By Susanna Penfield
Developing a healthy relationship with alcohol can be complex. For some, drinking is a bonding activity — an integral component of socializing and celebrations. For others, it is an act of appreciation for alcohol itself, an acknowledgement of the taste and intricate processes that go into its creation. Nonetheless, drinking is dangerous. It yields negative effects, from physical degradation to strained interpersonal relationships, and can lead to compulsive overuse.
In recent years, a new movement has emerged which seeks to help individuals evaluate and redefine their relationship with alcohol: “Sober Curiosity.” This movement is rooted both in an abdication of mainstream societal drinking norms as well as recognition of the detrimental health effects that often accompany alcohol, both mental and physical.
Ruby Warrington is the author of “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol,” and is one of the most prominent proponents of this lifestyle. Being sober curious, according to Warrington, “means, literally, to choose to question, or get curious about, every impulse, invitation, and expectation to drink, versus mindlessly going along with the dominant drinking culture.”
Unlike sobriety, which often connotes the decision to abstain from drinking due to alcoholism or alcohol use disorder, sober curiosity is not simply about abstinence or recovery. Rather, it is a mode of both recognition and action. Being sober curious encourages individuals to question their drinking habits and the potentially unhealthy consequences that may accompany alcohol.
Due to the term’s flexibility, the sober curiosity movement has become widespread. Though the core tenants encourage a sober lifestyle, many sober curious advocates are simultaneously welcoming to those who aren’t ready, willing, or planning to give up alcohol completely. The general culture simply asks that individuals “think consciously” about the decision to imbibe. As conscious thought manifests differently in each individual, from cutting out all alcohol to allowing a drink or two on the weekend, this movement has been heralded as “culturally inclusive.”
However, while the net effects of a movement that encourages self-reflection and intentional alcohol consumption is positive, framing sobriety as a “wellness” trend can also be detrimental to those who truly struggle with alcohol abuse. Terms like “sober curious” blur the line around what constitutes alcohol addiction, and what constitutes a lifestyle choice. “Alcohol use disorder” is defined in the DSM-5 as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.” For lots of sober individuals or those in recovery, taking even one drink is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. The choice to stop drinking may have come at the risk of losing their jobs, harming their reputations, or affecting their places in society.
This is not to sway individuals from choosing sobriety or otherwise limiting alcohol intake. Rather, is it important that we all understand the nuances of consumption and addiction and are careful not to minimize the seriousness of those who have to fight to achieve and maintain a sober lifestyle. It is also important that we interrogate our own relationship with alcohol, while supporting others who might need more immediate help. Colorado College has the resources to aid in both this interrogation and subsequent support. For more information, reach out to Chris Walters in the Wellness Resource Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or schedule an appointment at the CC Counseling Center.