What Is Sober Curiosity? How the Trend and Your Nutrition Goals Can Work Together

Young man drinking water at an outdoor dinner with others

Maskot / Getty Images

There are a variety of societally-inclined trends that invoke booze-free habits. Dry January, Whole 30, Sober October, or a New Year's resolution all present opportunities to give up alcohol, at least temporarily. These seasonal challenges, sparked between friends, family, or coworkers, provide the opportunity to get a better grasp on how alcohol makes you feel—mentally and physically.

Taking a break from alcohol does make a difference in your overall drinking patterns, often helping curb drinking habits to more moderate amounts after an alcohol-free season is complete. The Sober Curious Movement takes this momentum and builds on it—instead of counting on a single season of mocktails to have a 180 effect on your drinking habits, finding balance and self-awareness regarding alcohol can be an everyday decision without being "on" or "off."

Exploring sober curiosity doesn't stop at self-awareness. It expands to your overall wellness, including fitness goals or, as we'll dig into later, nutritional benefits you might not even know you're missing.

The Sober Curious Movement

Ruby Warrington coined the phrase "sober curious" in her 2018 book Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol. The term is intended to serve as an encouragement and call to action for individuals who aren't giving up alcohol entirely but want to create (or maintain) a more mindful relationship with the substance.

Who Shouldn't Partake in the Sober Curious Movement?

Sober curiosity is not recommended for individuals who struggle with alcohol use disorder (commonly known as alcoholism) or alcohol abuse. Those individuals should practice full sobriety to avoid relapses or medical concerns. Not only does this sobriety help the individual live a healthier life mentally and physically, but it also provides an important example of health to others who struggle with either condition.

Creating a healthier relationship with alcohol paints a different picture for each individual. But for many, common factors include:

  • Continuing to evaluate your relationship with alcohol
  • Refraining from drinking alcohol just because it's offered
  • Maintaining self-awareness of how your body reacts to alcohol and any co-dependencies you may feel toward it

Since Warrington's 2018 book, the phrase has become more popular as has the non-drinking movement. While saying "no" to a cocktail at the company holiday party may have once been looked at as "having a problem," it's becoming more common to question alcohol, even in traditionally alcohol-heavy social situations. This is largely prominent among younger generations.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

Alcohol's Role in Nutritional Wellness

While you may hear a friend cheekily note red wine's health benefits, drinking does influence an individual's nutritional health. This is primarily seen in two ways: adding nutrition metrics (calories, sugar, etc) into a person's eating patterns and interfering with the absorption, digestion, and use of helpful nutrients from other food and drink sources.

Even if your initial reason for exploring sober curiosity isn't related to nutrition, understanding that connection helps paint a bigger picture of how your relationship impacts your overall well-being. Below are a few of the ways nutrition and alcohol are connected.

How Alcohol Interferes With Your Diet

While a month sans alcohol has been shown to provide immense relief for major organs in the body, flipping directly back to heavier drinking habits only continues to harm the body's processes. Instead, working on your relationship with alcohol and finding a balance that doesn't turn your liver into a casualty of happy hour may be the answer.

Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS, an NYC-based nutritionist, notes that even if individuals have nutrient-dense eating patterns, alcohol still impacts them in a negative way, particularly in how the body processes and uses vitamins and minerals. "It [alcohol] affects the levels of essentially all our vitamins and minerals. So things like B vitamins, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium—all the nutrients you're prioritizing when you're eating a whole food diet."

While upsetting your vitamins and mineral levels may seem like a small consequence of grabbing a round of cold ones, nutrient absorption and utilization is a reality with notable consequences. Dr. Scheller explains, "The more often someone is drinking, the more they're continuing to deplete important nutrients. Even if they're eating a well-rounded, nutritious diet, alcohol threatens to cause deficiencies in at least some of those nutrients."

If your body is not able to gain the proper amount of vitamins and mineral nutrients it needs, you may experience symptoms like fatigue, a lack of focus, a lack of motivation, muscle growth, hormonal balance, and gut health.

Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS

The more often someone is drinking, the more they're continuing to deplete important nutrients. Even if they're eating a well-rounded, nutritious diet, alcohol threatens to cause deficiencies in at least some of those nutrients.

— Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS

On a dietary level, alcohol acts as a sabotage to the nutrients the body needs. This is further elevated with higher quantities or frequencies of alcohol consumption. As Dr. Scheller mentioned, switching to a vodka soda instead of a margarita for the calories or sugar count may seem like a considerate decision, but because alcohol is still present, your body is still receiving the same carcinogen. Yes, the cocktail you order does contribute to your nutrition for the day, but it's the actual alcohol itself that carries the side effects Dr. Scheller warns about.

How Nutrition Can Support Your Sober Curiosity

No matter if you're practicing complete sobriety or just dipping your toe in sober curious ideology, there are nutritional habits that can help you have more control over your relationship with alcohol.

Dr. Scheller explains that while abstaining from alcohol has clearly positive implications on the body, sometimes it's hard to change the habits you've grown familiar with. She notes that often individuals who are making major changes to their alcohol consumption may experience cravings, both for the alcohol itself as well as sugar and carbs.

