You’ve probably been hearing the term “sober curious” more and more lately. Even if you haven’t, you might have noticed all the low-octane and alcohol-free beers, wine and spirits there are on the market these days. And the nice thing is, there are no hard and fast rules to being sober curious. As the name implies, it simply means to choose to question those impulses to drink and evaluate the invitations and expectations to drink—versus mindlessly going along with the dominant drinking culture.
Recently, this lifestyle has become more and more popular. Especially after alcohol consumption increased during the pandemic, a lot of us are now looking to ease up on the booze. Don’t get us wrong, we still like a good cocktail and refreshing beer now and then. But as alcohol loses its health halo, those of us who take our fitness and overall health seriously are reevaluating our relationship with it. And, of course, well-known lifestyle diets like keto and Whole30 famously restrict or eliminate your ability to toss a few drinks back anyway.
So why not consider simply pulling back? Not stopping entirely, just making better choices? “Mindful drinking,” is actually the phrase that kicked things off back in 2017 when British journalist Rosamund Dean published a book based on the philosophy. She wanted to become more intentional about her relationship to drinking, she said, instead of seeing alcohol as a habit or a crutch. “It was going to the work event where there was nasty, cheap white wine and knocking it back,” she told the New York Times. “It’s the drinking you do without really thinking about it.”
Mindful drinking, by contrast, means “bringing awareness to your behaviors in terms of your decision to drink alcohol”: for example, tallying how many cocktails you consume in a given night, or paying close attention to why, where and when you’re drawn to booze. When you’re conscious about what you put in your body and how you burn off your calories, it makes sense to bring some self-reflection and a moderation mind-set to your drinking, right? Just in time for Sober October, we thought we’d give you a refresher on the benefits of being sober curious and how it can help keep you on track to hit your health goals.
Alcohol is powerful stuff. Drinking frequently or in excess can result in a range of less-than-desirable effects—most of which you’re likely familiar with. We’re talking about the fuzzy haze of hangovers, trouble sleeping and making bad decisions (everything from throwing out your nutrition plan to jeopardizing friendships and relationships). And that’s just in the short run. Alcohol also has long-term severe risks, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, liver disease, and mental health problems.
But cutting back, even a little, can bring about some good changes in your body. According to one recent study, just one month of abstaining from alcohol may help lower blood pressure and risk for alcohol-related diseases. Cyndi Turner, a Virginia therapist who co-founded Insight Into Action Therapy, notes that clients participating in month-long sobriety challenges also report increased energy, better sleep and weight loss. If you’re weighing the benefits of short-term sobriety, Turner recommends focusing on what you’ll gain, not what you’ll lose. Instead of thinking, “I won’t be able to drink with my friends,” remind yourself that cutting out alcohol can energize you, leaving you open to socializing in new (and possibly more rewarding) ways.
Really, your first step is to think about what being sober curious might mean in your life. Perhaps you want to try giving up alcohol for a period of time, such as participating in Sober October, or it might involve gradually decreasing your alcohol use. It might also mean limiting yourself to a single drink once each week when you are out with friends or replacing your usual cocktail with a non-alcohol option.
For instance, if a cocktail or glass of wine helps you decompress after work, Psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, M.D. suggests finding another activity that helps you relax. It could be a short workout, or a simple stroll around the block. Or something more explicitly stress-busting like meditating or a self-care soak in the tub.
If you don’t feel like you can function at an event without drink, or consider alcohol your social lubricant, you may want to talk to someone. You might not have a problem like alcoholism, but you might need to find new ways to break out of your shell. Talk therapy is a proven way to deal with social anxiety, says Dr. Ramsey. Or a doctor might suggest medication. Did you know that alcohol calms people by enhancing the same neurotransmitter effects as Xanax?
If you simply enjoy the rituals of drinking, plan your alcohol-free stand-ins—both at home and when going out. Think about what you like most about your go-to drink and give yourself alcohol-free options, whether it’s a nonalcoholic beer or booze-free cocktail, seltzer or kombucha. And don’t forget the garnishes, like a twist of lime or an extra large, clear ice cube. The key is to get the same pleasure without all the downsides. And now, it’s easier than ever. We’ll drink to that.
* Canned Mocktails: Our go-to brand for booze-free spritzes by Ghia. They boast a biting combination of botanical extracts, and no alcohol. Plus the cans are super stylish.