The term sober curious originates with author Ruby Warrington, whose 2018 book of the same title encouraged readers to explore and change their relationship with alcohol. The phrase has become associated with a “sober curious movement” of people taking a curious look at the costs and benefits of current alcohol consumption.
Living a sober curious lifestyle does not mean one has to have the ultimate goal of sobriety. There are a variety of reasons why someone may find themselves on this path and all are valid.
Author of Quit Like a Woman, Holly Whitaker encourages readers to ask themselves one question: “is alcohol getting in the way of my happiness, my life, my self-esteem? … Does it cost more than it gives?”
Signs You May Benefit From Exploring a Sober Curious Lifestyle:
- A doctor recommends you decrease or eliminate alcohol use
- You pride yourself on living a “healthy” lifestyle but have not noticed the benefits of your efforts
- Poor sleep, chronic fatigue
- “Hangxiety” or guilt the day after drinking
- Feeling disconnected in relationships
- Spending more money than you would like on alcohol
- Feeling fuzzy or slower at work
- Frequently blacking out or losing time
- Not having fun unless alcohol is involved
- Using it as primary means of coping
Benefits of Trying a Sober Curious Lifestyle:
- Better sleep: a common misunderstanding is that alcohol helps you sleep. While it is true that the sedative properties of alcohol may help you fall asleep, those that engage in regular alcohol use are more prone to experience sleep disruption, daytime drowsiness, and chronic sleep deprivation. Less alcohol would mean more blissful sleep with a greater ability to focus.
- Decreased anxiety: alcohol is a depressant, so this should help anxiety … right? Maybe temporarily. Chronic alcohol use is correlated with higher levels of cortisol, one of our body’s primary stress hormones.
- Health benefits: alcohol impacts all of our organ systems. When it does not have to prioritize the elimination of alcohol, our body can focus on the proper absorption of nutrients and detoxification. This translates to improved digestion, immunity, cognitive functioning, sexual health, and mental and heart health. In short: you will feel and look better.
- Being a more active participant in relationships: our alcohol use may have negative impacts on those closest to us. With minimal alcohol intake, we can be more engaged and connected with others.
- Fewer hangovers– because who has time for those?
Most Common Concerns I Hear as a Therapist + Tips for Navigating Them
Alcohol Is Everywhere
True. Alcohol has played a role in human culture since 4000 BC; it is used in times of celebration, mourning, bonding, and ritual. Many professions benefit from, or even require, drinking as part of the job.
It is important to make choices and set goals that work for you and your lifestyle. If it is not easily accessible to eliminate alcohol at work functions, find other contexts in your life where you can take breaks from alcohol.
In the spaces that you choose to work on minimizing intake, take the opportunity to explore the sensory parts of alcohol that you enjoy. Stock up on drinks that taste good (and are aesthetically pleasing, if that is important!) Play around with flavors, garnishes, textures, and glassware.
Many bars and restaurants now offer alcohol-free sober curious drinks or low-ABV options for you to enjoy and feel part of the experience while also respecting your new boundaries. In situations where you still want to imbibe, consider committing to having a glass of water or a 0% ABV cocktail in between drinks.
I Don’t Think I Have Enough Self-Control
Practice mindfulness. The act of paying attention, in the present moment, non-judgmentally has many benefits on your sober curious journey. You will get to know yourself and those around you better. It will feel uncomfortable at first; feeling your feelings can be uncomfortable!
However, you will learn more about your own emotions, needs, and urges. When do you notice that you crave alcohol most? How long does the craving last? All of this information gained will help you make thoughtful decisions rather than fall into familiar reactions.
Will I Be Lonely?
Do not isolate yourself; support is key. Spend time with people who are respectful of your decision and open to doing activities that do not revolve around alcohol.
This may include expanding your social circle with more like-minded people. Check out meetup.com, Facebook groups, local park districts, or other community organizations to get some ideas.
How Will I Fill My Time?
You may find yourself with an abundance of time, energy, or even money to try something new. Consider embracing daytime, and outdoor activities; spending time in nature (including urban parks) decreases stress and improves mood. Now would also be a great time to give a new hobby a try. The brain responds to novelty with a flood of feel-good chemicals like dopamine- the same neurotransmitter that spikes when you drink alcohol.
What If People Judge Me?
The reality is, drinking is the norm. People will have questions, and probably opinions, on your decision to explore sober curiosity. It will likely feel awkward at first. Remind yourself of your reasons for giving this a try and the benefits that you will experience.
What If I Mess Up?
You probably will because we often do when we are trying something new. New habits take time to navigate and implement. Practicing self-compassion, rather than self-blame, will be a lot more supportive and motivating in the long run.
What If I Cannot Do It?
If this process proves to be more difficult than you realized, you may benefit from professional help (such as therapy) or from joining a community support group. There is no shame in seeking support.
If you find yourself curious about sober curiosity, give it a try! There are no rules or commitments necessary to get to know yourself and your relationship with alcohol better. Meet yourself where you are and go in with a plan that makes sense for you. Cheers!
Written by: Jodi Randle, LCPC, CADC
At Clarity Clinic, we have highly trained staff who specialize in therapy and psychiatry services. To learn more about how we can support your mental health, call Clarity Clinic at (312) 815-9660 or schedule an appointment today.