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Learn about the benefits associated with abstaining from drinking alcohol to help you decide if going sober may be a good choice for you.
What is Sober Curious?
To be “sober curious” is to abstain from alcohol for any length of time, usually to examine the effects alcohol consumption has on your wellbeing. Since the 2018 release of the book, Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol, more and more people have started testing their relationship with alcohol and other drugs.
Broadly defined, sober curiosity is a movement to take a break from alcohol and to live sober or mostly sober. During this break, some people also choose to abstain from recreational drugs in addition to alcohol. The general idea is to reset one’s relationship with outside influences and to regain the feeling of what it’s like to be sober.
The sober curious movement has quickly gained popularity, with alcohol-free bars now popping up in major cities across the US. The movement has led to a critical eye cast on alcohol and its effects on all aspects of our wellbeing. Why do we drink alcohol? What benefits does being sober bring us? These are just some questions that the sober curious movement aims to answer.
Why would you want to abstain from alcohol?
There are several reasons you may want to abstain from alcohol. While you don’t have to have a reason to abstain, it can be helpful to reflect on the following common reasons:
- You know alcohol makes you sick, whether that’s physically, mentally, or emotionally.
- People have let you know that you might have an alcohol problem.
- You feel out of control when alcohol is around or you do things you are ashamed of.
- You rely on alcohol to “numb” emotions, decrease social anxiety, or “wind down.”
Why is alcohol unhealthy?
Alcohol has been a part of society for thousands of years; since at least 7000 B.C., or even earlier. It has been a staple for celebrations, rituals, or daily routines and meals since its advent. However, our current rate of alcohol consumption exceeds the rate throughout most of our history. Alcohol is more easily and cheaply made than ever before and the social connotations of alcohol use define many friendships.
The sober curious movement aims to shed light on these patterns and their usefulness in our health.
Here are some reasons why alcohol is unhealthy to consume:
Increases your breast cancer risk by 15% by increasing estrogen levels and damaging DNA cells. Women who consume alcohol regularly are at much higher risk than women who do not drink or who drink rarely.
It can lead to hormone imbalance by affecting the endocrine system as a whole. Alcohol consumption disrupts your circadian rhythm; your hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis; your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; and, your hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. All of these play significant parts in the health of your sex hormones. Regular alcohol consumption is linked with reduced testosterone levels in men and abnormal menstrual cycles/ovulation in women.
Stimulates the release of dopamine in the area of the brain associated with behavioral motivation and reward. This metaplasticity in this region of the brain can promote addiction. Alcohol is addictive by its nature and the subsequent feelings of relaxation encourages people to continue consuming it.
Alcoholic drinks are empty calories, with most drinks exceeding 150 calories. The average pina colada, for example, is nearly 500 calories. These calories are mostly sugar and carbohydrates which can send your blood sugar into a tailspin. One drink may not affect you as much, but few people stop at just one. Frequent consumption of alcohol can easily put you in a caloric excess and provides no nutritional value.
Mood imbalances are a common result of alcohol consumption. While alcohol can ease anxious feelings and promote a general feeling of happiness and wellbeing during consumption, this feeling is not a genuine emotion and is dependent on the consumption of alcohol. Moreover, alcohol consumption causes negative moods the day after. Increased alcohol consumption is linked with increased rates of depression.
Causes sleep disturbances such as fragmented and restless sleep. While many people turn to alcohol to help them unwind and even fall asleep, it does not promote healthy sleep patterns or restorative sleep. Moreover, relying on alcohol to fall asleep masks the root cause of insomnia. Read more about healthy sleep habits.
Impairs cognitive function, even at moderate consumption levels. Heavy alcohol usage causes brain damage, but moderate consumption leads to a decrease in cognitive function as well.
7 ways to stop drinking alcohol
If you’ve determined that going sober curious is the right move for you, be sure to have a game plan for your new lifestyle. Here are seven practical ways to stop drinking alcohol:
1. Make a commitment
Commit to abstaining from alcohol and other recreational drugs for a certain time period. 30 days is an ideal time frame to start with. After your time period is up, decide whether you want to extend your abstinence or slowly reintroduce alcohol back into your life in a different capacity.
