Fancy a break from the booze? Follow our top tips on how to enjoy a sober curious social life

Drinking alcohol has long been associated with having a good time. A few cocktails after work, a bottomless brunch to celebrate a birthday – few, if any, social events seem to be without some sort of tipple. Yet in recent years, there’s been a marked shift in drinking culture with many of us ditching the booze in favour of living a more sober lifestyle.

This is especially true of young people. A 2019 Drink Aware study* found that 16-to-24-year-olds in England were the most likely age group to be teetotal, with 26% not drinking. However, there has been a general downward trend with the proportion of adults in England drinking alcohol at least once a week decreasing by 4% since 2015. Supporting this shift, the non-alcoholic drinks market is booming with data analysts predicting an annual market growth of 6.24% between 2022 and 2026**.

The reasons for wanting to cut back on alcohol are varied, ranging from the personal to the circumstantial. From wanting to rely on it less as a social lubricant to financial restraints, work, pregnancy and being on certain medications, there’s a growing community of fellow non-drinkers that make it a less intimidating prospect than it once was.

Alongside this, several influencers, podcasters and authors are championing an alcohol-free lifestyle that prioritises health over a hangover. Intrigued? Here, we shed light on the rise of the sober curious, as well as the many sober social activities to try in your free time.

What does being sober curious mean?

The term "sober curious" describes someone who chooses to drink less, or abstain from alcohol completely, for health and wellness benefits. This differs from someone who is sober, because of an alcohol abuse problem.

"Most people think that being sober curious means being curious about sobriety (and it can!)," says Millie Gooch, founder of the @sobergirlsociety and author of The Sober Girl Society Handbook. "But it can also be a permanent lifestyle choice whereby you choose to become more mindful and aware of your drinking habits and seek to change them in a more positive way."

As well as reducing "hangxiety", many sober curious advocates on social media report increased energy levels and better sleep. "For me, I’ve seen the biggest difference in my mental and physical health," says Millie. "I’m less anxious, more energetic and I get outside more. I’ve also seen huge improvements in my finances and my relationships."

Who coined the term "sober curious"?

While challenges like Dry January have helped popularise interest around the subject, Ruby Warrington, author of the 2018 book Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol, is credited with having coined the sober curious phrase.

In her book, she explores common sober curious themes, such as how to stop drinking on autopilot and how to find the confidence to make the choice in the first place. For anyone who’s sober curious, it can be a good way to kickstart your journey.

How to adopt a sober curious lifestyle

According to Millie, the first step to drinking less is to understand why you’re drinking in the first place. Is it because you’re stressed? Is it to alleviate social anxiety? Is it because you think it can help break up the working day from the evening? Or is it a habit? Understanding why you drink can be a great starting point for changing your relationship with alcohol.

"Then, consider creating a sober toolbox – maybe a herbal tea, biscuits and a good book – just something you can turn to when you’re craving a drink," says Millie, who turns to bubble baths and phone calls with friends.

For many, the biggest challenge of living a sober curious lifestyle is socialising sober. "It can be really scary to go out there and chat to new or familiar faces without alcohol to help lubricate the conversation," says Millie. But as with most things in life – the more you do it, the easier it will be and the more confident you will feel. "Alcohol doesn’t boost confidence innately – it’s doing things outside of your comfort zone that will force you to build confidence from within," adds Millie.

5 ways to embrace a sober curious social life

Whether you’re looking for fun, sober things to do on a Friday night or hangover-free drinks that you’ll want to order time and time again, consider our edit of sober social activities and top non-alcoholic tipples below to help you live your best life, minus the hangover.

1. Immersive experiences

"There seems to be a rise in all things immersive, which I love," says Millie. "Whether it’s immersive theatre, London’s new immersive fairground or an immersive gallery – having something where you feel complete escapism, that doesn’t involve booze, can be brilliant."

2. The great outdoors

Often overlooked as a social activity, walking is a great way to connect with friends and nature. Simply fill a flask with tea or coffee and arrange to catch up with a friend at your local nature reserve or park. As well as uninterrupted chit-chat, you’ll reap the health benefits of being outside, moving your body and discovering new places.

3. New hobbies

Consider starting a new hobby with a friend who shares similar interests to you. Be it a book club, yoga, swimming or baking, there are so many activities you can enjoy together that needn’t involve booze. As one interviewee told us in the aforementioned article, "hangover-free weekends are the best. Since lockdown, I’ve taken up paddle boarding and golf – two things I know I’d never have time for if I was nursing a hangover."

4. Alcohol-free drinks

Just because you’re sober curious, doesn’t mean you can’t be a partygoer. "I still love going to bars and clubs," says Millie, "I think it’s just finding the right ones with good music and plenty of alcohol-free options." Before you plan a night out, have a look at the drinks menu to make sure they have plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives.

5. Daytime events

If you’re not a partygoer, consider swapping evening plans for daytime activities. Be it breakfast or brunch, it’s far easier to turn down booze when you’re not surrounded by it (or people drinking it). Suggest a daytime activity to a friend and use your evening to hunker down at home and get a good night’s sleep. If they’re only available in the evening, why not have a chilled night in together? Again, you’ll have uninterrupted catch-up time and can stock-up on alcohol-free drinks for both of you to enjoy.

As four interviewees shared in a article on how they stopped drinking alcohol, there are several tools available out there to help people reduce their alcohol intake – or cut it out completely. The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Grey, the aforementioned The Sober Girl Society Handbook by Millie Gooch and Mindful Drinking: How Cutting Down Can Change Your Life by Rosamund Dean are all incredibly insightful and useful books that dish out practical tips by the bucketload.

As well as books, there are several free podcasts on sobriety that can help you stay connected including Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington.