If you’re questioning the role alcohol plays in your life, you might be curious about what it’s like to lead a “sober life” without alcohol.
There are numerous reasons why you may want to avoid alcohol. Whether it’s to improve your physical health or state of mind, it can be beneficial to explore the role alcohol plays in your life.
Drinking alcohol can be fine in moderation for some people, but alcohol misuse or alcohol use disorder can lead to health issues and personal and professional problems.
Many aspects of some cultures revolve around alcohol — networking events, date nights, celebratory champagne toasts — so it isn’t always easy to avoid alcohol entirely.
Sober curious people may not have the intention of giving up alcohol completely but may want to cut it out for a short period of time to see if limiting alcohol intake or going completely sober in the future would be beneficial for their lifestyle.
Being “sober curious” means you are questioning the ways in which alcohol affects you, like:
- why you drink
- how you feel when you drink
- what would happen if you cut down on drinking or stopped drinking entirely
Those who are “sober” do not drink at all. Some people who don’t drink alcohol have made a conscious decision to eliminate alcohol from their lives, sometimes through the help of a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Being sober curious, however, means you’re wondering if a sober lifestyle is for you.
“Those who are sober curious are questioning the role alcohol plays in their lives and the when and why that drives when they drink,” explains Dr. Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist and director of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services in New York City.
“The sober curious movement has led people to see the unhealthy habits that can go hand in hand with alcohol consumption,” she says.
The sober curious movement has gained steam recently, such as with the rise of interest in “Dry January” — a time when participants decide to not drink for the month of January.
“Months such as these give sober curious people the chance to experience life without alcohol and to try it out and see how they feel without having to make a long-term commitment to themselves or others in a more formal way, which can be scary for people,” says Hafeez.
Stopping alcohol consumption for even 1 month can have immediate physical effects. According to Hafeez, these include:
- lower blood pressure
- weight loss
- better sleep
- better insulin resistance
- clearer skin
- increased energy
When you remove alcohol from your life for a designated period of time, you can better understand the role it plays in your life and how significant it is for you.
- When you dine with friends, do you find yourself craving a drink?
- Are you more anxious about attending social events without it?
- Are you saying “no” to invitations for events because there won’t be alcohol available?
- Are you having less fun doing the same things you used to, but doing them sober?
“Those who have a healthy relationship with alcohol typically have a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude, and their ability to have an enjoyable, relaxing time or participate in events will not hinge on whether or not they can drink,” says Hafeez. “Being sober curious gives you a chance to evaluate your relationship with alcohol and get help if you feel you need it.”
So, are you feeling sober curious? If you want to give it a try, consider starting with these tips:
Question how you use alcohol
Under certain conditions, alcohol can negatively affect our bodies and personal relationships. However, in today’s culture, drinking alcohol is often encouraged in social settings, which can lead to becoming reliant on it and, in some cases, dependent on it. Being sober curious may help provide insight into how you relate to alcohol.
“This involves questioning whether you use it to numb yourself emotionally, experimenting if you can remain socially connected without it, whether your sleep quality changes, and several other useful discoveries about yourself,” explains Daniel Hochman, MD, a board certified psychiatrist and creator of the online addiction recovery program SelfRecovery.org.
“Most people find more power in themselves as they grow confident handling stress, sleep, and social situations without relying on alcohol,” he says.
Before you completely cut out alcohol, try taking a moment or two to think about how your relationship with alcohol has changed over the years and where it stands today.
It can also help to size up how alcohol use impacts the things that you value in life.
For example, if you value being an effective and helpful employee at work, how does alcohol get in the way of that? You might notice that alcohol negatively affects your sleep and leads to fatigue the next day, which impacts your performance at work.
Control your environment
“Stay away from events or places that are solely focused on alcohol, such as going to a bar and hanging out,” says Hafeez.
If you are invited to a bar or restaurant for a social gathering and want to take this approach to being sober curious, try to only attend events at places where alcohol isn’t the main focus.
Exercise increases endorphins, which are the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain. It can be a good replacement for the release of endorphins caused by drinking alcohol.
“Exercise will boost mood and decrease anxiety and depression. It’s also a great way to meet people in a sober environment,” says Hafeez.
Exercise can come in many forms — from an aerobics class to yoga to a walk around the block. If you’d like to incorporate more exercise into your life, you can look up classes in your neighborhood or at a nearby gym, or simply call a friend and go for a stroll in a local park.
Find a new hobby
You can try replacing the time you once spent around alcohol with an activity you haven’t tried before. This can include:
- playing a new sport
- learning a new craft
- taking a language class
“The goal is not to isolate and to socialize in environments where there is no temptation to drink because alcohol is not served or part of the equation,” explains Hafeez.
The most helpful activities are often ones that you know provide meaning, enjoyment, or a sense of mastery. These help boost mood and focus your attention away from urges to drink.
New hobbies may be most effective when you haven’t tried them before but have been interested in trying them and think they will feel enjoyable or meaningful.
Reduce time with friends who drink
Hanging out with friends who drink alcohol in large quantities can increase the likelihood that you will feel pressured to drink as well. Consider taking a break from friends who might, whether they mean to or not, make you feel pressured to drink socially.
“If you want to maintain the friendship, see a movie or do an activity with them that does not involve alcohol,” says Hafeez.
Surround yourself with people who support you
Be selective about who you spend time with during this transition. Try to spend more time with people who you trust to respect your decision to reduce or eliminate drinking alcohol, rather than those who will judge or pressure you.
“If you only get pressure, then there may be tough choices to make about your peer group,” says Hochman.
Practice “urge surfing”
Urge surfing can be a helpful approach to practicing the skill of tolerating cravings. To try urge surfing when a craving hits, take a moment to recognize the urge and let it pass over you.
“Gain experience letting desires pass,” Hochman explains. “Ultimately, anyone trying to fully control their drinking needs to learn what drives them to it to begin with. When you explore and address your underlying psychological and emotional distress, you can gain mastery in ways well beyond drinking.”
The next time you find yourself craving a drink, you can give it a try and see if it helps.
If you want to explore your relationship with alcohol, it can be helpful to cut it out and note any changes in your life caused by its elimination.
There are numerous benefits that can come with stopping alcohol consumption, such as:
- lower blood pressure
- increased energy
- better sleep
If you’re hoping to try a sober curious lifestyle, it’s a good idea to start by replacing alcohol-centric activities with a new hobby or exercise, or spending more time with friends and family who you know will support your decision.
In a society where so many social events revolve around the consumption of alcohol, it may be difficult to say “no” when friends ask you to join them at a bar. But if you’re sober curious, you can remind yourself that there are many ways to socialize that don’t involve drinking, like seeing a movie or playing a sport.
Before you begin trying out sobriety, surround yourself with supportive people who will cheer you on and take your decision seriously. You may want to also set yourself up with some support before you embark on your sober curious journey. To do this, you can:
- reach out to a therapist or counselor
- pick up a book on the subject
- look into AA services in your area
And remember: If you don’t meet any goals you may set for yourself, no sweat! The point of being sober curious is to explore if you may benefit from sobriety. You haven’t failed if you don’t make it to the end of Dry January without a drink. What’s most important is gaining a better understanding of yourself and your relationship with alcohol.