Tips For Alcohol Reduction And Sobriety In The Modern Day
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.”
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 short-term sobriety commitments like Dry January. If you’re interested in examining your own relationship to alcohol or exploring sobriety, learning more about alcohol-use reduction techniques may help you find ways to incorporate lifestyle changes that support your well-being. Read on for tips on this topic, along with more information about alcohol use and sobriety in US culture today.
Alcohol-Use Reduction And Sobriety In Modern Society
Alcohol consumption is common among both teenagers and adults, despite the legal drinking age in the US being 21. According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 47.5% of people aged 12 or older in the US—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 within the past year; more on this below.
However, despite the prevalence of both recreational alcohol use and clinical alcohol-use conditions in the US, a growing number of people are taking an interest in alcohol-use reduction and sobriety—particularly young people.
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 it. 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."
Alcohol Use Disorder
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 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.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of AUD, it’s recommended that you seek professional support. Treatment typically includes some form of behavioral therapy, sometimes in combination with medication 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 US.
For example, recent data suggests that 90% of Black individuals and 92% of Latinx individuals diagnosed with a substance use disorder did not receive addiction treatment. In addition, recent surveys have found that LGBTQIA+ individuals tend to have higher rates of substance misuse and SUDs 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 access the resources they need to manage substance use.
The “Sober Curious” Movement
The sober-curious movement is a societal trend toward considering sobriety—whether intermittently or full stop—with an open mind. Being curious about sobriety 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 regularly taking breaks 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 if you feel you should and are ready to.
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 few 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, non-alcoholic beverages you enjoy
- Seeking support from family, friends, community, and/or a mental health professional
Tips For Supporting Your Own Alcohol Reduction Or Sobriety
Despite the growing cultural interest in alcohol reduction and sobriety, it can still be difficult to incorporate and maintain these practices 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 sobriety or drink less as part of your wellness efforts.
Find Sober 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. 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.
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 fill your time with something that doesn’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.
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 drinking less.
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. 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 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.
Connect With A Therapist
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 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.
With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can meet with via phone, video call, 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. 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
For examples of questions that might be beneficial to explore in therapy, please see below.
What does practicing sobriety mean?
What is a sobriety person?
What are the 7 steps of sobriety?
Is sobriety more than just not drinking?
What is the hardest point of sobriety?
Are you still an alcoholic if you are sober?
Does sobriety change your life?
What are the 5 rules of sobriety?
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