directly affects the brain. According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA), “Alcohol makes it harder for the areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment.” Alcohol also makes the brain process information more slowly, and so brain fog is a major component of a hangover. Emotions can feel closer to the surface and mood swings are also common as people withdraw from alcohol. Cutting back can lead to a clearer mind and better emotional control while drinking and in the day(s) after.
Drinking alcohol is also directly linked to higher incidents of physical health risks including all types of cancer. The National Cancer Institute states that alcohol is a known carcinogen, which can lead to cancer. “Even those who have no more than one drink per day and binge drinkers (those who consume 4 or more drinks for women and 5 or more drinks for men in one sitting) have a modestly increased risk of some cancers.”
The health benefits of sober curiosity do not require being totally dry. People who even just cut back on how much they drink experience improved sleep, energy, skin clarity, and confidence.
Social Norms are Changing While Sober Bars are Popping Up
In the United States, the trend is toward drinking less in all age groups. Forty percent of legal drinkers report drinking less frequently and in lower quantities than they did a year ago. So do college students.
This may be a response to the major increase in sober options popping up. There are more non-alcoholic options available to us than ever, and the “U.S. Sales of non-alcoholic beverages rose 33.2% in the past year, with $331 million in total sales.” Locally, you may notice an increase in alcohol-free options at liquor stores and in specialty NA bottle shops like Marigold. Additionally, we are seeing non-alcoholic or sober bars popping up all over, including Sans Bar, Awake, and Sober Sally’s.
Ready to take a closer look at your own drinking? Great! It can help to keep a journal of your sober curious journey. Try tracking your mood, sleep, and energy levels while you change your drinking behaviors. If you’re already working with a therapist, they can help you explore how it feels to make a change. Again, this is all about exploring your relationship with alcohol and why you choose to drink – or not.
Blog written by Sentier therapist, Sarah Souder-Johnson, MEd, LPCC