2. Change your social schedule
Often, alcohol consumption is a crutch for social interaction or a result of peer pressure or cultural influence. Saying “no” to an alcoholic beverage when everyone else is drinking can be isolating and uncomfortable. Instead of meeting up with friends at a bar, try joining a run club. Suggest other activities during the daytime or that won’t involve alcohol so you won’t feel tempted or out of place.
3. Try mocktails or sparkling water with lime
This is useful if you’ll be at a bar or a party or event with plenty of alcohol. Having a drink in your hand helps you feel more socially comfortable, as you’re not standing out. No one even needs to know that the drink isn’t alcoholic! See if the act of holding and sipping a drink without alcohol doesn’t give you similar feelings of acceptance and comfort. See my Cranberry Pomegranate Mocktail recipe.
4. Tell your friends and get a buddy to join you
Having someone join you on your sober curious journey may make you feel more committed and supported. Telling your friends about your new venture opens the door for a stronger support system. If your friends know you aren’t drinking, they may help you by planning non-alcoholic activities. While you certainly don’t have to explain yourself, true friends will support you and contribute to your success.
5. Keep a journal to document your journey
Note how you feel every day you abstain from alcohol. Examine your physical, mental, and emotional health throughout your journey. It can also be useful to note how your social life, work performance, and finances have changed. At the end of your journey, read through your journal to gain an objective view on how abstinence has affected your health and well-being.
6. Ask for support
Especially if alcohol has been a part of your life for a while, abstinence will require a change in your habits and routines. Having a good support system can be a huge factor in your success. Reach out to a therapist, support group, religious/spiritual counselor, or just friends and family for help.
7. Reward yourself for remaining sober during your journey
What do you enjoy? Celebrate yourself with a massage, mini-vacation, or a small gift to yourself. Similarly, if alcohol is your go-to reward, consider how you’ll replace it. Whatever you choose should make you feel good (similar to the affect alcohol has when first consumed)!
FAQs About Abstaining from Alcohol
What are the effects of not drinking alcohol?
There are no negative effects of not drinking alcohol. Even the touted heart benefits of red wine don’t hold up against the numerous benefits of abstinence. Eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption can only help your health. The transition period between alcohol consumption and being sober is likely to be the most negative part of your journey, as it can arouse feelings of insecurity, social anxiety, and withdrawal.
Can an alcoholic stop drinking?
Yes, there is always hope for an alcoholic to stop drinking. Success rates and ease of recovery will vary depending on the specific person, the length of their addiction, and their support system and recovery plan. Alcoholics will be unlikely to resolve their addiction without help and support.
Because alcoholism is a neurochemical addiction, certain medications may be necessary for recovery, both to prevent relapse and mitigate withdrawal symptoms. A good support system is also crucial and should include a team of family, friends, doctors, therapists, fellow recovering alcoholics, and religious/spiritual counsel, if appropriate.
How to stop binge drinking?
Binge drinking differs from alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, though it can lead to these more serious issues. Binge drinking is defined as consuming enough alcohol that your blood alcohol level rises above 0.08% in a short period of time, such as five or more drinks in a two hour period.
Binge drinking is common among young adults and often takes place in a social setting. You can stop your binge drinking by first recognizing your triggers, or those emotions and/or circumstances that induce a binge. Avoiding these triggers can reduce your binge drinking significantly, as can avoiding social settings where binge drinking or heavy alcohol consumption is common.
Recording a drink journal and drinking more slowly can be helpful as well. Stopping your binge drinking behavior will require a significant amount of self-awareness and willpower, and may require professional help.
Potential Benefits of Giving Up Alcohol
There are numerous potential benefits to giving up alcohol. Many people in the sober curious movement report better sleep and weight loss, and those who abstained had better insulin sensitivity and liver health. In general, giving up alcohol may lead to improvements in sleep, weight management, cognitive function, social relationships, motivation, and overall health and well-being.
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