I recently finished the wonderfully hilarious and relatable The Sober Diaries by Clare Pooley, and one of the countless good points she brought up revolves around the public perception of sobriety and not drinking alcohol.
I’m paraphrasing, but she laments how quitting smoking is viewed as a triumphant act.
It receives a pat on the back and admiration. But sobriety? Quitting alcohol! You may as well have grown a third eye.
Despite the numerous health statistics on the short and long-term risks of heavy drinking, which, I might add, is not very much (4 drinks or more in a single session for women or eight or more drinks per week), we still seem to accept alcohol and getting drunk as the norm.
To not drink alcohol is an oddity or a sign that you are somehow broken.
It sparks whisperings of super secret words like “alcoholic” or “addict.” You’re now the subject of hushed voices.
So we hide.
We hide online, in private Facebook groups, and anonymous Twitter accounts. And we dutifully recover in private so as not to upset the natural order of things.
I suggest we stop all that.
People get sober for a lot of reasons.
Some people get sober in response to problems that alcohol has inflicted on their lives.
Others don’t drink simply for health reasons.
Maybe they never had a “problem” with alcohol, but they’re training for a marathon or trying to lose weight or start a business, and intoxication or alcohol consumption of any sort does not work for them.
And then you have the rise of the teetotaling youth who are, in increasing numbers, deciding that there’s no point in drinking alcohol.
It’s expensive, they don’t like the effects, and they don’t see it as the requisite social lubricant it once was among older generations.
What do they all have in common? A general consensus that alcohol is not benefiting their life in any meaningful way, so why bother?
Is sobriety becoming more popular?
The data all points to yes! This is especially true among younger people. The rate of young people who binge drink or drink has steadily decreased over the past couple of decades.
A recent study by University College London found that “the proportion of 16- to 24-year-olds who do not drink alcohol had increased from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2015.”
Even among those who still drink, the amount of consumption is decreasing. The same study cites that in 2005, 43% of young people reported drinking above the recommended limits. That number fell to 28% by 2015.
This trend extends to university campuses where 1 in 5 students in the UK reports abstaining from alcohol completely. It’s important not to let that overshadow the fact that the rest of the students (79%) still believe that getting drunk is part of college life.
And it’s not just the young folks.
Alcohol consumption worldwide has fallen by 5% since 2000, and with so many young people opting out of booze, that number will only continue to decrease.
A recent study by Civic Science shows a continued interest in sobriety and drinking less. Gen Zers, in particular, are becoming increasingly sober-curious. So are younger Millenials.
Among survey respondents, 11% of Gen Zers aged 21-24 reported being sober curious. Young Millenials surveyed (age 25-34) reported they are drinking less now than they did during the pandemic and are least likely to say they drink alcohol daily.
What I find particularly interesting about the Civic Science study is the direct correlation between heavy drinking and sober curiosity.
Nearly 40% of respondents who said they were curious about sobriety reported drinking daily. Sixty percent reported drinking several times per week.
So in part, people’s relationship with alcohol drives their interest in ditching it altogether.
Does this mean a big boon for the non-alcoholic beer and spirits industry?
In 2022, sales of non-alcoholic products saw a 19% increase in the first two weeks of January, while alcohol sales were down 6.7% over the same time period.
So while survey respondents might not be interested in non-alcoholic versions of typically alcoholic drinks, there is an emerging market that continues to grow.
And it makes sense when you think about it. Alcohol is still very much engrained into the social fabric of our culture. These alcohol alternatives allow you the experience (and taste) of alcohol without the intoxication and terrible consequences.
Sobriety As A Wellness Trend:
Researchers (and marketers) believe that the increasing popularity of sobriety is part of an overall wellness trend. The increase in non-alcoholic beverages is increasing alongside plant-based meats.
According to Nielson, the non-alcoholic beverage industry has grown from a $164M industry in 2018 to a whopping $349M industry as of 2021.
But there isn’t a fully direct correlation with non-alcoholic beverage sales and overall sobriety trends. The same study noted that most consumers buying non-alcoholic beverages also purchase alcohol, indicating, instead a shift in drinking habits and moderation of drinking.
Gen Zers are choosing sobriety for other reasons:
Namely, they are more risk averse than their older counterparts. In a BBC report, Amy Amy Pennay, a senior research fellow at the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research at La Trobe University, Melbourne, was quoted as saying, “[The decrease in alcohol consumption is] certainly not happening because of alcohol policy, because all risky practices are going down – drug use, unprotected sex, risky behaviours [like smoking, crime and driving hazardously] – young people are more risk averse in general.”
