Is Drinking & Alcohol Impacting You More Than You Think?
Learn More About the Sober Curious Movement
It's January and the time once again when many people are trying to reflect on their lives and identify positive changes they'd like to make for the year. One of the current trends in society is participating in Dry January or becoming sober curious.
It's a topic we want to dive into due to the trend that has emerged since the pandemic hit. Studies have found that alcohol consumption has increased considerably since the start of 2020. Recent numbers show as many as "1 in 5 Americans is consuming an unhealthy amount of alcohol."
This is not an anti-drinking article. It's simply meant to help inform anyone interested in being sober curious. January is a good time to take a break or get curious about how much and why you're drinking along with exploring ways it's impacting your life.
Quick Disclaimer: Dry January and being sober curious is not a replacement for the treatment and recovery process of a substance use disorder. If you are struggling with addiction, please reach out for help from a licensed mental health professional.
What does it mean to be "sober curious"?
Let's start with what it does not mean to be sober curious. It doesn't mean you're giving up drinking forever. It's not about making a permanent change. It's about exploring the impact that your drinking has on you to see if there are any changes you want to make to your drinking habits or behavior.
The same is true for Dry January. This was created as a way for people to take a break from the heavier drinking that tends to take place in December and reset wellness for the new year.
Now, in the aftermath of the pandemic, this temporary break from drinking can help people take a step back and think about how much they may have been drinking and the reasons behind it. Was it just a social thing? Was it to deal with the increased stress of life the past two years? Or was it just out of habit?
Being sober curious can help you get a clearer image of your alcohol consumption and how it impacts you, your health, and your life.
The idea came from Ruby Warrington. She wanted to have more control over her approach to drinking without giving it up altogether. After her own experience, she wrote the book "Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol".
Her book and the concept of being "sober curious" share the message that you don't have to hit rock bottom to explore your drinking and many people benefit from being more mindful of their drinking habits.
How alcohol impacts your body
Even if you're not drinking "too much", alcohol is a powerful substance that can have undesirable effects. This can include things like:
Lack of concentration
Increased anxiety or depression
Increased risk of health concerns like cancer or liver disease
Weakened immune system
Weakened bones and muscles
Even small amounts of alcohol can impact your mood, behaviors, and ability to manage your emotions. It's easy to become accustomed to these changes when drinking regularly which is why participating in Dry January or being sober curious can help people identify the true impact alcohol has on them.
In one study by the University of Sussex, Dry January participants found:
80% felt more in control of their drinking
76% learned more about when and why they drink
71% got better sleep
58% lost weight
57% had improved concentration
54% had better skin
If you want to see what impact alcohol is having on you, becoming sober curious can help.
Tips for being sober curious
Whether you're participating in Dry January, taking your own established break from drinking, or trying to become sober curious, these tips may help.
If you're used to grabbing a drink after a long day at work or while you watch the game with a buddy or enjoy dinner with a friend, it will help to preplan what you're going to do instead.
Practice turning down a drink and what you'll say if you're offered a drink from a friend. You can prepare an explanation if you want, but you can also simple reply with a "No, thanks."
It can be easier to stick to these types of changes and breaks in your life when you have a support system helping you stay accountable. Look for friends or family members that want to participate along with you. You can also find people who are sober curious online to connect with.
Think about your hobbies
If your hobbies tend to be tied in with drinking, you may want to be intentional about choosing new ways to spend your time while you're taking a break from drinking.
Here are a few suggestions:
Get out in nature
Pick up an old hobby you forgot about
Join an exercise class
Explore local businesses and museums
Learn to cook some new, healthier dishes
Volunteer at a local nonprofit
Track your experience
Remember that the purpose of taking this break is to give yourself a reset and test how you feel without drinking. Pay attention to and track any changes in the way you think and feel during this time. Are your emotions easier to manage? Are you thinking more clearly? Do you have less stomachaches or digestive issues?
The exact differences you notice will be different than what someone else experiences and that's OK. Just pay attention to what they are so the information can help you decide what you want drinking to look like when this time period is over.
Questions to use going forward
If you decide to start having alcoholic drinks again after Dry January or if you decide to focus on moderation instead of cutting alcohol out completely, here are some questions shared by Warrington that you can ask yourself:
Why am I choosing to have a drink right now? Once you have your answer, dive into the follow-up questions. For example, if you're drinking to bond with friends, why do you feel that alcohol is needed? Would you still enjoy spending time together without drinking?
How is this drink going to impact my well-being? Will you regret your decision to drink in the morning or when the effects of the alcohol start to wear off?
Why am I expected to have a drink? Explore what social pressure you're experiencing and why it matters to others if you choose not to drink.
Mindfulness and moderation
As stated earlier, this is not at all to make you feel guilty if you choose to drink or encourage you not to drink, it's simply about helping you be more mindful of why you're choosing to drink and how it impacts you. When you have these answers, it can help you make decisions that allow you to feel your best whether it's eliminating alcohol completely or adapting your drinking habits to further support your physical and mental wellness.
If you're interested in learning more about being sober curious, check out Ruby Warrington's book. If you are struggling with an alcohol or substance use disorder or have questions about how to change your behaviors to improve your wellness, reach out to our team at The NEST Clinic today.