Nutrition Tips for Sober Curiosity

Here are some ways to utilize nutrition to help you transition into a more controlled relationship with alcohol, whether that means cutting it out entirely or just limiting the frequency you drink:

  • Eat every 3 to 4 hours to avoid low blood sugar
  • Incorporate more protein throughout the day
  • Choose foods that support systems that alcohol impacts (like the liver)
  • Focus on omega-3s to counteract inflammation

Dr. Scheller also notes that cutting out alcohol and also making drastic, restrictive dietary changes is not a helpful course of action. "The last thing you want is not being able to open the wine cabinet and also not being able to have any sugar or carbs because of a new diet." While Dry January, Sober October, or a New Year resolution may not pose this threat, diets like Whole30 require major dietary changes and zero alcohol. The difficulty level, while not impossible, is something to consider if you're serious about changing your relationship with alcohol.

Getting Started with Sober Curiosity

While experts agree that alcohol isn't necessarily boosting your nutritional profile, sober curiosity is all about finding the relationship with alcohol that best suits you physically and mentally. There's another factor—social health—that often serves as an obstacle for individuals.

But the conversation surrounding alcohol's place in a social setting is changing. A study from BMC Public Health found that younger generations are actually drinking less than generations before them, making ordering a lemonade or iced tea far more normal than it would've been in years past.

Even better for the non-drinkers or sober curious of your social circle, new, trendy non-alcoholic beverages are on the rise. It's growing less unusual to see a mocktail on the dinner menu or non-alcoholic beer and wine in the grocery store. This is largely because of industry leaders like Best Day Brewing founder Tate Huffard, who experienced his own sober curious renaissance but wasn't willing to give up the camaraderie of an evening hang.

Huffard describes the social scene around an alcohol-free or sober curious lifestyle as evolving. "It's not like showing up at a party 15 years ago with a non-alcoholic beer like you've got a secret," he explains. "We've entered a phase where not drinking isn't a scandal, it's a positive statement."

Tate Huffard

It's not like showing up at a party 15 years ago with a non-alcoholic beer like you've got a secret. We've entered a phase where not drinking isn't a scandal, it's a positive statement.

— Tate Huffard

Hilary Sheinbaum, author of The Dry Challenge, agrees that non-alcoholic beverage options are incredibly helpful options for those getting started on their sober curious journey. "I always recommend trying the non-alcoholic variety of your favorite non-alcoholic beverage. There are a lot of ways you can participate in 'drinking at the bar' without imbibing. That way you still have that social experience without getting tipsy."

Trendy new drinks aside, Sheinbaum recommends an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach for the alcohol that still lives in your house. Moving bottles off the bar cart and into a cabinet, for instance, is a great way to help yourself as you get started on your sober curious journey. She also suggests activities that require you to keep your hands busy—painting, hiking, bowling—as social outings. This way you don't have to worry about whether or not you'll be ordering a drink.

A Word From Verywell

Everyone's relationship with alcohol is personal and requires an evaluation that matches that definition. Just because your friend is or isn't drinking at happy hour doesn't mean you must do the same—and vice versus. If you have questions or concerns about how alcohol may be impacting your nutritional goals or any medical conditions, please consult a healthcare professional.

If you find yourself struggling with alcohol in an abusive manner, reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Gray Area Drinking?

    Gray Area Drinking (GAD) refers to alcohol consumption habits that sit in the middle of the drinking spectrum. Gray area drinkers consume alcohol because they want to, not because they have to due to dependency issues. They do not have an alcohol abuse disorder.

  • What is sober dating?

    Sober dating is a recent trend that revolves around the decision to not consume alcohol while on a date. This is intended to provide the individual with a clearer mind during their date experience.

  • What is mindful drinking?

    Mindful drinking, similar to mindful eating, is simply being aware of how much alcohol you're consuming and how it makes you feel—and then making choices accordingly.

8 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ballard J. What is dry January? Br J Gen Pract. 2016;66(642):32. doi:10.3399/bjgp16X683173

  2. PhD DMEP, BA BBZ, BA JJ, PhD SGP, PhD WHZ, PhD RLS. Helping others and long-term sobriety: who should I help to stay sober? Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly. 2009;27(1):38-50. doi:10.1080/07347320802586726

  3. Törrönen J, Roumeliotis F, Samuelsson E, Kraus L, Room R. Why are young people drinking less than earlier? Identifying and specifying social mechanisms with a pragmatist approachInternational Journal of Drug Policy. 2019;64:13-20. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2018.12.001

  4. Lieber C. Relationships between nutrition, alcohol use, and liver disease. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

  5. National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Alcohol's Effects on the Body.

  6. Dervaux A, Laqueille X. [Thiamine (vitamin B1) treatment in patients with alcohol dependence]. Presse Med. 2017;46(2 Pt 1):165-171. doi:10.1016/j.lpm.2016.07.025

  7. Borsini A, Nicolaou A, Camacho-Muñoz D, et al. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids protect against inflammation through production of LOX and CYP450 lipid mediators: relevance for major depression and for human hippocampal neurogenesisMol Psychiatry. 2021;26(11):6773-6788. doi:10.1038/s41380-021-01160-8

  8. Ng Fat L, Shelton N, Cable N. Investigating the growing trend of non-drinking among young people; analysis of repeated cross-sectional surveys in England 2005–2015BMC Public Health. 2018;18(1):1090. doi:10.1186/s12889-018-5995-3

By Lily Moe
Lily Moe is a former fitness coach and current Editor for Verywell Fit. A wellness enthusiast, she can often be found in a hot yoga studio, trying a new recipe, or going for a long run in Central Park.