This, coupled with the fact that young people have a wider access to information and community via the internet and social media, contributes to an increased awareness of the negative health affects of alcohol on the brain, mental health, and overall wellbeing.
They’re not wrong:
We know that consuming alcohol can change your personality both while drinking and not drinking, due to the longterm effects it has on our brain structure and neural circuitry.
With so many of those mistakes making their way online, it’s no wonder younger people are thinking twice about consuming something that can make them do embarrassing or risky things.
In fact, in that same Google study, “49% of Gen Z claim their online image is always at the back of their mind when they go out socialising and drinking. 76% feel it is important to be in control of all aspects of their life at all times.”
And while the majority of Gen Zers do still drink, their perspective on alcohol and getting drunk is shifting away from how Millenials think and behave.
Sobriety Lifestyle Trends
Here are some exciting sobriety lifestyle trends that are catering to the increasing demand for alcohol-free social activities.
Daybreaker is an early-morning alcohol and substance-free rave that starts with a bit of yoga then builds into a super cool dance party that serves lovely juice cocktails and healthy bites to partygoers. There may even be some performances by local artists.
When it’s all finished, you get cleaned up and go to work (or whatever you’ve got going that day).
Here’s a sample of what these parties are like:
It might seem a little counterintuitive, but sober bars are a “thing” now and they are multiplying. In 2015, the famed Redemption Bar opened up in London offering a healthy alternative for a lovely sober night out.
Non-alcoholic pop-up bars like Sans Bar in Austin, Texas have become so popular that some are getting their own brick and mortar establishments.
And more are popping up everywhere. They offer cool, creative mocktails, great music (live or deejays) and the exact same vibe you’d get in any other bar – except, no getting wasted and puking in the bathroom.
What’s not to like?
Drinking “me” would’ve scoffed at this idea. Super lame. Who wants to go out to a club or bar that doesn’t have alcohol?
But as it turns out, plenty of people do, myself included!
It’s actually NICE to have an option to let loose, dance, listen to some good tunes, and eat delicious bar food without having to worry about handling drunk assholes or sloppy “woo” girls.
I imagine the bathroom line for these places is much more tolerable (and hygienic).
Mocktails and Alcohol-Free Beers & Spirits
We’ve already touched on the rise of alcohol-free beers, wines, and spirits, but it’s worth noting again.
Personally, I think making craft beer and spirits that taste like booze but doesn’t actually have booze is somewhere between playing with fire and a waste of money, depending on what your “deal” is with alcohol in the first place.
However, for many people giving up booze, they are a godsend and I firmly believe to each his own.
That being said, if you are someone who struggles with alcohol abuse or even a gray area drinker trying to quit, tread carefully with these alcohol alternatives.
You may find they are triggering, in which case, don’t consume them.
Changing The Way We Think About Alcohol And Sobriety
Alcohol has been a part of the human experience for thousands and thousands of years. Of course, there is a reason for that. Our brains love dopamine and any shortcut to euphoria.
Plus, there were some pretty dark days in our human past that I imagine were made slightly more tolerable by a little fermented beverage.
HOWEVER. We’ve evolved.
There’s no upside to getting drunk anymore and the so-called health benefits of one glass of red wine per day are shoddy at best.
(In fact, I would argue they are largely debunked. Please read my post on alchohol’s inflammatory effects for more details.)
I don’t shame anyone for continuing to drink.
There are two beers in my fridge and a bottle of whiskey in my cupboard (my husband’s, not mine obviously). But I am suggesting that we be equally bold in our existence.
Somebody pops open the vino? “Oh no thank you! I don’t drink. Do you have something else?”
And then that’s that. In the same way that I can easily refuse shrimp (because I don’t like it), I can just as confidently reject a glass of alcohol. It’s not weird.
It’s my preference. The night goes on as planned.
The New Normal
As more and more people begin to turn away from alcohol and rely on it less for social interactions, sobriety will become more commonplace and normalized.
In the same way you might reject fast food or soda, alcohol will go the way of other unhealthy things in this world. You can take it or leave it. Nobody thinks it’s weird that you don’t eat at McDonald’s.
The same should be true of abstaining from alcohol.
I’m encouraged by the rise of sobriety among young people and general rejection of the idea that you need alcohol to have fun and connect with others.
Even if people continue to drink, if we can reduce the number of heavy and binge drinkers, we’ll have made an important shift in the health of our society.
In the meantime, bring on the sober dance parties and overpriced mocktails.
Why not? Let’s live a little.
Want to learn more about sobriety? Check out these resources:
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