Sober Curious- Not Just For Health Tourists

People start and (sometimes) stop drinking at all different phases of life for all different reasons. The expectation, however, is that everyone’s drinking. The internet, the bartender and the billboards all tell us that’s what you do. Period.

In the era of health experiments like detoxes, yoga retreats and juicing, we take a touristic approach to health experiences. Sober curious is something I perceive to be similar in this way, which means it can be marketed in the same way. The buzz word was coined by Ruby Warrington, author of “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol.”

Additionally, bars for the sober curious are popping up everywhere, such as Sans Bar in Austin, TX and Ambrosia Elixirs in Williamsburg, NY. 

According to a British study from 2016, those who participated in Dry January experienced varying health benefits, including “increased drink refusal self-efficacy” and, of course, no hangovers. The significance of the short breaks in drinking influencing health in this way speaks to the idea that people can experiment with sobriety the way they can experiment with the Keto/dairy free/gluten-free/vegan/vegetarian/Paleo/Whole30 diet. Grocery and supplement stores have entire departments dedicated to diet categories, and alcohol stores and departments can easily be merchandised in this way for zero percent products. The increase in non-alcoholic beers and mocktails makes it easy to see how this would be possible.

By marketing sobriety as a healthy experience, we open peoples’ perceptions of sobriety, and the conversation around sobriety becomes more open as a result. In my experience with intentional sobriety, people almost always have needed an explanation for the absence of a drink in my hand. I’ve even been seriously confronted about pregnancy before. I have yet to become pregnant, but that seems to check out more easily in a crowd than the long-winded, baggage-ridden idea that I’m not a great drinker and have damaged a lot of relationships with my drinking, not to mention a murky family history with addiction. No, no, no, you get back to your game of pool, though, I promise it’s not a big deal!


Click the image to see the SoberGirlSociety Instagram profile!

I’ve never participated personally in a sobriety challenge like Dry January, only the challenge of getting truly sober. It was genuinely difficult surrounded by friends who never took a break from daily drinking after college ended and were relying heavily on it to manage their vulnerability and mental health issues. I have a personal notion that my not drinking made people uncomfortable, knowing that they, too, probably should have taken a step back from the bar. This illuminates the ambivalence we’ve discussed in class and the idea that there is such a thing as responsible drinking for some of us. People say that the binge drinking criteria seems too low- “five drinks in a night?! That’s a Tuesday at home!” I think the ugly reality may just be that many young adults don’t have the best drinking habits, but no one wants to admit that.

Sober curiosity is an easy movement to promote and absolutely has a place in the era of wellness exploration. Dry bars and social circles based on sobriety (that don’t meet each other in recovery meetings, per se) are carving out their places in this world of heavy drinking. 

“Mommy Juice”: The Kool-Aid in The Cult of Perfection

The NIAAA describes the differences in impact faced by men and women who drink alcohol. While mostly biological, the NIAAA mentions in passing that women “are more vulnerable than men to alcohol-related… interpersonal difficulties.”

“Interpersonal difficulties? I thought my friends and I gathering around with our “mommy juice” in our very own “sippy cups” was considered a social victory! I get to unwind with my friends after an insane day of parenting small children and/or working and speak to someone who understands English at a level that exceeds that of a toddler. What could be so bad about that interpersonal climate?”


I can almost hear the bank vault filling up in the fancy headquarters of the Mommy Juice brand(s). As a woman, I do understand the expectation to join what my favorite author, podcaster and television writer, Karen Kilgariff, describes as “The Cult of Perfection.” I can sympathize with the stress that mothers must be enduring. The cult has strict rules and is quick to ostracize, and, in true cult fashion, demands that women prioritize following the rules over acknowledging the possible detriment to their own children.

According to Dr. Koob, NIAAA Director, women are motivated to drink alcohol by negative reinforcement (removing something negative to strengthen a behavior, such as the stress of being a perfect mother), while men are motivated by positive reinforcement (adding something positive to strengthen a behavior- read “sporting event”).

Prioritizing this stress relief means that, whether or not they know it, women may be friendly with justifying their drinking despite its impact on their children. There is always the possibility that they will become an alcohol-dependent mother, a serious consequence for their child. Children of alcoholic mothers face a barrage of emotional trauma, can feel isolated, and, as Ann Dowsett Johnston describes in her book “Drink,” can feel unprepared for life without the support of a non-alcoholic mother. These children may even turn to alcohol to calm these traumas later in life, possibly repeating their mothers’ patterns.

In the case that the mother does not become dependent on alcohol as a result of too-regular Mommy Juice break, there are other consequences for children of mothers who drink. DrinkAware of the UK published an article about the effects on children when parents drink. “DrinkAware’s new research suggests a strong link between the frequency of young people’s underage drinking and their exposure to drinking at home.” Sue Atkins, parenting expert, writer, speaker, broadcaster, coach and author, suggests that “parents should hide their own alcohol consumption from their kids,” and try to set a good example of moderate drinking behavior for their children.

While Atkins’s advice is sound, perceptions of “moderate” drinking have been altered by commercial and lifestyle advertising from what I like to call “Big Alcohol”, an industry that capitalizes on women as nothing more than an untapped market. Memes, influencers, and bottle packaging are the insidious advertisements that encroach on mothers’ senses of “moderate” drinking, glamorizing a standing playdate with Mommy Juice. Moms on social media end up doing some of the industry’s best advertising at little to no cost.

As a world full of social media content develops before us, I wonder how future children will feel about the “vintage” 2010s memes about Mommy Juice.

Guilty that they were so difficult to parent that their mothers spent years in rehab? Comfortable with the idea that drinking is for parents, perpetuating the cycle of parental alcohol use disorders? Confused about why the 2010s was a decade full of mothers turning to alcohol in a comfortably sassy advertising climate? This future holds a whole new host of adolescent trauma.

At face value, the memes we see daily about drinking the Mommy Juice, the Kool-Aid for moms trying to keep up with the Cult of Perfection, are simply funny. However, housed forever on the Internet will be a Mommy Juice museum for future generations to examine their role as mommy’s reason to turn to irregular drinking.