Sober Curiosity: Tips For Alcohol Reduction And Sobriety

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated June 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Recent statistics paint a complex picture of alcohol use in the United States. On the one hand, there have been reports of increased alcohol consumption across the country in recent years. There has also been a recent increase in alcohol-related deaths, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, seems to reflect a “widespread increase in alcohol consumption and related harms” over the long term.

On the other hand, there has also been a growing interest in alcohol reduction and sobriety in the last few years. For example, recent surveys have found that more people are engaging in even a short-term sober lifestyle commitment like Dry January. If you’re interested in examining your own relationship to alcohol, quitting drinking, or exploring sober living, learning more about alcohol-use reduction techniques may help you find ways to incorporate lifestyle changes that support well-being and healthy relationships. Read on for tips on this topic, along with more information about alcohol use in U.S. culture today.

Navigating a sober lifestyle can be challenging

Alcohol-Use Reduction And Sobriety 

Alcohol consumption is common among both teenagers and adults despite the legal drinking age in the U.S. being 21. According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 47.5% of people aged 12 or older in the U.S. — about 133 million people — reported drinking alcohol at some point in the month prior to the survey. It also found that around 10% of people in that group experienced an alcohol use disorder (previously referred to as alcohol abuse) within the past year; more on this below.

However, despite the prevalence of both recreational alcohol use and clinical alcohol-use conditions in the U.S., a growing number of people are taking an interest in alcohol-use reduction and sober lifestyles — particularly young people.

As the BBC reports, multiple recent studies suggest that many in the Gen Z generation are either “not drinking at all, or drinking less often and in less quantity than older generations.”

This may be because there’s a growing dialogue about the role alcohol plays in our culture and the potential health benefits of quitting, using it in moderation, or taking regular breaks from drug or alcohol use. Part of this dialogue includes increasing awareness of alcohol use disorders and exploring the “sober curious” and alcohol-reduction lifestyles.

"Each individual’s experience with alcohol use and sobriety is unique to them. If you are curious about the impact of alcohol use and the possibilities of sobriety, it’s important to be gentle yet realistic with yourself and your expectations on your individual journey. You may consider what it looks like to have an approach to alcohol reduction, sober curiosity, or sobriety that aims to account for the multiple intersecting factors and identities you carry with you in life."

— Kassandra Kite, LMFT, BetterHelp therapist

Alcohol use disorder and withdrawal symptoms

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical and mental health condition that involves difficulty controlling alcohol use despite the use having negative effects on the person’s life. Common symptoms include but are not limited to trying to drink less without success, getting into risky or dangerous situations because of alcohol, alcohol negatively impacting your life and work, getting into toxic relationships, and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the effects of alcohol wear off. Although there’s still significant stigma around AUD, it’s important to remember that it is indeed a clinical disorder that requires treatment and support — not a matter of willpower or character. Though it can seem challenging, addiction recovery is possible.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of AUD, it’s recommended that you seek professional support or find mental health resources. Treatment typically includes some form of behavioral therapy to learn coping skills, sometimes in combination with medication, a formal treatment program, and/or mutual support groups. Here, it’s also worth noting the way stigma and systemic prejudices often impact care for individuals with substance use disorders. Studies reflect significant AUD treatment gaps in the U.S. 

For example, a recent study suggests that 90% of Black individuals and 92% of Latinx individuals diagnosed with alcohol misuse did not receive addiction treatment. In addition, recent surveys have found that LGBTQIA+ individuals tend to have higher rates of substance misuse and substance use disorders than those who do not identify as members of this community. Recognizing these disparities in care can be an important part of ensuring that people of all identities and backgrounds are able to find more mental health resources to manage substance use.

The “sober curious” movement

The sober curious movement is a societal trend toward considering a sober lifestyle — whether intermittently or totally — with an open mind. Being curious about sober lifestyles could mean that you’re interested in being fully sober but aren’t yet ready to start that journey. It could also mean that you’re interested in simply drinking less in general or staying sober for a window of time like “Dry January.” 

For those who want to reflect on their current level of alcohol use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a “Check Your Drinking” tool. It’s designed to help you analyze your current level of drinking and make a plan to start drinking less or get sober if you believe you should and are ready to.

Alcohol-reduction strategies

Alcohol reduction involves generally drinking less without committing to full sobriety. Someone who wants to experience fewer hangovers, spend less money on a night out, or make new social connections without the help of substances might consider alcohol reduction. Plus, research suggests that even taking brief breaks — as little as four weeks — from alcohol consumption may result in a range of health benefits, such as improved sleep, improved blood pressure levels, and more.

There are various strategies you can try that may help if you’re interested in drinking less. A few techniques for alcohol reduction include: 

  • Keeping a journal to track how much alcohol you drink each day or week so you can get familiar with your current level of alcohol use.

  • Making a list of the personal reasons you want to reduce your drinking and the benefits of doing so 

  • Outlining a reduction “contract” in which you set limits for yourself regarding alcohol.

  • Creating a reward system for reduced drinking.

  • Checking in with yourself if you exceed your set limits to identify why it happened and how to prevent it in the future.

  • Engaging in hobbies or social activities that don’t involve drinking.

  • Finding alternative, nonalcoholic beverages you enjoy.

  • Leaning on a support network of family, friends, community, and/or a mental health professional.

Tips for supporting your sobriety

Despite the growing cultural interest in alcohol reduction and sobriety, it can still be difficult incorporating these practices or maintaining recovery given the many ways in which alcohol use is woven into the fabric of our society and social lives. Below are a few strategies you can consider to help you stick with a sober lifestyle or drink less as part of your wellness efforts or coping mechanisms.

1. Find alcohol-free events and spaces 

Sober events and businesses are becoming more common as a sober-curious mindset is adopted in more age groups. Some bars and restaurants are now strictly sober, carrying only alcohol-free drinks for everyone to enjoy without temptation. Similarly, some events are now sober-focused, allowing those who have chosen sobriety to party, socialize, and have fun without any alcoholic drinks around. You can even go on a sobriety date. If you’re trying to maintain sobriety or just cut back on alcohol, you might consider visiting these spaces or attending these events instead of those where alcohol is present or centered. You might find that you can still have an enjoyable time while getting the chance to connect with other like-minded people. 

2. Try new activities

If you’re trying to drink less or stay sober, it may also be useful to take up new hobbies that bring you joy and don’t revolve around alcohol. Such activities can offer valuable ways to reduce stress, promote relaxation, have fun, and help you avoid sobriety fatigue with fun activities that don’t involve drinking. Plus, they could bring you additional physical or mental health benefits, like classes to expand your mind or a sports league to help you get exercise. Once you start replacing alcohol-focused activities with equally enjoyable ones that don’t involve drinking, it can be easier to see how a sober or mostly sober life can be both attainable and fun. You may even make some sober friends.

3. Spend time in nature

Spending time in nature as you try to incorporate these lifestyle changes may also be beneficial. Being surrounded by the pressures of modern society can be challenging and stressful and can often come with temptation or pressure to drink. Once or twice a week, you may find it helpful to give yourself an hour or two in nature. You might go on a hike, walk with your family, swim in a lake, or simply sit in the sun. Plus, studies suggest that spending time in nature may help improve mental health, which could be helpful as you try to navigate sobriety or reduced drinking. 

4. Find a support group

Reducing alcohol consumption or maintaining sobriety can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone; there are a variety of resources available where you can get support — from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and local recovery resources to support and treatment facilities and family therapy. For instance, mutual support groups for substance use disorders can connect you with others — either online or in person — who have had similar experiences or who are facing similar challenges. These programs can be a beneficial option for those seeking social support alongside formal addiction treatment. If you’re not experiencing symptoms of AUD but still want to connect socially with like-minded community members, you might search for sober social groups in your area.

5. Connect with a mental health professional

As mentioned above, it’s typically worth seeking the support of a substance use counselor or other qualified healthcare professional if you believe you’re experiencing symptoms of a substance use disorder. However, even if you aren’t exhibiting symptoms but are looking for support as you try to drink less or become sober, a licensed therapist or healthcare provider can be a valuable source of support. You can find a provider near you for in-person care, or you can connect with one virtually for online sessions that support evidence-based addiction treatment. 

With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist whom you can meet with via phone call, video chat, and/or in-app messaging to address your goals and challenges. Various studies in recent years have pointed to the potential effectiveness of online care for a range of concerns, including managing alcohol consumption and alcohol withdrawal. For instance, one study that examined the efficacy of internet-delivered interventions for alcohol addictions suggests that such online interventions can be “effective in reducing alcohol consumption.” Regardless of the format you may choose, seeking support as you reexamine and/or adjust your personal relationship with alcohol can be helpful.

Navigating a sober lifestyle can be challenging


Making changes to your patterns of alcohol use can seem daunting, but you’re not alone; recent trends show that there’s a growing cultural interest in sobriety and alcohol reduction. If you’d like to explore drinking less, you may find it helpful to seek out sober events, spend time in nature, and find a support group. You can also connect with a licensed therapist in person or online for professional support as you navigate these changes.

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