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Sober curious: A change in mindset for a change in health

All the cool kids are trying it, should we all dabble in temporary sobriety?

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The concepts of “Sober Curious,” “Dry January,” “Dry July,” and “Sober September” are becoming popular trends within our society, much in thanks to the millennial generation and up and coming Gen Z who have more openly embraced sobriety compared to older generations. Sober curious, which is defined as “curiosity about a sober lifestyle and exploration of how one feels both physically and mentally when they aren’t drinking,” is certainly trending. Alcohol-free bars are popping up across the country, Instagram feeds are filled with #DryJanuary posts, and overall it feels like something all the cool kids are trying. Should we all try it? Drinking a glass of wine with dinner every night may feel like no big deal. Why give it up? The answer is twofold – for both physical and mental health. 

The physical effects of alcohol

Did you ever think about the word “intoxication” and what it implies? As everyone knows “intoxicated” is the term we use to describe someone who has had too much to drink. Alcohol is a mind-altering toxin that our bodies must work very hard to remove once it’s been consumed. The change in mental state that we experience when we drink – be it euphoria, relaxation, numbness, or even anger – is a result of our body rejecting and processing the alcohol as a toxin. Alcohol use further affects our body’s internal organs including the liver and gut and takes a toll on a cellular level as well as affecting our skin and eyes. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), women who drink excessively are at higher risk than men who drink the same quantity of alcohol for certain conditions including liver disease, memory loss and shrinking of the brain, certain types of cancer, and damage to the heart muscle.  

Alcohol and mental health

Folks often reach for a drink to ease stress, anxiety, and to unwind after a long day. Societal norms tell us it is ok  to cut loose and have a fun night out with friends or to celebrate a special occasion. All of these reasons for drinking are escape mechanisms. Using a substance to ease pain or to enhance a social situation is an avoidance of reality. Further, when the alcohol wears off, we are left with the initial stress, sometimes a negatively altered mental state, feelings of depression, and often a headache or mental fuzziness to top it off. 

Right, right, you’ve heard this all before. But the one glass of wine with dinner still doesn’t feel like a big deal. Perhaps this mindset is true, but herein lies the interesting concept behind “sober curious.” Our society tells us that drinking is normal, that it is expected. The idea of not drinking feels really radical. Will our friends judge us for not drinking? Will we be able to handle the stress of a long day or of parenting without a glass of wine? How will we feel if we commit to sobriety for a month or more? Curiosity about the answers to these questions and curiosity about our mental and physical state without alcohol is a reason to give it a try. Here are a few other reasons to ponder temporary or permanent sobriety.

  1. Give your body time to heal. Alcohol is stressful and damaging to your body. Removing a daily dose of toxins allows your body time to heal, repair, and rejuvenate. If you are trying sobriety, take note of your energy levels, your outward physical appearance, and generally how you feel both first thing in the morning and at the end of a long day. Do you notice a difference between when you are drinking regularly and when you are maintaining sobriety?
  2. Can you do it? If you consider yourself a casual drinker, you should be able to stop. Whether that is for one night, or for 30 days. Are you able to take time off from alcohol? If you find yourself creating excuses to continue drinking, you may be more dependent on alcohol than you realized or want to admit to yourself. 
  3. Take a deep look inside. If you don’t have alcohol to help you navigate challenging social situations, stress, or anxiety, what skills and tools do you possess to cope with these daily challenges? Removing alcohol can be a great opportunity to explore personal growth. Does networking make you nervous? Do your children stress you out? If alcohol got you through these tough moments in the past, what skills can you develop to help you get through them without alcohol? 

Though millennials get a lot of flack, we can certainly thank them for their acceptance and celebration of sobriety and generational awareness for the importance of wellness and mental health. Dry bars, sober tailgates, and rejection of the idea that concerts or sporting events require drinking is a very different approach to socializing. Motherhood sprinkled with Mommy & Me yoga and meditation is a far cry from the midday martini approach of the 1950s. What if we all gave a more sober lifestyle a try? What would we learn about ourselves? How would our bodies feel? As women, could we use sobriety to our advantage, to help us realize and celebrate our internal strength? Sobriety has the power to open doors for self-discovery and empowerment and is one trend that is hopefully here to stay.

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