There are a plethora of reasons that someone might quit drinking: choosing to forego a dreaded hangover, the ever increasing price of colourful cocktails or the stark realities of addiction. A growing trend seems to have appeared questioning the narrative of normalized or socially ingrained drinking patterns, ranging from the 12-step programme to people wanting to embrace an alcohol-free or free-ish life (sometimes dubbed ‘sober curious’). The desire to reassess one’s relationship with alcohol is increasingly tied to ‘mindfulness’ and an awareness of how many social encounters revolve around drinking. Some have even said that sobriety is getting rebranded.
Alcohol is a depressant, although one might feel a ‘buzz’ initially while it is acting as a stimulant. Once this tapers off, it begins to act as a sedative – often inducing a depressed mood state. Hence the frequent 3am-crying-trying-to-call-an-uber-outside-the-bar-after-closing. However, it also has some far more sinister long-term health risks including; high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems, cancer, memory problems as well as depression and anxiety or alcohol dependence and alcoholism. Even though alcohol affects one’s mood, cognitive function, and body – the prevailing cultural message is that alcohol is a necessary lifestyle accessory. As a result, often the decision to abstain may feel somewhat controversial or even antisocial. In addition, many cite the use of alcohol as a strategy for easing social anxiety. The cessation of which requires developing different coping strategies. However, it offers a different kind of social interaction – one which doesn’t revolve around drinking.
However, following hot on the heels of Ruby Warrington’s, popular new book Sober Curious, (and the popularisation of this term) is critique over the wellness industry’s impulse to paint sobriety as aesthetically driven. In this sense, sobriety fits in neatly alongside Instagram images of co-opted yoga poses and green juice. Although increasing acceptance of sobriety aids in removing some of the stigma around alcoholism, there is also growing concern that tossing terms like ‘sober curious’ around may dangerously blur the line around alcohol disorders. The threat is that one might begin to diminish or underestimate the potential life-threatening nature of alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Therefore, there is a crucial distinction between the need to get sober in recovery versus simply the desire to drink less. Fundamentally, these also require different approaches and should not be conflated with one another. However, when not trivialized, the normalization of sobriety is generally positively – both individually and socially. For whichever reasons one might choose to stop drinking, temporary or permanent sobriety can be incredibly rewarding, although not without its challenges.