More and more people are questioning whether alcohol serves any real purpose in their lives, or whether it’s time to let it go. If you are one of those people, you are not alone. According to a recent study, over half of Americans surveyed (52%) report that they’re trying to reduce their alcohol intake. A January 2020 study found that even wine consumption is down for the first time in 25 years.
Perhaps you’ve flirted with the idea of sobriety by attempting “Dry January” just to prove to yourself that you are not dependent on alcohol. Maybe you successfully made it through the whole month, maybe not. What’s interesting about this phenomenon is that people are choosing to take a break from booze without necessarily having “a problem” or hitting “rock bottom”.
Sobriety is getting rebranded, with health-conscious millennials leading the rebellion against drinking culture. Instead of the stigma that comes with labeling yourself as an “alcoholic” (there’s no such thing- we’ll get into that later), questioning intake has been recast as “sober curious”.
Social influencers, authors, and online sobriety communities are bucking traditional approaches like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The public is waking up to the health concerns, and making the choice to be alcohol-free as part of a lifestyle of wellness. Is this just a trend? Or are we experiencing a collective cultural shift?
Sobriety is Cool
Booze-free bars and 0% ABV beverages are on the rise, and sobriety is literally trending. Laguna Treatment Hospital found that hashtags like #sober, #sobriety, and #soberliving tripled between 2015-2017. However, as 21-year-old Sober Bitch Beth Holden puts it, “Sobriety is not a trend, but a way of breaking the trend.”
Celebrities like Lena Dunham, Blake Lively, Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian West, Zendaya, Kate Moss, and Anne Hathaway are all on the wagon. Sober musicians like Sarah Shook and American Aquarium frontman BJ Barham are changing what the rock n’ roll lifestyle looks like.
Millennials at the Forefront
Millennials get a lot of flack, but they’re the ones leading this cultural trend. One report found that 70% of millennials would rather brag about how long its been since they drank than how much they’ve drunk. Less than one in 10 think being drunk is cool, while 40% regard drunk people as “pathetic, embarrassing, and possibly worst of all, belonging to an older generation.”
Gen Z is also drinking at lower rates than previous generations. One may pontificate this is due to having their every move documented on social media and not wanting to appear foolish, or get caught by their parents, but Fitt Insider finds the key factors that influence youngster’s abstention are “health, wealth, weed, and the acceptance of being sober-ish.”
This Naked Mind
In her books 30 Day Alcohol Experiment and This Naked Mind, author Annie Grace encourages examining your relationship with alcohol with a sense of curiosity rather than shame. Scary questions like “Am I an alcoholic?” are thrown out for more productive self-reflection, like “Would I be happier without alcohol?” Are you controlling it, or is it controlling you? Could booze be holding you back?
In the first episode of Grace’s podcast (also called This Naked Mind), she tears down our conscious and unconscious beliefs about drinking. Statements like “I drink to relax” are questioned. Why do I believe this? Where did the belief come from? Is it really true? Turns out, it can’t be. Drinking stresses out your body and doesn’t do anything to solve your problems— besides turning your mind off to them momentarily. As we all know, the answer isn’t at the bottom of the bottle. When you wake up in the morning, your problems will still be there (perhaps even bigger than before) and you’ll be less equipped to deal with them.
Rebellion Against Drinking Culture
Alcohol is ingrained into every fiber of our culture—from happy hour to movies and TV. Drinking is so embedded into our everyday lives, not only do we not notice or question it, we take it a step further and stigmatize those who are sober. If you announced you quit smoking cigarettes, literally no one would ask you why. However, when someone turns down a drink, we question them.
Holly Glenn Whitaker, founder and CEO of the online sobriety school Tempest and author of Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol rejects the mainstream cultural norm that suggests you have to drink alcohol to fit in, stating, “Sobriety, and the refusal to partake in allogenic culture, is subversive, rebellious, and edgy.”
