- An increasing number of people, myself included, have begun identifying as "sober-curious."
- This means something different to everyone, but typically involves only drinking occasionally and being mindful about when you do so.
- Millennials are leading the charge, with 56% considering themselves to be mindful drinkers compared to 37% of baby boomers, according to a September 2019 report.
- Millie Gooch, founder of Sober Girl Society, told Insider she believes this is linked to younger generations' desire to be more conscious in all aspects of life.
- Sober-curious people don't want to cut out booze completley, because we still enjoy a drink from time to time.
- However, I've realized that not drinking doesn't mean not having fun, and becomes easier over time — and the benefits make it entirely worth it.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
When I first undertook Dry January — giving up booze for the month of January — in 2018, I didn't think it would have a particularly profound impact on my life.
I'd overdone it on the gin a few times towards the end of 2017, felt like I could do with a bit of a reset, and also knew it would help me lose some weight (which was a goal at the time).
But now, 15 months on, I've joined the growing number of people who identify as sober-curious, and it's all down to that initial Dry January. It's not an overstatement to say it changed my life.
Sober curiosity can mean different things to different people
There's no clear-cut definition for what it means to be sober-curious, and it can be interpreted in various ways.
"Some people think it means being curious about being tee-total and others treat sober curiosity more like mindful drinking, which means becoming more aware of the motivations behind your drinking and changing your relationship with alcohol in a more positive way," Millie Gooch, founder of Sober Girl Society, told Insider.
"This could mean cutting down, extended periods of abstinence, or just taking the time to really understand your relationship with alcohol."
For Toni Jones, writer and founder of global self-help collective Shelf Help, it's a case of being more curious about what, why and how she drinks: "Asking questions around who with, where, and when we drink and, if we don't like the answers, looking for ways to make some positive changes."
My relationship with alcohol has changed drastically over the past 15 months — I was never someone who got home from work and felt the need to crack open a bottle to relax on my own, but I was a social drinker, and I had a tendency to overdo it.
I cut down massively on booze last year, but I still had a couple of occasions where I took things too far.
Now, three months into 2020, I'm drinking less than I ever have in my adult life — I have consumed alcohol on three occasions this year so far — but I don't want to give alcohol up completely, and this is what being sober-curious means to me.
And I'm not alone.
More and more people are cutting back on booze — and younger generations are leading the charge
In the UK, the overall amount of alcohol consumed, the proportion of people reporting drinking, and the amount drinkers report consuming have all decreased since 2005, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Recent sales data sent to Insider from British supermarket Waitrose suggests that people are increasingly looking for alcohol-free (or low alcohol) alternative drinks: Sales of no and low alcohol wines, beers, and spirits saw a 102% uplift in February 2020 compared to last year.
And it's millennials and Generation Z who are driving this move away from booze.
In fact, 56% of millennials consider themselves to be mindful drinkers compared to 37% of baby boomers, according to a September 2019 survey of 2,400 British workers carried about by Total Jobs.
The trend is linked to our desire to be more conscious and mindful in all areas of life
People are drinking less for a variety of reasons.
For some — and I'm definitely one of them — cutting down on booze is linked to an increased focus on health and fitness.
We know drinking isn't good for us, but sometimes you have to experience the wonderful results of cutting it out completely for a period of time to finally give you the motivation to cut down.
Jones thinks younger generations' desire to drink less isn't surprising.
"The millennial generation love to question everything about what the generations before them did, and drinking to excess doesn't look so fabulous once you get really curious about why we do it and what the effects are," she said.
Gooch also believes the sober-curious trend is linked to millennials' desire to be more conscious in all areas of life.
"We as a society, and perhaps millennials in particular, are becoming increasingly conscious about our choices generally, whether that's shopping sustainable fashion or adopting a vegan lifestyle," she said.
"We are constantly questioning why we do the things that we have done for so long and really analyzing what impact those decisions are having on the planet, those around us and ourselves, especially when it comes to our physical and mental health.
"We are now putting alcohol (and hangovers) under the microscope and beginning to ask ourselves whether they are really serving us or not."
And the thing is, the less you drink, the worse the hangovers are on the rare occasions that you do — which in turn makes you want to drink less.
It's never been easier to drink less
Some people will argue that low and no alcohol equivalents to boozy favorites are pointless — "why don't you just have a juice or a Coke, they ask" — but I love alternatives like Seedlip and Noughty sparkling wine, and they've really helped me cut down without feeling like I'm missing out (and allowing me to feel fresh and smash a workout the next day).
