What Is the Sober Curious Movement?

sober curious

Verywell Health / Amelia Manley

This story is part of a sober series that explores what sober curiosity means and how you can practice mindful drinking in your personal life. Read the rest of the stories here.

Challenges like Dry January and Sober October have been encouraging people to quit alcohol for a whole month. But as alcohol consumption increased during the pandemic, more people are reevaluating their long-term relationship with alcohol—or becoming "sober curious."

“Alcohol is a tough topic because it's glamorized in the media, but it really doesn't have any redeeming qualities,” Stephanie McBurnett, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and nutrition educator for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, told Verywell.

She said the evidence is clear that alcohol increases the risk of heart disease, liver damage, breast cancer, Alzheimer’s, and dementia. Despite these health risks, drinking alcohol is normalized in society. It's served at family gatherings, work events, brunches, and parties, and it's associated with both celebrations and self-care.

Sober curiosity empowers people to push back on this default mode of drinking and question the role alcohol plays in their lives.

The term "sober curious" was coined by the author Ruby Warrington, who wrote a book on the topic in 2018. Since then, more people have started embracing the idea of mindful drinking.

“To me, sober curiosity means challenging societal norms surrounding alcohol consumption and being mindful about when, how, and why one drinks—if one chooses to drink,” Kerry Benson, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian and co-founder of The Sober Curious Dietitians, told Verywell in an email.

Benson started her own sober curious journey during the pandemic. Being sober curious can lead to an "increased awareness" of drinking patterns and how alcohol makes you feel, she said.

The Difference Between Sober Curious and Sobriety

Being sober curious involves questioning your relationship with alcohol, why you drink, and how it makes you feel.

"How this information influences future behavior may look different from person to person. Some individuals may give up alcohol entirely, while others may continue to drink but less frequently," Benson said.

This movement gives people the chance to be more mindful of their drinking habits and decide for themselves what they want their relationship with alcohol to look like.

Being sober curious does come with health benefits, even if you decide to drink sometimes. Jen Bruning, MS, RDN, LDN, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Verywell in an email that reducing alcohol consumption may improve your mood, sleep, decision-making, libido, digestive and immune systems.

"By skipping days when you drink, you allow your body a rest period to help fully detoxify. Cutting back on daily amounts can help too—there’s less toxin coming into your body," Bruning said.

But sober curiosity doesn't work for everyone, especially for those with alcohol use disorder. Unlike sobriety, being sober curious can include drinking on occasion.

"If you have a hard time imagining giving up or even reducing the amount you drink, really think about why that is, and consider working with an addiction specialist to reexamine the role that drinking plays in your life," Bruning said.

How to Practice Being Sober Curious

Before diving into the sober curious lifestyle, ask why it appeals to you. Do you want to improve your mental health or relationships? Or are you curious about what it would feel like not to drink? If you decide to practice being sober curious, there are strategies that can help with your transition.

For example, when you're dining out, you can start the night by ordering a glass of water with lemon, McBurnett suggested.

"It kind of starts me off on the right foot. And if I end up having a glass of wine later, at least I started with water and lemon," she said.

Mocktails are a good option for parties or relaxing at home. McBurnett said she enjoys drinking sparkling water mixed with cut fruit, basil, and mint out of a wine glass.

"I think it's the thought of having a treat. If you make it feel special, it will be special," she said.

Nonalcoholic beer, wine, and liquors are also available for anyone looking for an alternative that looks and tastes more similar to alcohol.

Besides finding alcohol substitutions, sober curious individuals may also look for new ways to socialize. Groups like Club Soda and The Sober Girl Society can help people connect with the broader sober curious community.

"Life is about balance and it's all about figuring out where you want to be," McBurnett said.

What This Means For You

Nonalcoholic drinks or other strategies to replace alcohol may be triggering for people with alcohol use disorder. Being sober curious is not right for everyone. If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol use, contact your trusted healthcare provider or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

2 Sources
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  1. Pollard MS, Tucker JS, Green HD. Changes in adult alcohol use and consequences during the COVID-19 pandemic in the USJAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(9):e2022942-e2022942. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.22942

  2. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Understanding alcohol use disorder.