Sober Curious – The New Norm for Drinking Culture?

What is Sober Curious?

Sober curious is a movement characterized by eliminating alcohol from the lifestyle for health and wellness reasons. It asks people to “imagine what it’s like to be hangover free,” and is meant as a way to encourage people to take a break from drinking. For some, this means participating in “Dry January” or “Sober September” to see if it is something that they can do. And if they do make it through, and notice the benefits, they may be more likely to make this change over the long-term.                                                     

The sober curious initiative is gaining popularity among Millennials, those aged 22 to 38. They are beginning to realize that going out and always feeling the need to drink is not necessarily fun or feasible. Many in the Millennial generation are trying out this movement in order to not feel the social pressure to drink, and they also want to drink less. Sober curiosity does not necessarily mean that one must abstain from drinking alcohol completely; it just means altering drinking habits to become less frequent. Instead of drinking being a weekly occurrence, it becomes something that happens only once a week or on special occasions, such as birthdays, holidays, or certain celebrations. For some, however, sober curious might mean completely abstaining from alcohol.

Alcohol as a cultural norm 

Alcohol is viewed in our society as something that must be present for a number of reasons. Need to have fun, relax, forget about what’s troubling you? The answer is always most frequently to grab a beer, take a shot, down a bottle of wine. Alcohol is ever present and is the main staple at parties, celebrations, and sporting events.

However, for those who do not drink or are wanting to limit their drinking, being in these social situations and surrounded by alcohol and people drinking can be daunting. For the sober person, it can be uncomfortable when they are bombarded with questions about their drinking habits. As someone who very seldom drinks, and spends most parties standing around with a cup of water, I can attest to the discomfort that these questions bring. As a younger adult, it was harder to socialize at parties when I didn’t drink, so I usually did not go. However, as I became older and felt more comfortable telling people “drinking just isn’t my thing,” being okay with being sober became easier. 

The social pressure to drink is real and can get people into trouble. People drink in order to socialize and fit in, and this is harmful because it can escalate into even worse habits. It can push someone to an alcohol use disorder and can be detrimental to their health.

Being sober is stigmatized by people who do drink, and therefore sober people are seeking out ways to socialize and have fun with other people who also want to be sober. For those who still like to be in a bar setting, a number of dry bars have been gaining popularity among the sober curious crowd. Bars such as The Sans Bar, cater to this crowd by serving non-alcoholic beverages. The drinks served at these bars are not just your ordinary O’Douls, they are very sophisticated drinks known as “mocktails.” They have all the complexities of a normal cocktail but without the alcohol. This is appealing to the sober curious individual because it is a safe space where they can go to socialize, be around other non-drinkers, and not feel pressure to partake in the drinking culture or be questioned about their choice to not drink.

 Mocktails – alcohol-free cocktails – that are served at dry bars.

Beer companies that market low-alcohol or alcohol-free options are also catering to the sober curious movement. Heineken has just come out with a new zero-alcohol beverage, Heineken 0.0. Because not drinking is stigmatized, it is important for some people who do not drink or are trying to cut back on drinking, to look as if they have a drink while in a bar. The Heineken 0.0 beer tastes very similar to the alcoholic beer and has kept the same packaging – the iconic green bottle – which allows non-drinkers to drink the beer while out at a bar and other people would have no idea that it was a non-alcoholic drink.

Heineken 0.0 – Zero alcohol beer.

What are some of the risks of chronic or excessive drinking?

According to the CDC, excessive alcohol consumption led to about 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost in the United States from 2006 – 2010. Drinking alcohol can contribute to both short-term health risks – car crashes, suicide, risky sexual behaviors, alcohol poisoning – and long-term health risks – chronic diseases, depression, dementia, alcohol dependence.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) website note the damaging effects that alcohol – both chronic and occasional alcohol use – can have on the body. Alcohol can majorly impact the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, and the immune system. In addition, it is a carcinogen and can cause several types of cancers, such as liver, breast and esophageal cancer to name a few.

Effects of alcohol on the body – from Daily Mail

Agencies such as the NIAAA and CDC, which are tasked with conducting research and the dissemination of health information to the public sphere, can only do so much to change people’s views on the risks of alcohol consumption.

Is being sober curious worth it? What are the benefits of participating in the movement? 

A large number of people who are sober curious or participated in Sober September, Dry January or the like, have reported positive experiences from their time off from drinking, or just drinking more mindfully. They have reported feeling healthier, feeling more creative and productive, weight loss, and have had less trouble sleeping.  

In an article from NPR, Aaron White, a scientific advisor at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism said of sober curious people: “[…] at the end of that month — just after one month — people, by and large, lost some weight. They had improvements in insulin sensitivity, their blood pressure numbers improved and their livers looked a little healthier.” White goes on to say that while there were only modest improvements in the health of an individual who abstained from alcohol for that month, the results were still worth noting. Over the long term, the benefits of sober curiosity might outweigh the costs of drinking.

Will Sober Curious become culturally accepted?

I believe that the Sober curious initiative can grow and become culturally accepted. At this moment in time, being completely sober or a light drinker is still seen by many people who drink regularly as strange. Especially when so many social activities and work functions rely on the presence of alcohol to make the atmosphere feel “normal.” I believe that as a society, we need to work on de-stigmatizing the sober culture.

