For many of us, alcohol plays a prominent role in our everyday lives — you may enjoy a glass of wine while watching your favorite show or a cocktail at dinner. Drinking rose during the pandemic as people tried to cope with the stress associated with being stuck inside their houses. In fact, nearly one in four American adults (23%) admitted to doing just this, according to the American Psychological Association. With this data in mind, it might seem surprising that the sober curious movement is growing in popularity among younger people.
Especially in college, it seems like alcohol is inescapable, and for many students, drinking and alcohol are integral aspects of their college experience. As students approach the age of 21, there is a growing risk for an alcohol use disorder. In 2019, nearly 104,000 18-year-old college students met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder, but that number more than doubled to 231,000 by the age of 21.
“American culture is desperate to feel good. Somehow we got the message that feeling good is a top priority. And we want to feel good quickly, with minimal work on our part,” Samantha Perkins, author of Alive AF: One Anxious Mom’s Journey to Becoming Alcohol Free, tells Her Campus. “Alcohol, drugs, and other substances can help us numb feelings of negativity for the short term. We drink to take the edge off and reduce stress. It works quickly and effectively, until it doesn’t. The long-term effects of alcohol just aren’t that great and until we learn to do the work to heal our problems, stress, trauma, anxiety, etc. we will always be looking for the next quick fix.”
The hashtag #mocktailsummer has 11.6 million views on TikTok and is composed of people sharing their favorite nonalcoholic drinks for the summer.
However, many young people are becoming “sober curious,” aka attempting sobriety for both mental and physical reasons. The hashtag #sobercurious on TikTok has 156.6 million views, and popular creators like @kelseydarragh are documenting and promoting this lifestyle change. This trend also helps to break a well-known stigma correlated to sobriety — sobriety is not only for people who struggle with alcoholism. For many of the 15 million American adults who struggle with an alcohol use disorder, sobriety is their only option. However, you don’t need to struggle with addiction to be sober curious.
“The Gen Z culture seems to be more interested in sobriety than their millennial counterparts. With all of the trends around sober curiosity, sobriety is more acceptable than ever!” says Dr. Brooke Scheller, a doctor of clinical nutrition and certified nutrition specialist. “Even 20 years ago, the only people who got sober were those in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. Today, more of us stand loud and proud about our sobriety, whether we feel we have an alcohol use disorder or if we choose sobriety for health reasons. Communities like my Functional Sobriety Network, among many others, are opening up the conversations for anyone who is looking to change their relationship with alcohol — no matter what drives that decision.”
In 2014, the Alcohol Concern charity in the United Kingdom trademarked the “Dry January” challenge in which participants abstain from alcohol for a month to start the new year on a sober note. Due to their curiosity concerning sobriety, the millennial generation, those ages 26 to 41, is often regarded as “generation sober,” but Gen Z may drink even less than millennials as mocktails, non-alcoholic beers and kombuchas become increasingly more popular and allow for people to connect and socialize over a drink. The hashtag #mocktailsummer has 11.6 million views on TikTok and is composed of people sharing their favorite nonalcoholic drinks for the summer.
“Younger generations are realizing the lack of control they might have when they drink. … People are sober curious because they want to have more control over their actions and words.”
“Sobriety appeals to people for many reasons. For starters, alcohol is a known carcinogen and is linked to several different kinds of cancer,” says Perkins. “Alcohol disrupts hormones, cells, and other functions of the body which can lead to mood issues, dehydration, skin problems, stomach problems and more beyond just a normal hangover.”
More young adults are now realizing the cons to consuming alcohol. “Being sober is appealing to so many people because they are realizing that alcohol a lot of the time is being over consumed which can cause some health and cognitive problems,” adds therapist Rachel Eddins. “Younger generations are realizing the lack of control they might have when they drink, and it can often lead to overconsumption. People are sober curious because they want to have more control over their actions and words. It is also becoming more obvious that you don’t need to consume alcohol to have a good time, and it in fact can make people feel worse when consumed, even in small amounts.”
“In general, the more friends and social events you have without drugs or alcohol present, the easier it is to quit.”
Alcohol such as red wine may increase estrogen levels, causing inflammation, and possibly your risk of cancer in the long-term. Excessive amounts of alcohol may also increase the fungus in your gut called candida, which can result in bloating, digestive issues, or depression. However, how much you’re drinking matters even more than what you’re drinking. Lowering your alcohol consumption may better your focus and memory, sleep, energy, and weight management. You may also experience healthier skin and better mental well-being, relief from depression and anxiety and more self-confidence.
“The difficulty of going sober varies depending on how big a role alcohol or drugs play in your life, and how often you use them around friends,” says Kara Nassour, a licensed professional counselor who closely works with those struggling with either alcohol or drugs. “In general, the more friends and social events you have without drugs or alcohol present, the easier it is to quit.”
If you are sober curious, there is no reason you shouldn’t try it. As always, consult a specialist for assistance prior to making such a drastic lifestyle change. If you or anyone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.