A few months ago, I started questioning my relationship with alcohol. Although I’ve never considered myself to be a big drinker, I definitely turned to alcohol more frequently during the pandemic as a way to deal with the stress—and I wasn’t alone.
According to a November 2020 study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, COVID-related distress led to an increase in alcohol consumption. Additionally, women were more likely to turn to booze to cope than men.
The thing is, alcohol was having the opposite effect of making me feel relaxed. After knocking back a couple of glasses of wine at home after work or a few cocktails at outdoor happy hours with friends, I would regularly toss and turn in my sleep and wake up dehydrated, cranky, and sluggish in the morning.
My Sober Curious Journey
So, I committed to doing Dry January—which involves taking a month-long break from alcohol—as a way to reset and create healthier habits around alcohol going forward.
Amazingly, everything from my sleep to my skin to my energy really did improve over the course of the month.
I can’t say I’ll never drink again—I do love a frozen piña colada on a warm summer day or a glass of pinot noir with pasta, after all. But I felt so good during Dry January that I’ve decided to continue embracing a mostly ‘sober curious’ lifestyle for now.
If you’re curious about what it means to be sober curious, read on for more on the trend and how to make mindful drinking work for you.
What Does ‘Sober Curious’ Mean?
The term sober curious was coined by Ruby Warrington, the author of the 2018 book Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. In her book, Warrington introduced the concept of questioning your relationship with alcohol and being more intentional about your drinking.
First and foremost, know that a sober curious lifestyle isn’t for everyone. It is not a recovery method or substitute for an alcohol or substance abuse recovery program.
“If you identify as an alcoholic or have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, a sober curious lifestyle is probably not the best choice for you,” notes Albert Zingariello, L.C.S.W. at All In Solutions Counseling Center, an addiction and mental health treatment center.
How to Get Started
With that in mind, adopting the practice can be beneficial for many looking to cut back on alcohol. “The sober curious movement is about lessening or eliminating consumption of wine, beer, spirits, and cocktails for a specific reason or a variety of reasons, including wellness, health, or just to see if you might feel better without it,” explains Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month.
The goal of a sober curious lifestyle is to give you a chance to take stock of how you feel when you are and aren’t drinking. “It comes from a place of curiosity versus black and white thinking, which can free people up to be more intentional about why they are or aren’t drinking,” says Heidi McBain, L.M.F.T., L.P.C., who specializes in therapy for moms and moms-to-be.
Being sober curious doesn’t mean you have to give up alcohol completely, though. “It’s really about pausing and thinking about whether or not you’re going to have a drink in the moment rather than simply accepting that drinking is the norm in many social situations,” says McBain.
What Are the Benefits Of A Sober Curious Lifestyle?
Drinking less has a variety of health benefits. Bryan Bruno, M.D., medical director at Mid City TMS, a New York City medical center focused on treating depression, says these perks include lower blood pressure, healthier liver function, more energy, and deeper sleep.
A sober curious lifestyle can also have positive emotional and psychological impacts, likely stemming from a heightened awareness of your relationship and boundaries with alcohol, says Zingariello.
“Becoming aware of a potentially counterproductive relationship with alcohol—and then taking action to change that relationship and enforce boundaries—has benefits that include a higher standard of living, less tumultuous relationships, and a greater ability to be emotionally and cognitively present to the self and others,” he explains.
Read More: How To Get Started With Meditation
You can reap the benefits of being sober curious even if you only decide to lay off the sauce temporarily (say, for a dry month). According to research out of the U.K., where Dry January originated, people who participated in a dry month reported better sleep, more energy, and a sense of accomplishment.
How Can You Incorporate Sober Curious Practices Into Your Social Life?
The good news? Embracing a sober curious lifestyle doesn’t have to be difficult. Try these expert-approved tips to navigate it with ease:
- Keep the booze out of sight. “Small changes like ridding alcohol from your home can be helpful, so there aren’t triggers,” says Sheinbaum.
- Replace your nightcap with something else. “Whenever you take away behavior, you have to replace it with something else,” says Renee Solomon, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and CEO of Forward Recovery. If you’re used to popping an open bottle of wine on the couch every day after work, replace that ritual with a cup of tea or nonalcoholic wine, suggests Sheinbaum.
- Participate in activities that don’t involve drinking. “We often think we have to drink every time we socialize, but his isn’t the case,” says Solomon. Scheduling daytime activities often cuts out the need to drink and still allows you to be social, she adds. Things like taking a walk, hiking, or going to the park are all fun sober activities you can do with friends.
- Have a signature bar order. “If someone is cutting out alcohol, I often suggest having a sparkling water drink with lime because it feels different than regular water and also resembles a cocktail,” says Solomon.
More Things You Can Do
Beyond social life adjustments, here are some more strategies you can implement into your life to cut back on or stop drinking.
- Commit to daily exercise. Solomon notes that people who drink too much too often don’t feel great the next day and tend to not exercise, which can lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression. “Cutting out drinking during the week and committing to exercising in the morning or the afternoon can help one feel better,” she says.
- Be mindful of your motivations and outcomes. Ideally, you should think through your reason for drinking before you do it, but it helps to be aware of your reactions to both drinking and abstaining, too. “If you’re drinking, pay attention to how you’re feeling during and after the event,” says McBain. “If you’re not drinking, also pay attention to how you’re feeling during and after the event.”
- Try therapy. “Therapy can be a great place to further discuss the sober curious movement and how it relates to your own life,” says McBain.
- Be easy on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you do, indeed, have a drink. Remember: Being sober curious is about making mindful decisions, not about being perfect. “It’s very important to be kind to yourself,” says Sheinbaum. “Giving up alcohol can be hard.”