Your friend says to you, “Let’s get drunk and have some fun.” Or maybe they say, “We got so drunk last night—wasn’t that fun?” Depending on the person making these statements and their specific background and relationship to alcohol, such sentiments may be totally benign. But even so, they reinforce the idea that drinking is a prerequisite to having fun as an adult. To put that misnomer to bed, the most recent episode of the The Well+Good Podcast focuses on why it's totally possible to have fun without drinking—and why normalizing that ability is so crucial.
Listen to the full episode here:
From the outset, it's worth noting that, for many people, sobriety isn't a choice, so much as it is a necessary solution to alcoholism or alcohol addiction—as was initially the case for Holly Whitaker, author of Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice To Not Drink In a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol. "To others, this idea of not drinking [can seem] very countercultural. It's weird to not partake in something that the majority of people do," she says in the episode.
This sense of isolation for non-imbibers can also extend to folks who've simply chosen a sober lifestyle for health reasons (which can include a more regulated mood and heightened focus) or other personal reasons outside of alcoholism (if you've ever wondered "how alcohol affects body odor" or "how does alcohol affect sleep," you might be surprised at the findings). And that just underscores how important it is to rethink any presumptions you might have about those who don't drink. Meeting a sober person should be as unsurprising as meeting someone who enjoys a nightly glass of red—and in that case, you shouldn't suspect either person is having more fun than the other.
"[Dry January] normalizes the conversation around taking a break from alcohol and helps normalize sobriety for people that absolutely cannot drink." —Holly Whitaker, author of Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice To Not Drink In a Culture Obsessed With Alcohol
In some ways, Dry January, or the tradition of giving up alcohol during the first month of the year, is helping to move the needle forward in that direction. "It normalizes the conversation around taking a break from alcohol," says Whitaker. "And it also helps normalize sobriety for people that absolutely cannot drink."
How sobriety and sober-curiosity are becoming increasingly normalized
In some spheres, the normality of not drinking (for any reason) has already gained traction, and alcohol brands have had no choice but to take note of the sizable number of folks not ordering alcoholic drinks. New non-alcoholic offerings are making it easier to have a booze-free cocktail, whether you're in the comfort of your home or a bar or restaurant.
"Up to 30 percent of people in restaurant establishments do not drink,” MJ Gottlieb, co-founder of sober social network app Loosid, says in the podcast episode. “So, suddenly you saw some of the biggest alcoholic brands in the world investing in non-alcoholic beverage brands. And then you saw restaurants doubling down on creating mocktails. They realized [there’s] a very, very large portion of their clientele who choose not to drink.” With beverage conglomerates and the restaurant industry catering more directly to this population, going alcohol-free may be a more seamless move than ever.
And there’s certainly power in trying out this kind of sober-curious lifestyle, if for no other reason than to check in on your relationship with alcohol and affirm for yourself that you can indeed have fun without drinking. "If you feel as though you need alcohol [to have fun], there may be something blocking you—something that makes you need to get out of 'the now,' even if you're not an alcoholic," says Gottlieb. And taking some time to explore sobriety could help you figure out what that is, and how to get more comfortable being fully present, no alcohol involved.
"I don't think that everyone needs to be sober, but I think if you're on a path to self-discovery, you are going to have to look at the things you might be using to escape yourself," says Whitaker. And if alcohol is one of them, putting it aside could help you return to your naturally fun self. “Not only can you have infinitely more fun sober, but also, you can actually remember what you did the next day,” says Gottlieb.
For additional details on what a sober or sober-curious lifestyle (that's still packed with fun) may look like, listen to the full podcast episode here.
If you or a loved one need support for substance abuse disorder, you can find help 24-7 via SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
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