Are you sober curious? EYNTK about mindful drinking

·6-min read
three colourful images of a drink where the middle one is held by a glamorous hand with red nail polish
What does it mean to be sober curious?Jaime Lee - Getty Images

Seen the term ‘sober curious’ pop up across social media of late and wondered what it means? Over the past few years, there’s been a growing movement of people who are choosing to cut down their booze consumption or stop drinking altogether. Over 140,000 people took a month off drinking for Dry January or Sober October in 2022, and the amount of quality alcohol-free drinks brands on the market has been steadily – and thankfully – increasing.

But what does it mean to be sober curious, and how is it different from going teetotal? Here, we asked two experts to dive into the benefits of being more conscious of what you drink and what the experience is really like.

What does it mean to be sober curious?

Basically, being sober curious means you’re thinking about drinking less, or not drinking at all, whether your reasons are to do with your mental and physical health, lifestyle, wellbeing or financial (that cost of living crisis isn’t going anywhere soon). Gayle Macdonald, sober coach and founder of Sober Bliss, explains that being sober curious can be a bit more relaxed than going teetotal. “It’s not about giving up alcohol completely or forever, which can be quite scary or steeped in shame and guilt. It’s more about looking at your relationship with alcohol and the role it plays in your life.”

Some people share their newfound curiousness on social media, which helps to normalise being more thoughtful about your drinking. As Laura Willoughby, founder of the world's largest mindful drinking movement Club Soda, adds, “connecting with others online creates a sense of community and is a way to create some accountability for your change – it’s important to know that you are not alone.”

a hand holding a drink with ice cubes in it in a posh glass
Jaime Lee - Getty Images

Why are people sober curious?

Drinking culture has changed a lot – since 2005, younger drinkers have reported drinking less and less, and teetotalism has increased among those aged 16-44. Willoughby links the drop in drinking for younger people to our growing awareness of how alcohol can impact our mental health, as well as the wealth of booze-free brands now on the market.

How do you go sober curious?

There’s no secret sauce here – going sober curious just means being mindful and aware of what you’re drinking. “Don’t just do what you always do out of habit. A first step is to ask important questions like ‘do I really need this glass of wine or would I be better off not drinking tonight?’ Asking deeper questions about what you really need at that moment or why you’re reaching for a drink will help to uncover the reason behind your drinking,” Macdonald says.

“You could try keeping a journal of any benefits you experience after choosing not to drink, like better sleep, no hangovers and less anxiety. This evidence could help you see that you can have fun, relax and cope without alcohol,” she adds. “This is a very personal journey and it’s important to focus on yourself and how alcohol is making you feel.”

Willoughby also encourages you to reflect on what you want your future to look like, as this could allow you to work out how changing your drinking could help you achieve that goal.

If you’re thinking of giving the sober curious lifestyle a try, she suggests finding out the techniques that will help you. “Find a favourite alcohol-free drink you like so you know what to ask for when you’re out. Substituting an alcoholic drink for an alcohol-free one makes things much easier,” she says. “And if you are not enjoying yourself, go home! We’ve been taught to stay at things we don’t enjoy by drinking – this is ridiculous!”

Are there benefits to being sober curious?

There are so many benefits to drinking less – some people might find it reduces their anxiety symptoms or see an improvement in their mental health, others realise that they’ve got a lot more energy and sleep better without overdoing it on the tipple. You also won’t get hangovers – big win.

Willoughby adds that you’ll most likely reduce your calorie intake from switching to low or no-alcohol options (and avoiding the late night munchies) and reduce your stress levels, as well as supporting your overall health and wellbeing.

Whatever your reasons for wanting to quit drinking, there are so many benefits for all of us to be more mindful of reducing the harmful effects of alcohol in our lives.

an illustration of a womans hand holding a glass of orange juice
Jaime Lee - Getty Images

Is there anything to consider before going sober curious?

Most people won’t experience any major side effects of cutting down their drinking, but for some it can be dangerous to suddenly quit. “This depends on how much you’ve been drinking, for how long and the level of physical dependence on alcohol,” Macdonald explains. “If you’re in any doubt, speak to a medical professional first and be honest about how much you’re drinking.”

Changing your alcohol intake can be an adjustment, so Willoughby recommends exploring sober curious podcasts, books and blogs. Macdonald also suggests connecting with sober groups IRL or online, seeing a coach or therapist if you want to dig deeper and telling your family what you’re doing. “People who love you, love you for you, not for what is in your glass and they will support you if you ask them,” she says.

How can you support your sober curious friends and family?

In short? “Don’t be a dick,” says Willoughby. “Please respect their decision and don’t pressure them to drink. You might find that you discover new ways of socialising too outside of alcohol, and you’d want them to support you if the shoe was on the other foot. Also, always ask for an adult alcohol-free drink when you’re out – venues need to know there is demand!”

Madconald agrees, suggesting “don’t make it a big thing. Keep the invites coming but don’t feel bad if they don’t want to go, and at home, make an effort to offer non-alcoholic drinks.”

We’ll cheers to that!

Note: reducing alcohol consumption, or going sober overnight, may not be an option for everyone. For some people, total abstinence could be the only way to go – if you're worried about your relationship with alcohol or fear you may be dependent upon it, speak to a doctor or trusted organisation, such as Alcohol Change UK.

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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