“I don’t like the way alcohol makes me feel anymore,” says Ellen Albertson, a 60-year-old psychologist and registered dietitian in North Hero, Vermont. She’s currently in breast cancer remission and cutting back on vices that could put her at future risk. In addition, she wants to work more toward practicing what she preaches as a health and wellness professional. While drinking used to be fun, Albertson’s noticed that she isn’t finding it as worth the side effects. “It doesn’t do anything for me now other than make me feel really sluggish and tired,” she explains. Thus, Albertson is limiting her drinks to just a few a month when she heads out with her friends or fiancé. “I’d like to be totally sober, eventually. That’s the goal,” she explains.
A year-and-a-half ago, Curtis Matthews, 56, decided to cut back on his drinking. “I used to be a heavy social drinker and would often consume multiple beers or hard drinks in one sitting,” he reveals. After overdoing it one Christmas, he experienced a terrible hangover and vowed to never drink like that again. Since then, he’s averaged around 10 drinks per year and has only had three drinks so far in 2023. “I’ve noticed significant improvements in my overall health and happiness,” says Matthews. “I used to rely on alcohol to get a buzz, but now I can enjoy social gatherings without feeling the need to drink excessively.”
And Violette de Ayala, who recently turned 51, has been alcohol free since January. “I started to cut back at the end of 2022, because my trainer shared the effects it can have on people with Hashimoto’s, which I have, and menopausal women,” she says. She had initially committed to just Dry January, but has since continued on. “I also contemplated only having sips of Champagne for special occasions like my birthday, but I am really liking the way I feel being sober,” she says. “My birthday is around the corner, and I am truly thinking I am not interested in a glass of Champagne to celebrate.”
A sobering trend
These are just a few examples of the many people who consider themselves to be sober curious, a movement towards developing a healthier relationship with alcohol by drinking more intentionally, cutting back and maybe even giving up the booze altogether — and a trend that has been growing in recent years. In 2013, Alcohol Change UK created the Dry January movement, in which people pledged to give up drinking for the month. Since then, mocktails and nonalcoholic drinks have surged in popularity.
In fact, Nielsen reports that between August 2021 and August 2022, nonalcoholic drink sales totaled $395 million in the United States, growing 20.6 percent from the previous year. People who turned to alcohol to cope during the pandemic are now looking to prioritize healthier habits. And recent studies on the negative health effects of alcohol have also spurred the movement, with the World Health Organization making a statement that “when it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health.”
Finding yourself feeling sober curious? Here are nine expert-backed tips on how to tiptoe in.
1. Just get started
“I would say the very first thing people should do is start to explore it,” says Greg Hobelmann, co-CEO of Ashley Addiction Treatment and a part-time faculty member at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Start gathering information wherever you can, whether that’s reading an article on the sober curious movement, doing a web search or looking at things on YouTube. The more information you read on the benefits of cutting back and tips on how other people are doing it, the more motivated you will likely become to dive in.
2. Focus on your why
Take a moment to understand why you want to cut back on drinking. “Be radically honest with yourself,” says Kristin Hankins, outpatient program manager at Mountainside treatment center. Ask yourself: “What is it that you want to explore in a sober lifestyle? Is it for health reasons, to gain clarity and focus, to improve relationships or simply to experiment with a different lifestyle?” Knowing what is driving this change can help you stay motivated and focused, explains Hankins. It’s also a good idea to take note of when you drink and to try and be more mindful of those moments, adds Hobelmann. For instance, are you doing it when you go out with friends socially after work or pouring a glass of wine when you cook dinner every night out of habit?