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The ‘Sober Curious’: How the Latest Trend in Booze Is Casting Sobriety in a New Light

Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients. We all know that alcoholism affects people from all walks of life. In fact, the CDC estimates 88,000 die […]

Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.

We all know that alcoholism affects people from all walks of life. In fact, the CDC estimates 88,000 die from alcohol-related causes every year, making it the third leading cause of death. Even with these grim statistics, it is heartening to see booze have a moment!

It appears a growing number of people are turning away from the “King of Beers” and mainstream drinks, in favor of microbreweries and craft beers fashioning a new kind of trend: nonalcoholic beverages.

Turns out drinkers are experimenting with being “sober curious,” a term coined by the writer Ruby Warrington who wrote a book of the same name. In Sober Curious, she delves into the myriad questions she started asking herself about the reasons she imbibed drink after drink, arriving at answers that break through the myths society has constructed around booze.

“The blissful sleep, greater focus, limitless presence, and deep connection awaiting us all on the other side of alcohol” is at the heart of her book encouraging readers to question the myths and to get curious about sobriety.

This may just be starting with a growing market for non-alcoholic drinks. Enthusiasts can reap the socializing benefits of being out at a bar or restaurant without the hangover. The market seems to be catching up. Ted Fleming, founder of Partake Brewing, noticed that there was a stigma around traditional nonalcoholic beers and lacked in variety, quality and taste. So, he started his own brewing company.

“I found that I missed the social connection that comes from sharing a drink with a colleague after a hard day’s work,” Fleming tells NPR for a story titled Craft Beers Without the Buzz: Brewing New Options for the ‘Sober Curious’ by Allison Aubrey, published in June 2019.

That’s just what Bill Shufelt, co-founder of Athletic Brewing Co., set out to do when he started his new company that only serves nonalcoholic brews. “[I wanted] to give people a cool way to moderate [their drinking]… and to provide people who are sober comfort in being sober,” he told NPR. The idea paid off – Shufelt has doubled production since getting the brewing company off the ground two years ago. “We’ve actually been totally overwhelmed and shocked by how strong the nationwide online demand is.”

And it’s not just nonalcoholic beer and ‘mocktails’ that is driving the ‘sober curious’ trend. Those attempting to get on the wagon and maintain a healthier lifestyle, sans booze, are turning to alcohol-free yoga retreats, online communities, and nonprofits. These are activities that treatment and health care facilities have long advocated for, only now Madison Avenue is catching on with a new wave of mainstream marketing for a sober lifestyle.

It doesn’t hurt when you have stars like Macklemore, Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper and even Princess Kate telling you a life of sobriety is cool and fun. Look out AA, there are new options in town for those looking to kick the habit.

Sober Movement, a nonprofit that is “dedicated to the unionization of those in all forms of recovery,” organizes meetings and fun activities for members who are committed to a sober lifestyle. “We are here to promote that being sober is not just a label, but a movement,” says the website. The movement is gaining traction – the group has over 18,000 Facebook followers and the founders even started a Youtube channel.

Mia Mancuso, an accountability coach, gave up drinking and started the Sober Glow, a website that chronicles her journey of sobriety and encourages other like-minded women to join her mini-movement. “Once I removed the option of drinking, a whole new world opened up to me,” Ms. Mancuso told the New York Times for a piece titled The New Sobriety, published in June 2019 by Alex Williams. “I now live a life full of integrity, confidence and grace, which ironically was what I was hoping to find in all those pretty little cocktails.”

If you’re worried staying dry makes for a dry life experience, Mancuso, amongst others, plans retreats to far-flung places like Baja for “big life enthusiasts” who want all the thrill of a good time out without regrets a boozy night may portend. Her Instagram, 40,000 followers strong, documents these fun-filled excursions.

For Lorelei Bandrovschi, also interviewed by the Times, finds her thrills, sans alcoholic drinks, in inventive ways. She runs Listen Bar, an alcohol-free bar that “compensate[s] for liquor-fueled abandon with activities like dominatrix lessons ($15) and a spinning “daredevil wheel” that prompts attendees to get out of their comfort zone by, say, trying a high-fashion catwalk around the room.” There’s even Chris Marshall, a substance abuse counselor who runs an event called Sans Bar out of Austin, TX, “featuring sober glow-in-the-dark disco, karaoke and ’90s-rock singalongs.”

As an addiction specialist and interventionist who has worked with countless families and loved ones struggling with alcohol and other substance use, I’m encouraged to see sobriety going mainstream and taking on a new dimension. With greater societal acceptance, folks are finding new ways to embrace a sober lifestyle and discovering different ways of being in our hyper-connected world.

I hope to see more growth and improvement in our communities across the country, even as marijuana legalization unfurls and brings with it a new set of challenges. I’m confident we can come together to stand strong in recovery. Cheers to that!

To learn more about Louise Stanger and her interventions and other resources, visit her website.

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