sober curious

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By Mike Brown, Co-Founder of Next Level Recovery

While not associated with alcohol use disorder recovery, there is no question that some who may have a mild or moderate issue with alcohol consumption may find their way to treatment once they test drive sobriety for a spell.

The sober curious phenomenon is the offshoot inspired by the book Sober Curious by author Ruby Warrington that proposes the concept of embracing a sober lifestyle as a stepping stone to better overall wellness. The book’s intended audience is diverse, not necessarily individuals with an alcohol problem. The author’s thesis is that, while healthy trends have been reshaping lifestyles in many positive ways, many who strive for wellness are still routinely incorporating alcohol into their regular routines. Warrington provides an inspiring narrative, enhanced with clinical research that supports the many health and wellness benefits of living an alcohol-free lifestyle. 

Warrington’s book, published in 2018, has since given rise to a movement, referred also as “Sober Curious.” The term “sober curious” became a popular buzzword and hashtag growing into a thriving #sobercurious Instagram community. With an increasing awareness and respect for healthy living, devotees of the movement have made dropping alcohol from the diet a growing trend. 

About the Sober Curious Movement

One of the core concepts behind the sober curious trend involves taking an honest look at unhealthy habits, such as routinely drinking alcohol as a matter of social norms even when alcohol isn’t even desired. You meet a friend for dinner and you are expected to order a drink. You attend a wedding reception and you are expected to drink. You join friends at a Super Bowl party and you are expected to drink. The sober curious mindset encourages readers to rethink these ingrained societal customs and essentially rebel against them.

Not everyone who signs on to the sober curious bandwagon will give up alcohol entirely. These individuals might dramatically reduce their consumption of alcohol by embracing moderation, to take the idea of sobriety out for a test run. In doing so, these folks might discover that they don’t really miss the daily beer after work, the glass of wine with dinner, or the weekend binges at all, and transition to complete sobriety. 

Most of Ms. Warrington’s sober curious adherents, however, decide to go all in and do away with alcohol entirely. Even though they may not admit to having a substance problem, some may know on some level that their alcohol consumption has increased and take this new mindset as a great motivation to detach from alcohol.

Health Benefits from Embracing Sober Curious

We might be conditioned to assume that all individuals who live a sober lifestyle are recovering alcoholics. These days, however, the sobriety landscape is also populated with people who do not necessarily have a diagnosed alcohol use disorder. Whichever camp you are in, all will benefit significantly from living a sober lifestyle.

It is a well-known fact that people who give up alcohol will experience positive changes within weeks of quitting. Especially when abstinence from alcohol is combined with regular exercise a whole medley of positive health effects will emerge. These include:

  • Better sleep quality. Even though alcohol has relaxing effects, it will disrupt the circadian rhythm and cause interrupted sleep.
  • Losing weight. Alcohol is high in sugar and calories, so cutting it out of the diet will result in loss of weight.
  • Better cognitive functioning. Eliminating alcohol leads to sharper thinking, better memory functioning, and overall improved cognitive functioning.
  • More energy. A boost in energy is experienced when you are not nursing a hangover.
  • More positive outlook, improved mood. Alcohol is a sedative, a downer, so by eliminating it the brain will begin to normalize its dopamine production.
  • Saving money formerly spent on alcohol. Cocktails and liquor are not cheap. Dropping alcohol from your social outings will save money in the long run.
  • Reduced health risks. Alcohol consumption is associated with heart disease, cancer, and liver disease. Quitting alcohol improves overall health by reducing these risks.

There are several other benefits that are associated with sobriety, such as a reduction in auto accidents, high-risk behaviors, aggression and assault, and social embarrassment. One of the most positive effects of the sober curious movement is that, with the increasing numbers of people who willingly give up alcohol and live a sober lifestyle, the stigma surrounding sobriety and alcohol recovery is reduced.

