Interested in cutting back or cutting out alcohol completely? Pour yourself a mango seltzer and read on.
The sober curious movement is starting to shake things up. Whether you're doing Dry January, Sober October, an alcohol-free (AF) challenge, a Lenten abstention, or making a New Year's Resolution, giving up drinking may be on your radar. Today, more than ever, people are exploring sober living. And it's never been easier or tastier to skip the alcohol at home or out and about by swapping cocktails for mocktails or getting a specialty non-alcoholic drink like a locally-made soda.
What is "Sober Curious?"
Sober curious is exploring what it means to reduce your alcohol consumption or stop drinking altogether. You can drink less, not drink certain days or specific months, or not drink alcohol at all. It's about stepping away from alcohol, finding joy in all of the activities you used to—just without the booze. As people make their sober journey, they discover significant changes to their body, mind, and relationships. There are short term health benefits including clearer skin, better sleep, weight loss, and more energy; long-term benefits such as better brain and liver function, reduced stress, longer life expectancy, and the list goes on.
The Problem with Drinking
Alcohol causes damage to our bodies and can be highly addictive. Because alcohol is legal, accessible, socially acceptable, and can be inexpensive, regular drinking has become part of many people's lifestyle. While some may claim that drinking is only a problem if it's a "problem," the fact is that even moderate alcohol intake can have negative side effects such as addiction, liver damage, weight gain, and skin damage, according to the CDC. Over time, alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, memory problems, and more (CDC).
People are Drinking More
People drink for a lot of reasons; however, there's been an uptick in recent years, partly due to advertising. The portrayal of drinking alcohol as sexy is reminiscent of the tobacco industry's campaign to make smoking popular. All of the swag (Wine Wednesday! dishtowels), beer commercials, and celebrity spirits—to name a few—are boosting the consumption of alcohol. It's hard to resist. Another suspected cause for the increase in drinking is the pandemic. When the pandemic first hit in 2020, and people were stuck in their homes, alcohol consumption increased 21%, according to MassGeneral.org. Avianna, who works at Dream House, New Orleans' black-owned, first sober bar, said she believes the increased pandemic drinking played a role in the growing alcohol-free (AF) movement.
In recent years, there have been more communal, fun opportunities for people to jump into the sober lane. Dry January and Sober October are months dedicated to people abstaining from alcohol, often with friends or other like-minded people. There are also AF challenges and happy hours, including the one at Rabbit's Foot daily from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. People are posting their progress on social media and sharing recipes for spirit-free drinks to replace their nightly boozy cocktail. It doesn't have to be an organized event. Have fun like usual—just skip the booze.
Changing AF Scene
The AF scene isn't what it used to be. Before, your options were limited: soda with lime, a Shirley Temple, or AF Bloody Mary were it. Today, there are lots of tasty choices. Most New Orleans' restaurants and bars have spirit-free drinks on the menu and if not, bartenders are happy to make something for you. There was even an alcohol-free Sober Festival in 2022! Businesses have gotten on board too and created lines of zero-proof beer and AF spirits. From traditional brands like Heineken that carry non-alcoholic beer to some you may not know, like Athletic Run Wild IPA or Bravus Oatmeal Stout, the choices are many—for wine too. There are also AF spirits such as Seedlip gin, Spiritless Kentucky 74, and mocktails like the Curious line and New Orleans' own Mockly.
Skipping the alcohol in a city like New Orleans may seem difficult, but it's definitely getting easier, with places like Dream house, so many accommodating restaurants and bars, spirit-free drinks at Tales of the Cocktail, and events like the Sober Festival.
If you're at home entertaining or craving an AF drink, a quick internet search will turn up thousands of recipes. There are great books on the subject too, including Craft: The Eat Fit Guide to Zero Proof Cocktails, written by Ochsner Eat Fit's Molly Kimball, R.D. C.S.S.D. There are fantastic sober communities as well. Executive Editor of Craft and lifestyle magazine editor Melanie Warner Spencer founded the Drink Fit Club, which she says is a "community about sober curiosity for people who are thinking about taking a break, are on a break, or are interested in what it's all about. There's motivation, wellness information, a little bit of silliness too. You can see what the life of someone who doesn't drink but loves cocktails looks like."
Where to Begin if You're Sober Curious
Start small. You don't have to go cold turkey overnight—or go for it, if that's your style. You can take it slow and not drink alcohol during the week. Join some friends and abstain or meet up for spirit-free drinks during Sober January once a week. At home, experiment with different spirit-free drinks. You can even challenge yourself not to drink on Mardi Gras day with a make-ahead mocktail.
Take a mental inventory of why and when you drink. Is it a habit? Do you want something cold and sweet? Is it to relieve stress? Explore that through journaling or talking about it.
Spencer suggests, "A good place to start is by deciding on a time frame. For some people, it might be two days. For others, it might be a week. Pick a time frame that isn't overwhelming. Set yourself up for success. If you need a distraction at the usual time you want a drink, then have a treat, take a walk, or plan something for that witching hour."
After dinner, instead of pouring yourself a cocktail, have a flavored seltzer, an herbal tea, or a cozy chai. Get your shaker out, add fruit juices, AF bitters, and pour your decadent concoction into a fancy glass and enjoy. The options are endless. The benefits are too.
*Please consult your physician before decreasing or stopping drinking if you believe you are physically addicted to alcohol.