From Sober-Curious to Mindful Drinking

How to Keep a Low-Alcohol Lifestyle

If you’re starting to feel a little “over” that hang-over lately, you’re not alone. The sober-curious movement has taken off in the last couple of years as the wellness industry booms and public consciousness around alcohol’s effects takes a stronger hold. Amid the pandemic, we’re seeing this low-booze trend continue, at least for some sections of the population.

“With Covid, health has zoomed up the agenda for more people,” said Laura Willoughby, co-founder of Club Soda, a UK-based social impact company that helps people cut down, eliminate or take a break from drinking through education and a global community of members. “But the pandemic has also created some interesting polarization,” she said. Some people who were already drinking heavily are drinking more in isolation, while others who were only social drinkers are often finding themselves drinking less.

Another interesting trend: Mirroring the rationale of avoiding alcohol in order to eliminate risky activities (e.g. drunk driving), “People are looking to not get so drunk so they can socially distance,” said Willoughby. It’s just one of the many benefits of adopting a low-alcohol or no-alcohol lifestyle, along with avoiding “empty calories” and curbing its negative impact on sleep, which lowers our energy and impacts cortisol regulation. (Note: while there is some research about the potential benefits of drinking alcohol, most is geared toward light to moderate drinking and if you’re mostly healthy, drinking alcohol won’t help in the way of decreasing cardiovascular disease risk. Studies tend to suggest that the draw-backs of drinking, even moderately, outweigh the benefits.)

So if you’re ready to give this mindful drinking thing the old college try — with a little less of the college regret — here’s some practical advice to get started.

Get intentional about your “why”.

Personally, what I like about this movement and the community behind Club Soda, is that it’s very inclusive of a wide spectrum of mindful-drinking options and advocates for choice. For some, this transition could be about cutting back to reclaim healthy sleep patterns, while for others it could mean taking a break while they are going through a difficult period of time that could trigger addictive tendencies. Whatever it is, try to nail down the why behind your decision. This will help to ground you in your decision, which is going to be important because you’re going to encounter people who question it.

Prepare your “no” in advance.

In the hypothetical future where we are gathering again, or even if you are just looking to enjoy a sober New Year’s Eve with a friend or roommate, practice in advance how you’ll turn down the glass that’s inevitably handed to you. Unfortunately, there’s still some social stigma attached to turning down a drink, as it can lead people to question your intention. So hold firm. “Say no with absolute confidence, and be clear with what you prefer to drink instead,” said Willoughby. From there, simply change the conversation to something else.

Curb the habit, rather than quit entirely.

While it may be tempting to quit cold turkey in January, remember that there’s a wide spectrum of considerate, intentional drinking you could embrace. Laura Silverman, founder of Booze-Free in D.C., is sober herself but also reminds her communities that mindful drinking can take many forms, even if it’s just cutting back to two drinks a week. “You don't have to be stone-cold sober to make the most out of the lifestyle,” Silverman said.

Assemble your squad.

I loved this line from Willoughby (which sounds way more convincing in her British accent): “We get pissed [British for drunk] together, why should we get sober alone?” She advises the sober-curious to scout around and find their community, whether that’s through something like Meetup, spiritual communities such as a place of worship or yoga studio, or even through your gym or fitness cohort. Being around people who are making similar lifestyle choices will make it that much easier for you to adhere to your decision as well. 

Ask your friends to support you.

“Nobody has to give you permission to do something that’s good for your health,” said Willoughby. And yet, the reality is that well-meaning friends can lay on the peer-pressure just as heavy as a middle-schooler. Whether they just don’t understand, or they struggle with an addiction and can’t accept when others might opt for sobriety, it’s helpful to be direct and kind as you let folks know if you’re cutting back. Willoughby has a great script for telling your friends to stand down: “It would really help me if you can be on board with this. If you have other health goals, I’d love to support you in return.”

Find other ways to unwind.

In a study on American wine consumption, it was found that 59% of such drinkers imbibe for relaxation. If that’s you, it might be worth considering alternatives to curb your stress and anxiety. If wine at the end of a long day has become your norm for unwinding, try replacing one day out of the week with a new habit, like lighting candles and taking an online yoga class, or running a bath and doing a face mask. Gradually over time, make that two days, then three. If you use wine to nod off at night, consider looking into CBD oil instead. Alcohol in fact can disturb your circadian rhythm, while the American Sleep Association writes that studies suggest CBD can help to improve sleep and reduce insomnia, as well as decrease pain and anxiety. (They also acknowledge that more research is still needed on CBD and its applications).

Bring your own delicious, non-alcoholic beverage.

One of Club Soda’s goals is to create a world where nobody has to feel out of place if they're not drinking alcohol. Making this a reality involves simply having great-tasting alternatives to booze. Derek Brown, author of Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World and owner of Columbia Room is a big fan of pulling things from your kitchen cabinet to make great non-alcoholic cocktails, whether that’s fruit, grain milks, apple cider vinegar or salt. “It's about understanding what makes a great cocktail—intensity of flavor, texture, length, piquancy.” He underscored the growth of high quality non-alcoholic spirits available as well. “It just makes it so much easier to create non-alcoholic cocktails,” he said. (Check out one of his inventive cocktail recipes in this round-up.) If you want something simpler, as Willoughby notes, there's a new wave of low-alcohol beers between 1% and 3% ABV, and some 8% ABV wines — equaling about half the usual potency. Willoughby does offer this advice though, for those who arrive to a gathering toting their favorite kombucha or a craft soda: “If you’ve got yourself an alcohol-free drink you really like, hide it because everyone wants to try it.”

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