The Sober Curious Movement: What It Is and What It Means

Published April 13, 2022
Still life of calamondin juice garnished with rosemary on a rustic white wooden table

Are you one of the many people who noticed an uptick in your alcohol consumption during the pandemic? Statistics gathered by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) showed that online alcohol sales increased by 243% during the COVID-19 lockdown, and published studies showed that drinking days, binge drinking, and total alcohol volume intake increased during the pandemic as well.

For many people, the response to this trend has been to join the sober curious movement. Becoming "sober curious" allows you to explore the grey zone between regular or frequent drinking and total abstinence. Doing so allows you to define a healthier and more personalized relationship with alcohol.

What Does Sober Curious Mean?

The term "sober curious" was coined by writer Ruby Warrington in her book, Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. The book explores the possibility of stepping away from personal and societal pressure to drink and asks: would life be better without alcohol?

Becoming sober curious allows you to question many of the assumptions and unwritten rules involved in social drinking. For instance, many people feel uncomfortable turning down a drink in social situations, such as on a date or at a sporting event. Others might feel pressure to keep drinking when people around them continue to drink, even if they know that they will pay the price the next day.

If you're sober curious, you feel empowered to explore a judgment-free sober life for as long as you feel comfortable. It helps you explore more sober experiences to help you decide if or how you would like to include alcohol in your life.

Sober vs. Sober Curious

There is an important difference between choosing complete sobriety and becoming sober curious. Most treatment programs for alcohol use disorder (AUD) encourage complete sobriety for those struggling with addiction.

An advisory panel at the Betty Ford Institute defines recovery from alcohol abuse as "a voluntarily maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship." And the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also includes total abstinence from alcohol in their definition of recovery.

In a message about rethinking drinking habits, George F. Koob, Ph.D., the director of NIAAA addressed the sober curious movement, stating that for some people, it can be a good way to "assess their habits and decide whether change is needed." But he advised that some people should avoid alcohol completely, including those recovering from AUD or unable to control the amount of alcohol they drink.

The sober curious movement does not necessarily promote total abstinence from alcohol or permanent sobriety. But sober curiosity was not developed and may not be appropriate for those with alcohol use disorder. In her book, Ruby Warrington is clear about the fact that she is not a medical professional and writes primarily from a personal perspective.

How to Take Part in the Sober Curious Movement

If you're interested in the sober curious movement, there are countless ways to try it out. The book by Warrington is a great starting point. But there are many other options, including books by other authors who explore the different facets of sober-optional living.

You can also try out one of these resources:

  • Visit a sober bar or explore an alcohol-free cocktail menu. Many cities, including New York, Chicago, Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles, are home to bars that serve only booze-free beverages. For instance, Sans Bar has locations in multiple cities and is known for serving a plentiful menu of zero-proof mocktails, alcohol-free wine, and other options.

    If you don't have a sober bar in your area, ask the bartender at your favorite watering hole for a mocktail menu. Most restaurants and bars offer them now that the sober curious movement has become widespread.

  • Enjoy a sober month. Dry January is one of the most popular sober month movements. Many people use the month as an opportunity to reset healthy habits after the holidays. But you can do a 30-day stint off of alcohol at any time of the year. Some choose a "dry July" or a "sober September." Find a time that works for you to explore life without liquor.

  • Scroll through sober social media channels. Want some support for your sober journey? You'll find like-minded individuals online. Follow Ruby Warrington on Instagram or tune into her podcast. You'll also find the Sober Curious Collective, SoberCuriousWomen, and even sober curious dietitians.

Remember that becoming sober curious is about gathering information, learning about yourself, and trying new things. If you can approach it as an opportunity to grow, you're more likely to have fun with it. Then use the information you gather to guide you in creating a newer and healthier relationship with alcohol.

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The Sober Curious Movement: What It Is and What It Means