sober curious movement

What is the ‘sober curious’ movement and can it help with mindful alcohol consumption?

Rather than going completely alcohol-free, a growing number of individuals are becoming sober curious, venturing into aspects of a booze-free lifestyle without complete abstinence. 

Sober curious is a term used to describe a lifestyle choice where people become more conscious of their alcohol consumption and may opt to lessen or entirely cut out alcohol without necessarily adopting full sobriety or total abstinence.

It means reflecting on and reevaluating one’s relationship with alcohol, exploring the potential advantages of sobriety or reduced or more sporadic drinking, and searching for alternatives to alcohol for occasions such as socialising and relaxation.

Alcohol in Australia

Most trends are ephemeral in nature, but the culture of drinking, whether it’s sipping mimosas at brunch or enjoying post-work beers or opening a bottle of wine after a hard day, has long been celebrated as the ultimate Aussie good time. Let’s look at some interesting figures that tell the story of our relationship with alcohol:

Unsurprisingly, choosing not to drink has sometimes raised eyebrows. Abstaining from alcohol can be mistakenly seen as a sign of battling alcoholism, a condition that has historically carried stigma and been kept behind closed doors. Alternatively, it might lead some to view you as a self-righteous teetotaler who has yet to discover the joy of having fun without alcohol – and just plain anti-social.

Is it just another trend?

But recently, perceptions have started shifting. Sober curious is just one of the phrases being associated with mindful drinking of alcohol. Led predominantly by the younger generation, perhaps at least partly for cost reasons, a new movement of “sober curiosity” and “mindful drinking” has been embraced by more Australians in recent years. 

For a nation where alcohol has historically been an intrinsic part of its culture, consumption is actually on the decline, especially among younger people. 

According to a survey conducted by Australian Institute for Health and Wellfare, the lifetime risk of Australians aged 18 to 24 dropped considerably between 2007 and 2019. It’s quite unique for young people in today’s age to be pioneering a change and thinking differently about alcohol compared to past generations of young people.

Lifetime risk or single occasion risk (at least monthly), people aged 14 and over, by age and sex, 2007 to 2019 (percent). Source.

A study featured in the International Journal of Drug Policy delved into the impact of abstaining from alcohol or adhering to Australia’s recommended limits for risky drinking on the sense of pleasure and enjoyment among young Australians aged 16 to 19. Among the 50 individuals interviewed, certain participants noted that consuming alcohol lightly or abstaining altogether allowed them to express a more genuine or enhanced version of themselves. In contrast, others also expressed concerns about the discomfort of potentially losing control over their emotions and physical functions during social gatherings.

Another study conducted with Australian women aged 45 to 64, found that popular wellness culture toward ‘sober curiosity’ and normalising non-drinking or lighter drinking and increased health consciousness helped increase women’s preparedness to reduce alcohol consumption.

Moderation mindset

“The mindful drinking approach also draws on similar strategies to cognitive behavioral therapy, a psychological intervention used to address depression and anxiety”, said Kenneth Stoller, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in a New York Times article. 

Encouraging people to assess how alcohol affects their thoughts, emotions and behaviours, mindful drinking can be a valuable approach for those interested in reducing their alcohol intake. However, it’s not for anyone with a severe drinking problem or alcohol-use disorder.

Dr. Stoller also recommended a thoughtful reflection on what aspects of drinking you find appealing and those you dislike. Is it the taste of alcohol or the sensation of getting tipsy that attracts you? It’s essential to identify the quantity of alcohol needed to achieve a specific effect and recognise the less enjoyable aspects of drinking, such as hangovers or the feeling of losing control. Articulating these elements of your drinking habits can assist you in establishing realistic guidelines for cutting back.

Drinking often narrows our focus to the present moment, a phenomenon referred to as “alcoholic myopia” by some psychologists. To counter this, Dr. Stoller suggested creating a mindful drinking plan in advance. This plan might involve drinking with a friend who’s also practicing mindful drinking, consuming food while drinking, or requesting the bartender to use half the usual amount of alcohol in your cocktail. These strategies can slow the rate at which alcohol enters your system, allowing for more intentional and mindful drinking decisions.

While there is limited scientific evidence on the efficacy of using mindfulness to moderate drinking behaviors, we’re ‘curious’ to see how this lifestyle helps people develop a healthy relationship with alcohol consumption.

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates. 

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