Sober Curious – What it Means, How it’s Different Than Sobriety, and Why the Distinction Matters

December 12, 2019

Sober Curious – What it Means, How it’s Different Than Sobriety, and Why the Distinction Matters

Instagram influencers have found plenty of things to promote through 2019. But one campaign, in particular, has sparked conversation in the recovery community. 

The movement, with books and blogs to boot, is called Sober Curious.

What to know 

Essentially, those who are sober curious are choosing to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol or see choosing to stop drinking as healthier.

For some, this means participating in Dry January, Go Sober for October, or No Booze November – seen as challenge like spending less on eating out or joining a 30-day workout routine.

Others find that only partaking at special events or cutting back to once a month, once a year, etc. is of value.

No matter the decided adjustment, frequency to type or intention, sober curious represents an experimental dive into a life with less alcohol.

When it comes to sobriety, this cultural fad appears to propose there is a spectrum – it is not 100% or nothing.

Someone sober curious is looking into or toying with removing drinks but isn’t giving them up entirely.

How it’s Different 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an estimated 16 million people in the United States have alcohol use disorder (AUD).

 To be diagnosed officially through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) individuals meet any two of eleven specific criteria during a consecutive year period. Severity ranges based on the final number of criteria met.

At the core, the distinction between someone who drinks more than they prefer and someone who has symptoms of AUD is the presence of compulsive, out-of-control intake, negative emotional state without the substance, and problematic impacts on functioning and life. 

Because addiction – whether alcohol or other substances – is a brain chronic brain disease, it is markedly different than an overzealous Friday night socialite.

While both may benefit from sobriety, someone with AUD depends on it. Their LIFE depends on it.

The NIAAA reports that more than 20% of adults over 18 say they have had an episode of binge drinking in the past month, meaning plenty of folks could stand to lay off the booze.

 But the difference is in the choice and intention.

Those without addictive tendencies may make poor choices about drinking habits, but their ability to change these behaviors is within their inner locus of control. Some drink rarely and find that they are better able to tackle life challenges or maintain physical and mental health substance-free. There may be some signs that a break from drinking that act as the motivation to try out a decrease in those behaviors.

Those that can have a casual, on-again-off-again relationship with substances likely find that they can see consequences and make adjustments as needed but maintain a level of flexibility with little to no ill-effects. Making the intentioned decision to have a cocktail at the happy hour, maybe a few, or even too many, can be a short-lived incidence and on with life they go. 

But for those who struggle with addiction, this halfway commitment is not a realistic mindset. Their brains are wired differently and choosing to imbibe “just this once” or “only now and again” can lead those pathways to be aflame again, now begging for more. It presents a huge risk to recovery and their lives.

 Why it Matters

The less-than-great news?

Some of the confusion could lead those with more serious problems to adopt this trend and cycle in and out of use and abuse without receiving essential treatment.

With less than 10 percent of those with AUD receiving treatment, it is a concern that this fad may downplay the intensity and urgency of a person’s problem and delay or block them from help.

Plus, detox and withdrawal for those with substantial usage comes with risk – it can be unsafe for your health to up and quit without medical supervision, or at least can make you feel quite ill. Sobriety is not always an Instagram-worthy picture, it is not just the pretty parts of the process. 

Though it sounds ideal, addiction isn’t so removable and fluid, and the best-of-both-worlds scenario of being able to fall back on substances only when “you really need them” isn’t real. This is more than a one-month social media hashtag.

True sobriety, through recovery from addiction, isn’t a trend you can try on and then remove when the season changes. It is a life-saving, serious, and continuing commitment.

For those with addiction, recovery is non-negotiable. Recovery = sobriety.

But others can be sober, at times or forever, and never be “in recovery” in that same way. 

The good news?

Sobriety has traditionally been stigmatized. When choosing not to drink at an outing, you might be chided, bombarded with questions, or pelted with accusations of being a “closet-alcoholic”. Women are sometimes teased that they must be pregnant for abstaining.   

But with the sober curious movement bringing more people into the fold, there is hope that an increase of acceptance and a normalization of sobriety could help those recovering from addictions. If more people are open to seeing friends not hitting up the bar, there will be less social pressure and questioning for others that don’t either.

A trend on social media doesn’t equate to treatment for addiction. If you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol or other substances, don’t just be curious. Act today. Call Steps Recovery Centers 24-hour hotline (385-250-1701) to talk to a trained clinician and get the support you need and deserve to live a life in recovery and sobriety. 

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