The sober curious movement challenges the pervasive alcohol norm in today’s society driven by Big Alcohol and the hyper-consumption ethos of consumer capitalism. The central theme of being sober curious is being mindful. By simply questioning the role and function of alcohol people can become more mindful about their way of life and the choices they are making as citizens, and not just as consumers. Instead of simply conforming to alcohol consumption and promotion the sober curious movement seeks to replace the alcohol norm with more inclusive, healthier and happier social norms.
How it all began
Credit for the term “sober curious” goes to Ruby Warrington. Ms Warrington has literally written the book on being ‘sober curious’ when she published in 2018 “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol.” Ms Warrington has also become involved in creating and promoting alcohol-free events to help promote a healthier society.
Questioning the oppressive alcohol norm
In certain countries, alcohol is ingrained in the core of the social culture. For most people it is hard to separate the beer from the after work gathering, the wine from the dinner party, the liquor from the Friday night out. The norms dictate that those social arenas are conditioned by the presence of alcohol. By denying alcohol, people also risk denying themselves access to those social arenas.
Data shows this to be true, as revealed by an innovative survey from Sweden:
- A large group of alcohol users in Sweden consumes alcohol EVEN THOUGH THEY DON’T WANT TO.
- Around 15 % of the adult (18+) population said that they want to live a life free from alcohol, but do not.
- Very few people ascribed to alcohol the social significance that manifests in the culture. When asked whether alcohol is important for a successful social event, the vast majority said no.
These are significant numbers.
The story they tell is that people are coerced into the alcohol norm and often ignore their preferences to be able to participate in social events and gatherings.
A rewarding social life is a necessity. There is no well-being without a good social life. In reality, this means that people tend to consume more alcohol the more they fear that saying no will come at a cost to their social life, even though they themselves would prefer not to consume alcohol,” wrote Lucas Nilsson for Movendi International’s blog portal.
Still, most people do not even value the social effect of alcohol. Yet many continue to contribute to the alcohol norm by reproducing expectations and behaviour instead of challenging and substituting them. Because that is how it is and that is how everyone else appears to want it to be.
Thus, there seems to exist a rather intoxicating vicious cycle of norms and notions about alcohol that fuel ideas and expectations resting on the false concept of what we perceive as other people’s preferences.Lucas Nilsson, “The Oppressive Alcohol Norm And The Freedom To Not Use Alcohol“
Sober curious – making real preferences visible and legitimate
Sober curious is about exploring the space beyond booze, not just about reacting to alcohol problems; it’s about the curiosity of experiencing one self and social events free from alcohol; and it is about exploring alcohol-free choices whenever alcohol consumption is not beneficial to other goals and interests and whenever people don’t feel interest in or preference for consuming alcohol in any given setting or circumstance.
Sober curious is about freedom and exploration, self-determination and self-consciousness.
The sober curious movement is growing and it is for anyone who questions alcohol myths, alcohol’s prescribed and dominant role in all social and cultural events and the importance placed on the substance. The sober curious approach is for anyone who wants to be more mindful about their way of life, their consumer choices, their health and well-being and for everyone who wants to cut down on alcohol use or go alcohol-free.
Movendi International reported earlier in the year about sober curiosity which is catching on across the world.
As more and more people, especially also in the younger generation, are discovering the reality that alcohol is unnecessary and actually detrimental to fun, ‘good times’ and meaningful experiences with others, the freedom to make alcohol-free choices in social gatherings of all sorts increases. Sober curiosity questioning and challenging social conventions, default settings and norms that benefit the alcohol industry by coercing a large amount of people into behavior they don’t actually want to engage in.
In this way the sober curious movement contributes to the recognition that alcohol use is often more due to real and perceived social pressures and in contrast to people’s real preferences and wishes. Breaking these patterns, conventions, defaults and norms unlocks the experience of purer forms of enjoyment, connection and community.
With the rise of the sober curious movement and a new alcohol-free and alcohol-critical generation is emerging.
Sober curious thrives during pandemic
The pandemic did not halt the progress of the sober curious movement. Instead it has been thriving ever more so. According to Nielsen sales of non-alcoholic beer increased by 38% in the first six months of 2020. Instead of halting the growth, the pandemic and resulting lockdowns have been a time for people to discover being alcohol-free even more.
For the non-alcoholic beer brand “Athletic Brewing” demand is rising as much as 400% monthly. Rises in demand has been experienced by other non-alcoholic brands such as “Fre Family” a non-alcoholic wine brand and “For Bitter For Worse” a brand making ready to drink mocktails.
While it is true that some people have started to use alcohol heavily during the pandemic for a large proportion of people the pandemic has resulted in exploring the alcohol-free life. Since there are less occasions to consume alcohol people have started to question their relationship with alcohol and experiment with being alcohol-free.
People are also more concerned about their health during the pandemic. Since alcohol can weaken the immune system and make people more susceptible to infection, the alcohol-free lifestyle is potentially life saving during the ongoing pandemic.
Benefits of going alcohol-free
There are many short-term and long-term benefits in choosing to reduce alcohol use or to go alcohol-free.
Short term benefits
- No hangovers.
- Better quality sleep.
- Sharpened concentration.
- Reduced weight gain.
- Reduced illness. Alcohol weakens the immune system and causes 200 diseases and health conditions. Going alcohol-free is healthy.
- Better mental health. Alcohol is a depressant. Therefore, going alcohol-free is a mental health promotion measure.
- Money saving.
- Time saving.
- More time for new or old hobbies and new experiences.
- Reduced risk for a vast number of alcohol-related illness including liver disease, cancer, heart disease, and alcohol use disorders.
- Better financial gains. Alcohol is expensive and can eat into savings and personal or family finances. By saving the money spent on alcohol it can be invested in family or personal development.
Apart from the above mentioned personal benefits, being alcohol-free has a social justice and public health dimension, too. It helps to ease reduce the alcohol burden. It makes it easier for all other people who want to be and stay alcohol-free, for a party, weekend, month or lifetime – benefitting also the people among us who are experiencing severe alcohol problems, use disorders or dependency. It helps to counter-act Big Alcohol that is exploiting people for profit. It helps to promote healthier norms and more inclusive environments.
[This story was updated on October 29, 2020 according to new information from Seven Fifty Daily]
All Womens Talk: “The Rise of “Sober Curious”, and Why We Should All Be Taking It on Board …“
Healthline: “A Beginner’s Guide to the ‘Sober Curious’ Movement“
Seven Fifty Daily: “Why the Alcohol-Free Category Is Thriving“