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The Daily Tar Heel

Column: The sober(ish) trend taking over health culture

DTH Photo Illustration. A vendor sells two alcoholic beverages to a customer during a UNC football game at Kenan Stadium on Sept. 18, 2021.

What is "sober curiosity" and why has it been such a hot topic in the wellness world?

First things first, there's a difference between sober curiosity and sobriety. When an individual has completely eliminated alcohol from their life, they are exercising their sobriety. When someone experiments with eliminating alcohol from their day-to-day life, they are sober curious. 

The key difference? The former completely stops drinking. The latter does not. Ultimately, sober curious individuals will merely question the ubiquitous nature of drinking with socializing, health, time and life.

Sober curious individuals are looking to answer a simple question: Why?

Why does alcohol hold such a prominent presence in human interaction? 

We can find answers in habits formed from following societal norms. We equate drinking with socializing because of all the times when the two go hand-in-hand. We watch a football game and drink. We go to concerts and drink. We go to parties and drink. The list goes on.

Generally, humans are creatures of habit, and a lot of people are starting to question the convention of drinking as it's become, well... a habit.

According to the podcast "Champagne Problems" by Robbie Shaw, Sam Hampson and Patrick Balsley, sober curiosity is a health movement that asks: "Where does vibrant wellness live?"

Sober curiosity is establishing a strong presence on social media, podcasts and wellness journals for the impacts it has on one's health.

A lot of things have changed in the realm of general health awareness in the past decade, including a vested interest being cast toward optimizing both physical and mental health. People are starting to recognize the dissonance that exists in exercising a healthy lifestyle while also conforming to binge-drinking habits of our social culture — especially the one we foster in college. 

Research shows abundant popularity amongst those aged 21-34 in entertaining sober curiosity. This is noteworthy since data suggests that the sober curious index is correlated to the amount of alcohol that people consume  — meaning that being a heavy drinker in conjunction with wanting to practice a healthier lifestyle results in heightened sober curiosity. 

As such, the increased interest in sober curiosity amongst early to mid 20-year-olds is not surprising, since many of these individuals are fresh out of college and both starting their professional lives and reinventing their social lives. 

According to Dr. Will Cole, functional medicine practitioner and telehealth consultant, sober curiosity encourages individuals to renegotiate their friendships, habits and routines. Because this age group is already at a point of innate fluidity, it makes sense that they would call into question their drinking habits along with everything else.  

Despite augmented interest in long-term sober curiosity, this movement is not a new phenomenon. Often, people use months like “Dry January” and “Sober October” to practice sobriety for a multitude of reasons, but more often than not, it is practiced in an effort to improve health. 

The results are often noticeable: weight loss, better sleep, clearer skin, increased energy and lower blood sugar. All of this is to say that when the “that girl” movement started trending on social media, the first thing put into question was alcohol consumption and its subsequent health implications, resulting in increased percentages of people taking an interest in sober curiosity. 

For me, the sober curious movement is indicative of a shift in societal values and norms that have existed for decades. If nothing else comes of it, the movement has opened the door for conversation and drawn into question human habit and propensity to both use and abuse alcohol —  a conversation that has been long overdue.  


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