Are you beginning to wonder whether limiting your alcohol consumption could have a positive effect on your life? You may be ‘sober curious’

‘Spider-Man’ star Tom Holland has recently opened up about his struggle with alcohol. Saying that the relationship he had with drinking left him feeling “really worried”, Tom decided to give it up. The realisation that he was “obsessed” with drinking came about when the star decided to try ‘Dry January’ last year. Speaking on the On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast, Tom said, “All I could think about was having a drink. That’s all I could think about. I was waking up thinking about it.”

Since going sober, Tom has said that he’s the “happiest [he’s] ever been.” “I had such better mental clarity. I felt healthier, I felt fitter,” he explained. Tom has seen first-hand the benefits of moving towards a low or no-alcohol lifestyle, and with the number of people signing up for awareness months like ‘Dry January’ and ‘Sober October’ on the rise, we’re exploring what it means to be ‘sober curious’.

What does it mean to be ‘sober curious’?

Sober curious simply means getting curious about your alcohol consumption. It means that you are exploring your personal relationship with alcohol, questioning the reasons why you might drink. You may be asking yourself whether alcohol is having an impact on your life or perhaps you want to learn more about the health benefits of limiting alcohol.

It’s important to note that being sober curious is not the same as sobriety. Sobriety is normally the result of alcohol misuse or an alcohol use disorder, whereas sober curious means people have the choice to recognise, question and change their drinking habits.

Where does sober curiosity come from?

The idea of exploring our relationship with alcohol isn’t exactly anything new. Challenges like Dry January and Go Sober For October have existed for many years now, but it’s only since 2018 that we’ve seen the term ‘sober curious’ floating around.

The term was coined by author 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.’ In her book, Ruby outlines some common thoughts amongst the sober curious community. These include:

  • drinking socially, but not craving or needing to drink daily
  • consuming no more than others around you
  • drinking that doesn’t appear to harm you or anyone else

Perhaps you realise that you don’t like drinking all that much but you feel pressure from those around you? The sober curious community aims to validate your feelings and help you navigate more mindful drinking.

Understanding sober curiosity

People can be at different stages of sober curiosity. They may have already chosen to avoid alcohol for personal or well-being reasons, or they may be starting to question the ways in which alcohol affects them. The sober curious community encourages a sober lifestyle but also welcomes people who perhaps aren’t quite ready to give up alcohol completely.

Whilst you wonder what it is you do and don’t want to do, you may opt to have one or two drinks on occasion or decide to avoid alcohol for a couple of weeks or months, rather than indefinitely.

The benefits of sober curiosity

There are a number of perceived benefits of choosing a low/no alcohol lifestyle. These include:

  • improved sleep
  • fewer side effects like hangovers
  • lowered anxiety and depression
  • improved concentration and focus
  • reduced risk of illness and diseases like liver disease and cancer
  • increased energy
  • improved mood

A study by the British Medical Journal in 2018 also revealed that abstaining from alcohol for just one month could help lower blood pressure.

Speaking with Happiful, Kate Bailey discusses how going sober has changed her life.

Alcohol-free life is the foundational piece of self-love that allows all others. For me, saying no to alcohol has allowed me to be present in my life.

Are there risks to being sober curious?

Sober curiosity is not right for everyone. It’s generally not recommended for people who have a serious alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence. These may come with extreme cravings and withdrawals and could lead to depression in some people. In these cases, total sobriety is recommended.

It’s important to emphasise that sober curiosity has been critiqued by some as it can overlook the complexity of alcohol-related recovery. Sober curiosity gives people the choice to go without drinking, whilst giving up alcohol completely can be incredibly difficult for people with an alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol intake exists on a spectrum, and everyone’s relationship with drinking is different. It’s important to identify what works for you.

How to navigate sober curiosity?

If you’re feeling curious about your alcohol intake and would like to explore this, it can feel hard to know where to start or how to navigate it — particularly if those around you are continuing to consume it. So, how do you navigate sober curiosity whilst socialising?

It’s fair to say that drinking has become a normal part of our culture, so much so that when you reveal that you don’t want a drink, regardless of whether this is for health reasons or beliefs, many people find this unusual. This can make it feel harder to lower your alcohol intake; perhaps you feel embarrassed or you fear that others will judge you for not joining in. The good news is that there are ways you can navigate this but, above all, remember that you’re doing this for yourself.

  • Set boundaries with yourself and others. Remember, you don’t have to tell anyone why you’re not drinking if you don’t want to. A simple “No, thank you” will do just fine. For those that have offered a drink to someone, avoid questioning their reasoning and respect their decision.
  • Change up your meeting spots. If you and your social circle regularly meet in pubs or bars where alcohol is present, this can make it harder to avoid drinking. Why not suggest going for a walk or picnic instead? This will help prevent your mind from being swayed.
  • Take up a new hobby. If you decide to take a step back from drinking, you might find you’re spending less time in pubs and bars. You might have more time to fill, so use this to explore new hobbies and interests. This will not only help you identify the things that you enjoy in life but will offer a welcome distraction from opting to have a drink.
  • Ask for alcohol-free drinks. As sober curiosity is becoming more popular, more and more places are offering low and no-alcohol alternatives. Be sure to ask what’s on offer when you do go out. This can also help you feel involved when catching up with friends who are drinking alcohol.
Whilst it might seem easier said than done, try not to let others pressure you into doing something you’re not comfortable with. Just because you said yes to a drink last time doesn’t mean you need to have a drink now.

Ultimately, sober curiosity allows us to be more aware of our drinking habits and think more mindfully about what we’re consuming. Drawing on the deeper questions like, “Do I really want this drink, or am I doing it because everyone else is?” can help us understand what we want to get from a low or no-alcohol lifestyle. So whether it’s to feel better physically or you want to reduce your intake as part of a holistic wellness routine, sober curiosity could be the way to go.

We always recommended speaking to your GP or trusted organisation before abstaining from alcohol completely. If you fear you may be dependent on alcohol or are worried about your relationship with it, please reach out to a professional.

Remember it is always OK to seek support for alcohol use. If you’d like further help, consider reaching out to a counsellor or life coach.

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