Sober Curious: Are you curious?

Chris Marshall had a rocky past with alcohol. As is written in a recent feature posted on NPR, he drank throughout much of his teen years, receiving a DUI at the age of 16. After he got sober and become a substance abuse counselor, he realized that it was hard for freshly sober people to rejoin the ‘real world’ after completing treatment or rehabilitation.

It’s one thing to stay sober in an environment with no alcohol, but how do you resist a night out with friends at a trendy restaurant? Alcohol is everywhere, ingrained in much of our social, evening, and weekend activities, and it can be difficult to still feel social without its consumption—whether you are recovering from alcohol addiction or not.

Enter: sober curious. A new trend making its way through cities and countries, being sober curious can vary in meaning depending on who you ask. For some, it is a way to explore a permanently sober lifestyle. For others, it simply means incorporating more alcohol-free days and activities into their routine.

Marshall explored this idea and created a new nightlife option for sober curious folks, named the Sans Bar in Austin, TX. Since its inception, the bar has become a traveling pop-up bar making its way throughout the US, visiting various cities and encouraging more alcohol-free activities. In the video below, you can see Marshall demonstrating a few sans-alcohol drinks that his customers enjoy.

Personally, the Topo Chico with raspberry sounds right up my alley.

But the question is, is it sustainable? Can sober curious go from a grassroots effort to a cultural phenomenon, without the stigma of “not drinking” tied to it? Although I do think certain trends pass through for a season, I believe sober curious can withstand the test of our generation. Why, you ask? Because our society is trending towards health, prevention, and wellness in all areas of our life. A report published in 2018 by Nielsen reported that 67% of Americans say they will be prioritizing healthy or socially conscious food purchases in 2018. Although this data does not focus on alcohol drinking specifically, it does highlight the growth in general health and wellness consumption trends in the US market.

Credit: The Nielsen Company. February 7, 2018.

And it is no secret that alcohol is bad for us. As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use over time can cause high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, certain types of cancer, learning and memory problems, mental health problems, social problems, and more. Americans are concerned with what they are putting in their body, and I think this timing of the sober curious trend is conducive to continued growth. And as you can see above, healthy, non-alcoholic beverages are on the rise.

As if that wasn’t convincing enough, Instagram reveals even more. Accounts focused on living sober or being alcohol-free have gained popularity recently, some—like Sober Girl Society and Sober Nation—amassing over thirty thousand followers each. There is even a post on Sober Girl Society’s page specifically referencing the sober curious trend, and asking her followers to define what it means to them.

I feel strongly that being sober curious can become a regular, run of the mill way of life for many. I feel the timing is right, and the opportunity to melt the hardened stigma around not drinking is here. But the trend won’t grow on its own! We need to do our part to show support for these spaces. Request them in your area, patronize events/activities that purposefully are alcohol-free, or simply do your part in making those without alcohol comfortable in drinking situations.

With our help, sober curious can become the new sober normal.  

Alcohol and Women: What You Should Know

If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with alcohol. Maybe you drink it occasionally, maybe you drink it often. Maybe you’ve never tasted it. The bottom line is, most people are familiar with the substance and to some degree, it’s effects. But if you’re female, you may be surprised to learn that the relationship between alcohol and women has a rocky past—and it is continuing to worsen. Not only do women metabolize alcohol differently than men, but we’re targeted differently, we drink differently, and we now abuse it differently than men.

Women’s prevalence of alcohol abuse has increased at a faster rate than men’s in recent years.

According to a study featured in JAMA, the amount of women reporting alcohol use disorders increased heavily within a period of ten years. From 2001/2002 to 2012/2013, men’s prevalence of alcohol use disorders increased by 13.2%. During the same time frame, women’s prevalence of alcohol use disorders increased by 34.7%.

Reprinted from “Prevalence of 12-Month Alcohol Use, High Risk Drinking, and DSM-IV Alcohol Use Disorder in the United States, 2001-2002 to 2012-2013,” by Bridget F. Grante, S. Patricia Chou, Tulshi D. Saha, et al, 2017, JAMA Psychiatry, 74, p. 911-923.

The difference is staggering. What happened to the culture of drinking among women to cause such an increase? Perhaps the recent uptick in alcohol marketing to females can offer some explanation.

In recent years, women have been specifically targeted by alcohol companies as the ideal consumer.

Doug Beatty, Vice President of Marketing for Colio Estate Wines, explains that “eighty-five percent of the purchase decisions in the twelve- to fifteen- dollar range are ‘female-driven’.” Colio Estates produces a wine called ‘Girls Night Out’ that is marketed to, and made for, women specifically. A quick visit to their website and you can see why women may choose this when making a grocery run: wines such as Red Velvet Cheesecake Macaron, Raspberry Rosé Lemonade, and Pineapple Mango Tango are just a few of their flavored options.

Beatty’s female-focused products are not alone in the market. In recent years, the alcohol market has been inundated with products that target women and feature, promote, or encourage drinking in some way. Of course, these products by themselves are not the sole issue. But combine them with the chemical differences in the way women metabolize alcohol, and we begin to understand why women’s relationship with alcohol is worsening.

Women are biologically different than men, and therefore metabolize alcohol differently.

It is no secret that men and women are biologically different. However, what may be less known is that our sexes also differ in how alcohol is metabolized in our bodies. According to a publication from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), women’s higher liver volume lends to a quicker metabolism of alcohol, as alcohol is processed almost entirely in the liver. Consequently, women typically achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood after drinking equal amounts of alcohol as her male counterpart. Women also suffer from liver disease after a shorter period of exposure and after consuming less.

And lastly, women drink for different reasons than men.

In Dr. George F. Koob’s presentation on Alcohol and the Female Brain, the Director of the NIAAA explains that women drink based on negative reinforcement whereas men drink for positive reinforcement. A seemingly small distinction, the reality is actually stark. What this really means is that while John may drink to have a good time, Jane is most likely drinking to quiet her anxiety, her depression, or even just take the edge off of a bad day. When alcohol becomes the answer to a problem, that is when the true problem takes shape.

Overall, alcohol use can hurt people of all shapes, sizes, races and ages. However, we need to begin having conversations around why the landscape is changing for women—and what we can do to prevent it.