What does Sober Curious mean?

The number of people claiming to be Sober Curious is growing by the week. But what does it mean, and how can you get involved? At Real Kombucha, at least two of our staff are full-time sober curious, if not teetotal altogether. So here’s a little round-up of what we’ve learnt on this topic over the years.

What does Sober Curious mean?

Essentially, to be sober curious means to be inquisitive about a life without alcohol, whether that’s a brief life change or something more permanent. It also suggests a desire to question the received wisdom – that alcohol is central to a successful life. To be sober curious means to look beyond all of this and explore a life less alcohol-influenced.

Where did the Sober Curious Movement start?

Like all buzz-phrases, it’s almost impossible to know where the term Sober Curious came from or when it was first used, but the author Ruby Warrington first blogged about it in 2015 before publishing Sober Curious, the book, on New Year’s Eve 2018. Here’s how she defined sober curiosity when we interviewed her on our recent podcast.

My definition of what it means to be sober curious is to literally question every impulse, every invitation or every expectation to drink, whether it’s on your behalf or in the eyes of others, rather than just go along with the dominant drinking culture. And so, based on that description, I have been sober curious for about eight or nine years now – really just bringing this questioning mindset to all the different situations I’ve found myself expected to drink.

You can listen to our podcast interview with Ruby by clicking the player below, and you can read it in full by clicking here.

Why are people becoming more Sober Curious?

The journalist, Catherine Gray is excellent on this point. In her very fine book, The Unexpected Joy Of Being Sober, she shows us that you only have to look at our own language to realise how deeply ingrained alcohol is into our sense of a good time. Phrases that we use to describe sobriety make it sound frigid and dull – “sober as a judge”, “stone-cold sober” – when actually the opposite is true.

Simply look around you. Alcohol is depicted as the first port of call on a good night out everywhere you look.

You walk down the street. Signs outside pubs and cocktail bars say things like, ‘I don’t want to get technical, but according to chemistry, alcohol is a solution.’ Or, ‘if you didn’t drink, how would your friends know you love them at 2am?’ Another sign points inside the pub, promising ‘Booze, food, fun.’ It then points outside the pub, at ‘Real life’ with a big, sad face. Did pub signs just tell us that answers, love and fun sit at the bottom of a bottle? I think so.

It’s there in almost everything ‘aspirational’ that we do. Again, Catherine underlines this by citing a 2014 study by Koordeman, Anschutz and Engels, showing that 80-95% of films and TV shows portray alcohol consumption in a positive light.

Thankfully, there’s a growing sense that all of this belongs to an older era. Scan through your Instagram feed and you’re instantly presented with evidence that opinion is changing. Only 3% of Millennials say that alcohol is required for a good time, and sure enough, it’s… well, it’s pizza, actually. (Pizza is the way forward. According to Brandwatch, more people ‘Gram their pizza than any other food, which must surely have the alcohol industry quaking in its boots. )

Joking aside, there’s a clear move towards people ‘Gramming their gym pics, mountain climbing pics, travel pics, wall climbing pics… you get the, er, picture. Many of these activities things don’t happen easily with a hangover, and they’re certainly not as vivid or intoxicating with your senses dulled.

Yep, intoxicating. You don’t have to be artificially intoxicated to feel the absolute rush and thrill of life itself. In fact, being stone-cold sober is the only way to experience it in the moment – to be fully present to all of its warmth and excitement. Just ask one of those sober judges. They’re out living their #BestLife.

Is the Sober Curious Movement actually a thing?

Whether or not it’s “a Movement” is beside the point. But the signs are there that people have become more sober curious.

In the UK in 2017, according to The Guardian, 67% of the country said they were keen to cut back on their drinking, with five million taking part in Dry January. From the same newspaper in 2015, a study showed that 43% of women wanted to drink less (a figure that rose to 83% if they knew they were already over the recommended guidelines), while a whopping 84% of men wanted to cut back on their drinking. Whether it’s for health reasons or simply because they’re fed up with the dry morning mouth and the thumping head, people are looking for an alternative.

Much has been written about the rise in teetotallers amongst the 18-24 group, especially in London, but the fact that 33% of that group across the UK now claim to be teetotal (statistics via YouGov) suggests a seachange is coming. That said, the same set of statistics showed that around 30% of those in the 25-34 and 55+ age groups were also claiming teetotalism, not to mention the 29% and 28% (respectively) that had cut down their drinking in the last year. There’s a change afoot and it’s happening across the board.

Think back to the negative image of drunken behaviour abroad or the once-cool iconography of ’90s Lad Culture, and you’ll see that Britain has long been defined by its relationship. But as Ruby Warrington points out in the podcast above, this change in the UK’s drinking behaviour is starting to get noticed. To think that this growing interest in all things sober curious could help us to redefine our self-image in a more positive light is something indeed.

How can I become more Sober Curious?

We’ve already mentioned two excellent books: Sober Curious (Ruby Warrington, 2018), and The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober (Catherine Gray, 2017).

There are many blogs and podcasts out there that can help with your sober curiosity. We’ve known about Laurie McAllister’s Girl & Tonic for some time, and the Club Soda blog has some excellent articles, too. They’re well worth checking out.

If you’re still convinced that alcohol and glamour are forever inseparable, take a look at the @SylishlySober Instagram account: “London lifestyle and fashion through sober eyes”. She’ll set you right. For more in-your-face posts about how sober curiosity is the new rock’n’roll, try this one…

There’s a growing crowd over there on Instagram. Check out the #SoberCurious hashtag if you’d like to discover more.

If you’re in the UK and you’re keen to find restaurants, bars, hotels and pubs that have excellent non-alcoholic choices to fuel your sober curiosity, take a look at our map below. We’ve been told by a growing number of non-drinkers that it’s a great collection of sober curious destinations, and that making it onto that map is a mark of quality. Who are we to quibble?

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