How the Sobriety Movement Has Created a Trend Toward Mindful Drinking
by Michael Walsh
Alcohol in western culture has a colourful and storied history. It’s a coveted aspect of our culture, past and present. [Updated March 2023]
With a seemingly ever present aspect of how we socialize, celebrate, and decompress after a long day — it’s unusual (and noticeable) when it’s absent.
“Alcohol is the only drug where if you don’t do it, people assume you have a problem.” -Chris Williamson, @chriswillx
And maybe that cultural norm underpins, or at least contributes to, the epidemic levels of substance use disorder and the consequences that come with it. We’re so used to it, that up until recently, there wasn’t very much thought about drinking habits until a “drinking problem” manifested.
But that paradigm appears to be shifting in significant ways. It is becoming more common for people to re-evaluate their relationships with alcohol, regardless of whether or not their drinking is problematic.
As the sobriety movement gains momentum more people, sometimes identifying as sober curious, are starting to cut back their alcohol consumption, or quit drinking altogether. This mindful drinking trend is reshaping the way that many people interact with each other and defining how they have a good time in social environments.
What is Sober Curious and When Did It Start?
Much of the credit for the sobriety movement we are seeing, is attributed to the younger generations. Millennials and Gen Z are known for their willingness to question the status quo.
So it’s no surprise that they would rethink the constant presence of alcohol in day-to-day life.
With an earnest interest in physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and well-being, younger Americans en masse have started to forego the typical party scene. They’re redefining the way they interact with alcohol because they see clearly that it conflicts with their priorities.
In essence, to be sober curious is to question the dominant drinking culture and evaluate the way that alcohol shows up in your life. For instance, many people use alcohol to cope with a myriad of uncomfortable situations and emotions. Long term, this can be a slippery slope.
Adopting more mindful drinking practices and engaging in self-inquiry allows you to work toward showing up for your life in the ways that are most important to you. Maybe you observe that you reach for a drink whenever you have a stressful day or find yourself in a social situation that makes you anxious.
This self-awareness is the byproduct of being sober curious. Once you realize that you use alcohol in ways that don’t serve you — you can make different choices or develop healthier coping skills.
In the past, quitting drinking was typically reserved for those who had become substance dependent. Words like alcoholic and relapse were used without a second thought.
With the onset of the sobriety movement, that began to change, and with it, the stigma associated with substance use started to shift too.
Around 2010, questioning your relationship with alcohol was no longer reserved for people with a “drinking problem.” Instead, it started to signify that someone was conscious, thoughtful, and intentional about the way they wanted to live their lives.
The sober curious movement, however, didn’t get its name until 2018 when Ruby Warrington published her book titled Sober Curious. The book was a huge success and spawned an online community called The Temper. Since the publication of her book, evaluating your drinking habits through a destigmatized lens has found its way into the mainstream.
How the Sobriety Movement is Shifting Culture
With the pervasiveness of the dominant drinking culture, it’s going to take time for society to change its ways — but we definitely see shifts already take place.
It’s no longer an unspoken expectation that a night out on the town results in binge drinking and the hangover accompanying it.
You now find mocktail bars popping up in major cities across Canada, the U.S. and beyond. Serving beautifully presented drinks with clever names that are alcohol-free, sober establishments come with all the ambiance of a traditional bar.
These aren’t places exclusively for people in recovery so being sober isn’t a requirement to attend. Many people who do drink alcohol opt for these alcohol-free alternatives because they’d like to drink less on occasion.
Restaurants also are more likely today than just a few years back to have non-alcoholic drink menus. They’ve taken notice that many of their patrons still want fancy concoctions and will pay good money for a non-alcoholic version, rather than having to settle for water or soda.
The beverage industry is adapting to this new segment of the market as well. And rightfully so, since the numbers clearly tell the story. It’s predicted that the global non-alcoholic beverage industry will surge from approximately $1.2 billion in 2021 to nearly $1.9 billion in 2028.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), global alcohol drinkers have decreased by almost 5% since 2010.
This decrease is reflected directly in alcohol sales. For the past five years, The Beverage Information Group has reported a consistent drop in beer sales.
In response, major beer and spirits manufacturers have started developing alcohol-free products to accommodate the new demand. You can now find a wide range of beverage options in non-alcoholic wine and spirits shops as an alternative to liquor stores.
But again, these are not strictly for those who are sober. It’s estimated that 80% of adult non-alcoholic beverage consumers still drink alcohol. This speaks to the growing desire to enjoy a drink socially or at the end of the day, but not necessarily to get intoxicated.
You Don’t Need to Have a “Drinking Problem” to Reevaluate Your Relationship With Alcohol
Now more than ever, it is an absolute non-necessity to have a substance use disorder to take an honest look at your relationship with alcohol. Nor do you have to identify as sober curious.
If you’re interested in improving your connections with other people, your mental health, or your physical health, you might be surprised how much alcohol consumption can thwart your efforts. And that’s true even if you’re not a heavy drinker.
As a society, we used to think that moderate drinking was not damaging to your physical or mental health. Actually, it was believed that moderate consumption of alcohol could promote heart health and overall physical well-being.
That misguided belief has been dismantled by the scientific community. We now know that any consumption of alcohol can harm your body, your brain, and your mood.
Recently American neuroscientist and Stanford University professor, Dr. Andrew Huberman released a podcast episode regarding alcohol and health. It's an incredibly thorough breakdown of the impact drinking has on all systems of the body. I highly recommend giving it a listen.
Changing your relationship with alcohol can be difficult. Once you start paying attention to your consumption, you may realize that it’s infused into many areas of your life. And that’s okay, it doesn’t mean you have a problem.
Whether you’re thinking about quitting drinking altogether or prefer to adopt mindful drinking practices, it might feel like a big undertaking. Recovery coaching is an excellent option if you want to make this big life change but need support doing it.
As I stated in this recent article on the subject, you don’t have to be in any particular category to benefit from recovery coaching. When you work with me there are no labels, diagnoses, or one size fits all approaches to your individual treatment plan. Together we build a roadmap for the direction you want your life to go in and the most useful strategies to help you get there.
Get Help Creating Your Personal Roadmap
It can be really scary to arrive at the realization that you have a drinking problem, no matter how big or small.
But it’s a lot less scary when you have an experienced guide to help you sort things out.
I’m an accredited Addiction Recovery Coach offering worldwide virtual support, and in-person support across Canada. If you’re interested in exploring 1:1 recovery coaching to help you cut back your drinking or stop drinking entirely, I’m happy to answer your questions.
I offer a no-charge consult call to anyone who has questions about their own substance use, or the substance use of a family member. These calls are completely confidential with no pressure to make a decision before you feel entirely ready.
I’d also like to invite you to read more about my personal story here.