There’s nothing like a hangover to make you swear off drinking forever. No matter how much you enjoyed yourself the night before, once you’ve woken up you start to question whether it was all worth it. With your head pounding, your tongue dry, your stomach heaving, the hangxiety reaching its peak, you start making promises: This is the last time I'll ever do that. The pledge is so common, it’s a running joke among you and your friends and the rest of the world. The punchline, of course, is that a few weeks or even nights later, you’ll be right back at the bar.
But over the past year or so, the punchline, along with the spirits, has been changing. Many of your friends, and even you, have been staying away from the liquor store, or at least showing up less frequently. According to a study conducted by Nielsen, nearly 50% of all U.S. adults are making an effort to limit their alcohol consumption; look only at millennials and that number rises to 66%.
This group of modern-day teetotalers have started to identify themselves as “sober curious.” It’s a term with a flexible definition. It encompasses people who are ready to dry out entirely, and those who are more interested in cutting back.
The increased desire to explore a sober curious lifestyle makes sense when you put it into the context of the modern wellness revolution. People are increasingly conscious about what they're putting into and onto their bodies — they want their produce to be organic, their meat (if they eat it) to be hormone free, their milk to be non-dairy, their beauty products to be clean, and their clothes to be ethical. So it’s no wonder that they’re rethinking the whole alcohol thing.
"The more time, money and energy people are putting into their overall wellbeing, the harder it becomes to justify the overall toxicity and health risks (particularly mental health risks) of drinking," says Ruby Warrington, author of the book Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol and creator of the term.
Then there’s all the stuff you don’t necessarily feel happening, but is significant nonetheless. "There are many alcohol-related health risks that can appear later in life if you drink too much over time, including certain cancers, liver disease, cardiovascular disease and more," Joseph R. Volpicelli, MD, PhD, tells Refinery29.
For many people who’ve been drinking since their mid- to late-teens cutting back or quitting entirely may be mostly a novelty thing at first; they jump on the Dry January trend with their friends just to see what it’s like. But very quickly, the health benefits of ditching alcohol can make the case for keeping it up, Joseph R. Volpicelli, M.D., Ph.D., tells Refinery29. Within days or weeks, you’ll start to sleep better. You’ll have more energy during the day, and it’ll be easier to concentrate. You may feel happier, less anxious. The effects will be more pronounced for heavier drinkers, but even among more moderate alcohol users, many say they notice big benefits.
Cutting down on alcohol doesn’t just have to be about your health. It could mean a more fulfilling social life, a better way to connect with others, or a greater peace of mind. “There's increasing access to other ways to switch off and unwind — such a yoga, meditation, and even CBD and cannabis — that don't come with the same negative side-effects of booze,” Warrington says.
While people for whom sobriety is a life or death choice may feel frustrated at the growing number of people “exploring sobriety”, few people would argue it’s actually harmful to experiment with cutting back or cutting out alcohol. So if you’re curious, we've rounded up the very best influencers, events, products, and books available for those who are curious about being sober curious.