A Word of Caution

While laudable that an individual has decided to join the sober curious movement and eliminate alcohol consumption, some may find that they struggle to break free from the substance. This indicates a possible alcohol use disorder that maybe wasn’t fully acknowledged earlier. When someone with alcohol addiction attempts to suddenly stop drinking, known as quitting cold turkey, serious withdrawal symptoms may arise. These may become so difficult to bear that the person will return to drinking in an attempt to stop their suffering.

Another consideration is the distinction that should be made between individuals who have a rational desire to willingly stop drinking in order to enjoy the associated health benefits, and those individuals who suffer from the disease of addiction. For the latter, sobriety is a matter of survival, not just a new, hip health trend. To achieve and maintain sobriety these individuals must commit to changing everything about their lives.

Signs of an Alcohol Problem

There are many people who are unaware that their drinking habits are indicative of an alcohol use disorder. This may be due to denial, ignorance, or being a high-functioning alcoholic. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are about 15 million U.S. adults with an alcohol use disorder. Of this number, only 6.7% received treatment for the disorder, a tiny fraction of those in need of it. Without treatment, the disease of alcoholism can have devastating consequences on many levels, including even death.  Recognizing the warning signs of alcoholism, and heeding them, is the first step toward recovery. The warning signs for alcohol use disorder are:

  • Blackouts
  • Drinking alone
  • Increased tolerance that leads to increased consumption
  • Trouble with relationships
  • Declining job performance, loss of job
  • Avoiding social events, isolating behaviors
  • Hiding alcohol around the house
  • Lying about how much alcohol being consumed
  • Looking forward to any opportunity to drink
  • Negative consequences, such as drunk driving arrest, car accident, legal  problems
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Increased alcohol cravings
  • Change in appearance, bloating, ruddy complexion, glassy eyes
  • Experience withdrawal symptoms when alcohol is absent

When someone is exhibiting at least some of these symptoms they should be evaluated for a possible alcohol use disorder. Following the diagnosis, there are many treatment options available to help the individual improve their life.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

If an individual suspects that they have a moderate to severe AUD, they should seek out rehabilitation resources that can guide the following actions:

  • Detox. A medically monitored alcohol detoxification process allows for the safe elimination of alcohol from the bloodstream. Alcohol detox is closely supervised, as unexpected serious withdrawal symptoms can emerge on days 3-4. Trained detox experts will mitigate withdrawal symptoms using a combination of benzodiazepines and over-the-counter interventions to minimize discomfort.
  • Psychotherapy. There is no way to overstate the importance of therapy in addiction recovery. During the psychotherapy sessions, individuals in recovery learn how to overcome dysfunctional behavior patterns that have kept them stuck in the cycle of alcoholism. Using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) the therapist helps the individual make fundamental changes in thought and behavior patterns in order to achieve sustained abstinence.
  • Naltrexone. For some individuals medication-assisted treatment can improve the sustainability of sobriety. Naltrexone is a non-narcotic drug that binds to the opioid receptors in the brain, which diminishes cravings and reduces the risk of relapse.
  • Family therapy. Family-focused group sessions provide opportunities to mend relationships and heal family pain caused by the alcohol addiction. Family members are taught how to avoid codependency or enabling behaviors, and to set healthy boundaries.
  • Group therapy. Peers who share the common bond of recovering from an alcohol use disorder can learn a lot from each other, even forging tight bonds in recovery. Groups also provide opportunities to practice new communication skills and conflict resolution techniques.
  • Sober living. Sober living housing is an important transitional step between rehab and reentering the home environment. There is a built-in deterrent to relapse due to the regular alcohol and drug testing, which helps the individual stay focused on their recovery journey. Attendance at twelve-step meetings is usually expected, as active participation in recovery meetings helps to reinforce sobriety through sharing and accountability.

The sober curious movement is a positive trend for individuals who seek a healthier lifestyle while also offering them more control over their decisions, as well as improved relationships. The movement can result in many individuals breaking free from an unhealthy attachment to alcohol, while for others it may provide an opportunity to avoid an alcohol use disorder altogether.