Departure From Traditional Approaches
Alcoholics Anonymous hasn’t changed much since it was introduced nearly 100 years ago. People today are turned off by the “all or nothing” attitude, the patriarchal approach, references to a higher power, having to label yourself, willpower-based methods, etc. As Marie Claire puts it, “‘Sober’ used to equal alcoholic, which used to equal rehab or AA, followed by– if you were lucky– a lifetime of careful teetotaling. No more.”
New methods, such as the SMART Recovery are secular and use science-based approaches like “cognitive behavioral therapy and non-confrontational motivational methods”. Online communities, including SheRecovers and Whitaker’s Tempest, use a holistic approach. The first step in AA is admitting you are powerless, whereas Whitaker preaches empowerment, stating, “You are strong and powerful” in her Hip Sobriety manifesto. As River Rehab observes, “The Sober Curious movement (is) rooted in empowering people to choose a more healthy lifestyle while getting support from like-minded individuals who are all on their different paths of sobriety.”
No longer relegated to church basements, people are proud to gain control over alcohol. They don’t want to be anonymous, they want to shout “Free at last!” from the rooftops. Labeling is problematic as well. If you think alcoholism is reaching for a gallon of vodka at 9am, then you as a two-glasses-of-wine-a-night drinker will never identify as an alcoholic.
Another reason people are examining their relationship with booze is the rather new focus on self-development, wellbeing, and radical self-love. Instead of turning off our brains to escape our dreadful lives, we want to improve our lives.
Psychologist Dr Elena Touroni says, “Drinking alcohol regularly has become incompatible for health-conscious high achievers.” We want to thrive as the best versions of ourselves, not use a substance to “get through it.”
Anxiety is a rather new concept, one our mothers didn’t really get to name. All of a sudden we realize we’ve been self-medicating. But the “medicine” actually has the opposite effect. According to Healthline, “Alcohol changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety. In fact, you may feel more anxious after the alcohol wears off.” It’s also worth noting here that those suffering from depression should not compound the problem by using a depressant.
Alcohol Is Addictive to Human Beings
The problem with drawing a line in the sand between “responsible drinkers” and those who have lost everything to addiction is that it negates the fact that we’re all playing with fire. As Grace says, “Deep down, we all sense alcohol may be harmful. It’s why we feel the need to justify how much or how often we drink.”
Our bodies are always just trying to maintain homeostasis, and there we go trying to poison ourselves. When the brain tries to adjust to the poison, it overcompensates and starts to crave the drug, thereby forming a dependence.
Quitting drinking gives you a new outlook. Lisa DuBreuil, a social worker with a focus on addiction states, “sometimes it isn’t until you take that complete break from alcohol that you’re able to see its impact.” You may look back at some of your booze-fueled stories and find that they’re sad and scary, not funny like you thought.
Any change is hard, and thinking about giving up booze is no different. You may be worried that you won’t be any fun or have any fun without alcohol. It’s actually quite the opposite—drinking is boring. There’s so much more time for activities sans inebriation. When you’re not drunk, you can read, exercise, and get back into fulfilling hobbies that have fallen by the wayside.
Those who rely on the sauce as a social lubricant may think they can’t get through a party without their “liquid courage,” but socializing sober is easier than you might think. Turns out alcohol isn’t fueling the good time, we just assume that because it’s ever-present.
If quitting altogether sounds too intimidating, try it for 30 days and see how you feel. You can always keep the door open and be slightly sober, aka “consume with intention,” but you may find you don’t even want to walk back through it. Some will find it easier to just take the option off the table rather than having to make a daily decision to abstain. After all, your body develops a tolerance to alcohol to protect itself, so one glass can easily slip into the whole bottle.
Instead of feeling deprived, you’ll feel free and happy. In addition to never having to be hungover again, you’ll have more energy, weight melts off, you’ll sleep better, have better concentration and skin, overall better health, and save money. Instead of being worried about what you said the night before, you’ll remember everything! When you experience the benefits of quitting, you’ll be amazed at how much time you wasted getting wasted.