Sober curiosity — a critical mindset to drinking culture

The sober phenomenon is rising in popularity among young people. Giving up alcohol might show us how surprisingly significant a role it plays in our lives.

The culture around and with alcohol is deeply rooted in many of our cultures and social events. We have a glass of sparkling wine while celebrating important events. We might meet our friends for an after-work beer or relax with one glass of wine after a long day. 

Is alcohol what you need every time you want to wind down? Why is it such a crucial part of our social gatherings, and are they the same without it? And when is relying on a bottle a harmful coping mechanism instead of regular fun?

Sober curiosity questions an individual’s relationship with alcohol. British writer Ruby Warrington invented the term to encourage critical thinking about the drinking culture and social expectations towards drinking.

Sober curiosity is not necessarily the same as going straight edge. A sober curious person explores their relationship with alcohol with a critical mindset but not necessarily cutting alcohol off completely. Also, you don’t have to be an alcohol abuser to take a deeper look at your drinking habits. Even when drinking within healthy limits, we might be even more dependent on alcohol than we realize. Having one glass of wine while meeting a friend doesn’t hurt you but is that glass of wine actually necessary every time you meet?

Studies show millennials and gen z are not as interested in consuming alcohol as past generations. For example, in Scandinavia, the amount of underage youth drinking to get wasted has decreased tremendously.

The change can be seen in the nightlife too. Some trendy nightclubs arrange fully sober parties in which people are free to dance and have fun just like on any other Friday night. The only exception is that no alcoholic beverages are sold. Instead, people can buy non-alcoholic beers, sodas, or mocktails, just to mention a few. Sober venues can also offer safer places to party as one’s judgment is not lowered because of alcohol. In these venues, nobody has to feel the pressure to drink in order to have fun.

Why are people suddenly questioning their relationship with alcohol and interested in sobriety?

One reason might be that with the rise of wellness culture, alcohol’s appeal has lowered. Taking care of physical and mental health is increasingly important to people. We all know the risks and harms of excessive alcohol use. And who has time for hangovers?

Another simple explanation for the decrease in drinking can be that many young people don’t find drinking cool anymore. Just like attitudes toward consuming meat change, attitudes toward alcohol consumption change. The habits of the older generation are usually what young people question. 

Taking a critical and honest look around is the crucial part of sober curiosity. Are we drinking just out of habit or because of peer pressure? How much do we consume and is it necessary for every event? How does alcohol affect one while drinking?

For severe alcohol abuse, sober curiosity is not an answer. As with that, we are talking about something else that requires professional and even medical help. But as the first step for someone who is noticing some problematic behavior in their drinking habits, sober curiosity might be a leap towards a healthier and critical relationship with alcohol.

Annika Pitkänen


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