Sober Curiosity and What Alcohol Alternatives Can Do for Mental Health

Key Takeaways

  • Although abstinence excludes alcohol altogether, sober curiosity encourages less alcohol consumption.
  • With the rise of sober lifestyles, socially prepared non-alcoholic beverages have become more popular.
  • Alcohol alternatives allow rituals of connection and celebration and minimize harmful after-effects.

Alcohol is commonly used as a remedy for social anxiety. And after the holidays—perhaps the busiest social season—many people start the new year reevaluating their relationship with it. Dry January presents the challenge of staying sober for a month, but in 2023 people are thinking long-term about reducing their drinking, while still embracing the buzz.

But in recent years, sober curiosity, which encourages a sober lifestyle without the need to completely cut out alcohol, has become increasingly popular. Brands like Can Social Tonics, Can Euphorics and Curious Elixis that offer socially crafted, alcohol-free drinks are becoming more prominent as people still seek to connect and celebrate without the harmful effects.

Alcohol not only negatively affects cognitive function and brain health, It can also wreak havoc on your mental health – several studies have linked alcohol use to depression. And while it’s a powerful social lubricant, it can be a placebo effect associated with drinking behavior — studies have shown that even the taste of beer can trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, even without any effects of alcohol.

If socializing without alcohol seems intimidating, alternatives to alcohol offer both physical and mental health benefits and allow you to have a “special drink” when you want to socialize or chill out.

Alcohol as a social lubricant

Alcoholism or alcohol use disorders often result in a choice of complete sobriety, but sober curiosity can arise from consideration of whether alcohol is used as a crutch in mental health, relationships, and social situations. Realistically, it can be difficult for many people to even admit that they may have a problem, so being transparently curious presents a softer boundary that is more manageable.

Everyone has their own reasons for cutting back on alcohol consumption. Luke Anderson, co-founder of Can Social Tonic, gave up alcohol after drinking began to cause problems in his life and relationships. After talking to friends about it, he discovered that many were in the same boat and started turning the wheels to create a less harmful social drink. He argues that moderation is a continuum.

“There are people in (Alcoholics Anonymous) or recovery who choose not to drink because they’re a danger to themselves and others, but there are people who choose sobriety because they’ve fallen in love with it,” Anderson says.

Rebecca Phillips, LPC

If you need social lubrication, it’s probably because there are some uncomfortable concerns. If you learn to manage your anxiety, you no longer need to lubricate. We can clink our glasses and toast with whatever we hold.

– Rebecca Phillips, LPC

Karolina Rzadkowolska, a certified alcohol-free life coach and author Euphoric: Give up alcohol and become happier, you become more confident, Agreed, he finds that more and more people are questioning whether alcohol really adds to their happiness.

“Drinking has become an allure in our culture, and it’s not just buzz,” says Rzadkowolska. “Culturally we associate status with alcohol, and we can use it to satisfy different needs; for example, the need to fit in, the need to feel sophisticated or the need to relax. So many other healthy alternatives can fulfill these needs without any negative side effects.”

No one wants to miss out on after-work happy hours, festive celebrations, or congratulatory toasts because they’re not drinking. As humans, we need opportunities to connect, relax, and have fun—these are crucial to our mental health. But what if we eliminate alcohol as a social lubricant in these situations?

Rebecca Phipps, LPC, a Texas-based therapist, never identified as an alcoholic, but adopted a sober lifestyle six years ago. When he noticed a huge improvement in his mental health, he gave up alcohol completely and has been sober ever since. He notes that while alcohol can lower inhibitions and even boost confidence, these effects wear off quickly.

“Chemical changes in your brain can lead to more negative emotions such as anxiety, sadness, depression, anger or insecurity,” says Phillips. “If you need social lubrication, it’s probably because there’s some uncomfortable anxiety. If you learn to manage your anxiety, you don’t need to lubricate anymore. We can clink our glasses and toast whatever we’re holding. It might be . Just as fun and fulfilling.”

The Rise of Sober Curiosity

Whether alcohol alternatives really do provide a healthy buzz or just have a placebo effect to thank for their success, they’re gaining in popularity. Anderson says he’s seeing interest across all ages and genders, with people in their early 30s as the company’s core customers.

Karolina Radziolska, Alcohol-Free Life Coach

Alcohol has become such an allure in our culture and it’s not just a buzz…many healthy alternatives can satisfy these needs without any negative side effects.

— Karolina Radziolska, Alcohol-Free Life Coach

He’s also paying attention to trends contributing to the rise in popularity of alcohol alternatives. Part of this, he says, can be attributed to an increased awareness of mindfulness and emotional well-being, as well as greater ingredient awareness and a desire for natural and plant-based foods. The saddest part of the equation, he says, may be that we’re glued to our screens. In the digital age, we are less dependent on party socialization.

Whatever the reason, more and more people are embracing transparent curiosity for its mental and physical health benefits. And brands are taking note. As the use of alcohol alternatives continues to grow, it’s clear that the benefits of connection and relaxation are the real upside, while the negative effects of alcohol consumption—or overconsumption—simply worsen the mood.

What does this mean for you?

Having a drink in hand can make socializing feel less intimidating. But choosing an alternative to alcohol allows you to sober up without the negative physical and emotional effects.

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