According to the Drinks Retailing News 2019 Mindful Drinking Guide, the last year saw a growth of £22.4 million ($29.1 million) in the no and low alcohol category in the UK.
And 61% of drinkers say they want more choice when it comes to non-alcoholic drinks, according to a 2019 report by Distill Ventures.
Retailers are realizing that there's a growing market — you can now buy a pre-bottled Nogroni, non-alcoholic Martini, and even Amaretti (an alternative to amaretto).
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The NOgroni. It's back. . The bottled NOgroni is back in stock & available to purchase at seedlipdrinks.com, @theofficialselfridges & @waitroseandpartners . Made w/ three equal parts of Seedlip Spice 94, @aecorn_drinks Bitter & @aecorn_drinks Aromatic it's a bold & bittersweet non-alcoholic take on the classic Negroni cocktail. . #nogroni #seedlip #aecorn #spice94 aecornbitter #aecornaromatic #negroni #nonalcoholic #cocktail
The CGA reports an annual growth in sales of 418% in non-alcoholic spirits for 2019, whilst 58% of consumers are drinking more low or no alcoholic drinks than last year, it found.
Bars and restaurants are increasingly catering for the sober-curious too: Many stock non-alcoholic options as well as low alcohol cocktails.
Seemingly any alcoholic drink you might be craving, you can find in a sober form. At London restaurant chain Daisy Green, for example, you can order a non-alcoholic Aperol spritz (which I can confirm is delicious).
And at London's Annabel's, diners can order an "Espresso Medatini," which contains half the calories and sugar of a regular espresso martini, as well as nootropics and CBD, and can be made with or without alcohol.
Restaurateurs are taking the movement seriously too. Take prestigious champagne bar Searcys, which this year launched a new sommelier training initiative focusing on non-alcoholic pairings to match with lunch and dinner menus. The company wants to offer the same level of expertise to non-alcoholic beverages for its diners as it does for alcoholic ones.
Even traditionally boozy worlds like Alpine après-ski culture are being given a sober-curious makeover — luxury ski chalet operator Bramble Ski has launched Après Ski chalets across the Alps in collaboration with Seedlip.
We don't all want to go completely sober
While Gooch is completely sober, people who identify as sober-curious — like Jones and myself — generally don't want to cut alcohol out completely.
After starting drinking aged 14 and later working in journalism for 15 years, Jones, 42, told Insider that for two decades, "booze and hangovers were part of the job, and became a huge part of my life."
She continued: "I prided myself on my drinking 'ability.' It was only when I stopped working under constant pressure that I took time to analyze and reevaluate my (hugely destructive) relationship with alcohol.
"Two years ago I completed a 100 day sober stint that — along with a lot of other self-help — helped to totally reset my drinking mindset."
She still drinks sometimes, but it's more like once a month at a festival or a party, rather than every day.
For me, it's about being more mindful about when a drink is worth it. Toasting my brother's engagement? Worth it. Having a beer at 4 p.m. on a Friday in the office just because it's there, when I don't even really like beer? Not worth it.
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Dry January, completed! ? To be perfectly honest I ended Dry Jan a smidge early and had a few glasses of prosecco with the gals last night, but it wasn’t excessive, I thoroughly enjoyed them, and today I decided that actually I’d prefer not to drink (the beverage above is @seedlipdrinks). ? It’s amazing how much better I feel every time I give up booze for a few weeks or a couple of months. My skin is clearer, I’m sleeping better, my energy has improved… I just wish I could remember this at other times of the year when I’m 37 glasses of prosecco down at bottomless brunch. ? Truth be told, I don’t think I want to give up alcohol forever. I enjoy it, and I don’t believe in depriving yourself of things you enjoy. ? But doing something like Dry January always serves as an excellent reminder that striving for moderation is really what I want to be doing. ?? Last year, I definitely cut down on booze as a whole. Sure, I overdid it at times. But that’s ok. ?? This year, I’m going to try and make more progress – always progress, not perfection. ?? After Dry January I feel fan-bloody-tastic. Not drinking is so wonderful for giving you more oomph and motivation to live a healthier lifestyle all round, so it’s an upwards spiral imo. ??♀️ And actually, barre this morning was a bloody strug and I know that was because I still had prosecco in my veins. I didn’t love it. ? So yes, here’s to cutting down a little and more mindful drinking in 2020. PS. Matching the @gauchogroup seats was entirely unintentional.
Gooch, 28, says she welcomes the sober-curious demographic as a new type of alcohol consumer.
"For years we've either seen people as having a drinking problem or being a normal drinker, black and white. Now we're starting to see that there is a whole grey area of drinkers who don't fit in either category," she said.
