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Sober curious: The benefits of abstaining from alcohol

  • Moderate drinking is considered one alcoholic drink per day, regardless of gender.
  • A hangover delays reaction time, decrease concentration, and lessens spatial perception.
  • Any heart benefits from alcohol are probably not a good enough reason to drink.

How much, how often and why you choose to drink alcohol is a good question every social drinker should ask occasionally. It’s easy for social drinking to become a habit. You may have heard the terms “sober curious” or “dry January” and wondered what it’s all about. Here’s some nuggets to think about if you’d like to consider taking a break from social drinking.

I think it’s easier for you to go toward a desired goal than move away from something. That’s why I recommend that you be intentional, think about what alcohol is doing for you, and then come up with other, healthier alternatives.

What is “sober curious”?

Making the decision to take a break from alcohol has become a trend. For people who drink socially, abstaining from alcohol for a month (for example, “Dry January”) or being sober curious when out with friends, gives you a chance to step back and evaluate what drinking is doing or not doing for you. The sober curious trend is not about addiction necessarily. It’s about social drinking and how it fits into your life. It’s a chance for you to step back and evaluate what drinking is doing, or not doing, for you.

Reasons to abstain from alcohol

  • Some people who take a break from alcohol discover their social drinking has become more of a habit and that giving up alcohol really doesn’t impact their lives, positively or negatively.
  • Some people don’t know why they’re drinking. It may be triggered by their mood, is more of a behavior, or is used to numb feelings or is used to avoid or cope with stress.
  • For others, social drinking is a chance to make a conscious choice about when, where and how much they want to drink when their break from alcohol is over.

I stopped drinking in my mid-30s, more than 15 years ago. I had no real reason for quitting, but several life moments – being a new father, my career in addiction medicine -- made it easy for me to abstain from alcohol. It just faded out of my life. I had no real compelling reason to quit and didn’t think much about it until much later. It just seemed like the right choice for me at this point in my life. I haven’t had a compelling reason to start drinking again once I stopped.

Impacts of social drinking on your body

Not as much research been done about the effects of social drinking as there is about addiction. While some studies show there are actual benefits to your heart with moderate drinking, from an overall health standpoint, it’s probably not a good enough reason for you to drink. It may be helpful to think of alcohol as just another drug that effects your brain. I generally consider moderate drinking to be one alcoholic drink per day for both men and women, which differs from the USDA’s recommendation of one drink per day for women and two for men.

Social drinking can:

  • make you sleepy, sooner
  • interact negatively with other medicines you may already be taking
  • impair your memory and ability to think and stay on task.

If you drink enough to feel hungover the next day you’ll have physical and cognitive symptoms. Studies show when you have a hangover you have delayed reaction times and difficulty with attention, concentration and visual-spatial perception.

Benefits when you abstain from drinking

Despite some people’s claims that they lose weight when they stop drinking, research shows no real link to weight loss. If you do lose weight after quitting drinking, it may simply be due to an overall healthier diet or other behavioral changes. But, other benefits from abstaining that are backed by research include: 

  • Better sleep; both falling asleep sooner and sleeping through the night
  • Better sex and improved relationships
  • Budget savings
  • Calorie savings
  • Increased energy
  • Less worry (for example, about whether or not you’re safe to drive).

Make a plan before you abstain from alcohol

  • Think about personal cues that trigger your social drinking. What places, people and circumstances make it easier for you to drink.
  • Once you’ve identified your cues, come up with alternatives when those cues invariably happen. For example, abstaining from alcohol doesn’t mean you can never join coworkers at an after-work happy hour or celebration.
  • Consider “dry” or non-alcoholic drink options. These days many bars and restaurants are making an effort to include delicious non-alcoholic drinks on their bar menus.
  • Don’t feel guilty if, after a break, you choose to drink socially again. Instead, pat yourself on the back for having taken the break in the first place and moving forward with a more mindful plan in place for how and when you’ll drink socially.




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