The sober curious movement will also allow those who do not want to drink to essentially “opt out” of the social pressures of drinking. So many people who do not want to drink do so in order to fit in. What the sober curious initiative offers is unique in that it is catering to a marginal group of people who feel as if they need to hide the fact that they do not drink alcohol. The dry bars create a social network where an individual can feel comfortable about not drinking while being surrounded by like-minded individuals who also abstain from alcohol for various reasons. If more people are aware that this option exists, it may become just as culturally acceptable as drinking has become, and the social pressures associated with drinking will disappear.

With the growing wellness and self-care craze that has currently taken off on social media, I think that the Sober Curious initiative has a place right alongside quinoa superfood salads and goat yoga. If enough people get on board, especially the wellness influencers on social media, the stigma surrounding being sober will be a thing of the past! 

My Thoughts on Why Women Drink & Drunkorexia

Alcohol use among women has been increasing at an alarming rate. In fact, according to the JAMA Psychiatry article published in September 2017, there was a 34% increase in high-risk women drinkers and alcohol use disorder (AUD) from 2002 to 2013 compared to a 13% increase in men. This demonstrates that alcohol use among women is a growing public health issue that needs to be addressed. However, with the media, marketing strategies employed by alcohol companies and the normalization of alcohol in our society, addressing this issue is becoming increasingly harder to do.

There are several ways that women are targeted by both the media and marketing strategies which appeal to them to drink. One of the best-known examples of this is the wine company, “MommyJuice”. The marketing strategy behind this brand is that it is stressful to be a mother – to juggle taking care of yourself, your kids, and work – and that even moms need a way to unwind. And what a better way to de-stress than with a glass of MommyJuice? While moms do work incredibly hard (and absolutely need to take time for themselves), is encouraging them to relax with alcohol the best way? Especially when it’s branded in such an insidious way, it appears to be taking advantage of women and their situations.

It is common for kids to have playdates, and while the kids are playing so are the parents who use this as an excuse to socialize and drink. There are potential consequences that can result from an afternoon of drinking such as the safety of both the adults and children and the normalization of alcohol. After the play date, the mom might have to drive herself and her children home. If her inhibitions are impaired from the “mommyjuice”, the potential for car accidents increases. The act of moms drinking during a child’s playdate can also normalize alcohol for the child. If they are constantly around it as a child because their parents drink in front of them, they may be more likely to drink in adolescence and adulthood.

Another example is the Skinnygirl Cocktail line, with the advertising campaign of “Drink Like a Lady.” The marketing strategy here is that women can still drink but without the worry of extra calories. This will appeal to women because of the societal norms regarding appearance. The other day I saw an advertisement for spiked sparkling water – with only 100 calories, the can reads. I was shocked that an innocent beverage such as sparkling water now needs to be spiked to be enjoyed. Even beer companies have been marketing low-calorie options for women. The reaction the alcohol industry is hoping to elicit from women is, “What’s better than being able to indulge in an alcoholic beverage without the guilt from the empty calories that come with it?” The way these brands are being marketed towards women, many of whom are susceptible to succumbing to them because they address issues that affect women, is manipulative.  A quick google search for “low-calorie alcohol” will bring up several articles with suggestions on how to select drinks that will still get you drunk minus the extra calories. Other websites like beer100 offer charts with the caloric content of the different brands of beer. This information is easily accessible, and if the internet says it works, then people believe it.

This leads me into another drinking phenomenon to which I was completely unaware of until recently: Drunkorexia. The name is what it implies; it is a pattern of starvation, excessive exercise or binging and purging in order to consume multiple drinks. This pattern is often seen in women who are concerned about their calorie consumption and body image. Because there is no food in their system, the individual is more susceptible to the effects of alcohol. They will become drunk quicker and are at a higher risk of passing out and of alcohol poisoning. From basic human anatomy differences between women and men, we know that women are more vulnerable to alcohol’s effects. Women tend to have a higher body fat percentage and less body water. Because there is less water in body fat, alcohol is diluted in the blood at a slower rate. Women also have a lower level of alcohol dehydrogenase, which is an enzyme that assists in metabolizing and eliminating alcohol from the body. The bottom line is that women suffer from the effects of alcohol more than men, especially if they are drinking spirits in order to avoid extra calories.

In addition to alcohol companies marketing their products specifically to women, there are several other consumer products that use this as a way to sell products while contributing to the pattern of women and drinking. For example, wine glasses are sold with the mottos “MommyJuice” or “Surviving motherhood one glass at a time” written on them. Cup towels, aprons, magnets, and several other similar products are sold which perpetrate this increasing trend of women who drink. These novelty items are given as gifts, oftentimes as a joke, but they still carry that message that drinking for women is a necessity to cope with the stressors of daily life.


I understand that some people don’t necessarily see this as a problem – they think these products are funny and is meant to be taken as a light-hearted joke or that indulging in alcohol isn’t the worst thing they could be doing – but if they take the time to look at the national trend in high-risk drinking and AUD mentioned earlier, I would hope that they would change their minds. Alcohol companies have noticed this upward trend in the number of women who drink, and are using that information to exacerbate a public health issue. Because drinking is so normalized and engrained within our culture, it is not viewed as a problem and the alcohol industry, unfortunately, takes advantage of this.