"Their life hasn't necessarily been ruined by alcohol but it's still having a detrimental impact whether that's on their physical health, their mental health, their relationships or even their finances."
Not drinking doesn't mean not having fun
Two years ago, if you'd suggested going to a party and not drinking, I'd have scoffed in your face and poured myself another glass of prosecco.
I also didn't believe people who said they didn't need to drink to have a good time. Now I'm one of them.
Last week, I got home from one of my favorite nights of the month — our monthly girls' dinner party which my friends and I have been doing for years — and not for the first time, I didn't drink. The other girls did. It didn't bother me at all.
For years, this was always one of the booziest nights in my calendar, but when I got home from the last one I realized I'd had just as much fun as I did when I was drinking, and I stayed up as late as the others, too.
I really believe having non-alcoholic alternatives aside from basic soft drinks helps immeasurably, too, as it lets you feel like you're still having the same experience as everyone else.
Don't get me wrong — I still appreciate the fun of feeling a bit tipsy, the relaxation, the lowered inhibitions (which have both pros and cons), and that's why I'll simply pick and choose when I drink these days. For me, it's worth it, and that's the case for a growing number of people.
"Our signature event is our Bottomless Boozeless Brunch because I wanted to show girls that the best bit about brunch is actually the food and the company — not the drink," said Gooch, who recently spoke on a panel about how to go sober and keep your friends at Live Well London festival.
Drinking more mindfully has made me healthier and happier
I won't dispute that many alcoholic drinks are delicious, but I've realized that the benefits I get from not drinking simply outweigh the pleasure I may get from the taste of the booze or how it may make me feel in the moment.
My skin is better, I'm slimmer, I'm making more progress in my fitness, and I get less anxiety. I also love hangover-free life — not to sound smug, but waking up on a Sunday morning feeling fresh and ready to be productive is awesome.
I'm more mindful about whether I really want to drink, which Gooch advises as a good place to start.
"Really think about the motivation behind your drinking," she said. "It's always better to drink for celebration rather than commiseration because otherwise you start to form an unhealthy coping mechanism with alcohol.
"If you are going to drink, drink to toast your friend's wedding, not because you've had a rubbish week at work, drink because you got a promotion, not because you just had your heart broken.
"I also think it's easier to take days or weeks off of drinking rather than saying 'I'll just drink less' because once you've had one or two, your inhibitions and willpower become lowered and it will be much harder to say no with every next drink that you have."
Drinking less gets easier over time
While drinking less is easy in theory, the reality can be tough.
In the UK, we live in a society that revolves around booze, and if it's an entrenched part of your lifestyle, creating new habits is difficult.
Jones advises people who are interested in developing a sober-curious lifestyle go cold turkey for a period of time.
"Going sober for 100 days was the best thing I ever did when it comes to drinking," she said. "Being sober became my new normal and I would totally advise that as a reset, and then see how you feel about drinking after that. You might surprise yourself."
Gooch has been sober for two years — she didn't initially plan on giving it up forever but she "knew it would be for a very long time."
"I knew that I needed to commit to it fully to ensure it wasn't easy to just give up," she said. "I'd done Dry January before and whilst I think it's great to take 31 days off from booze, I knew it wouldn't be enough for me to establish any real long-term habits."
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We rely on alcohol so much to have a good time, to celebrate, to enjoy a special occasion when actually if you remove the alcohol the thing that is the celebration is the person or the achievement, the people it brings together, the atmosphere, the conversation? . .Lets say CHEERS with NO BEERS (inless they are AF of course) ?
Dealing with peer pressure can be hard, particularly when you're starting out and are yet to feel staunch in your conviction. In a way, saying you're drinking less is harder than simply saying, "I don't drink," which others seem to respect more. But it does get easier.
"I don't find not drinking hard, because I've discovered all the benefits that come with it (better sleep, skin, mood, energy, productivity, relationships, bank balance etc)," said Jones. "But I do find certain events, situations, and people hard when not drinking (which tells me that I should probably start avoiding them)."
Despite having been sober since February 2018, Gooch says she still finds it hard at times.
"Sometimes it feels like the easiest thing in the world and in other situations it's more difficult," she said. "But like anything, it has absolutely got easier over time."
Much like Gooch and Jones, as the months have gone on, not drinking has become easier and easier, both in terms of reminding myself I don't really want to drink, and dealing with peer pressure.
I'm sure I will drink too much and feel hungover again in my life, and I'll try really hard not to beat myself up about that. But being sober-curious, I've never felt better.
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