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The 'sober curious' movement is growing among young adults

Posted at 2:38 PM, Nov 09, 2022

Many more young adults are exploring alcohol abstinence compared to 20 years ago, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Cathrin Moeller, a licensed therapist with Thriveworks, says alcohol can be a topic that's brought up often in therapy.

"Alcohol is really kind of normalized, I think, and seems to be the common way that people are connecting with one another," Moeller said. "You know, if you struggle with depression, but yet on the weekends you go out and you're socializing and you're having a great time and you're drinking, and then you're wondering why Sunday or Monday you're feeling down, you just feel blah, and you're wondering why that is. I would, first off, just correlate that right back to the drinking that happened maybe Thursday or Friday night."

Whether it's the desire for a healthier lifestyle, or an effort to lower depression levels, research suggests the "sober curious" movement is growing among young adults.

A JAMA Network study reveals that between 2002 and 2018, the number of adults aged 18-22 in the U.S. who abstained from alcohol increased from 20% to 28% for those in college, and from about 24% to 30% for those not in school.

Acacia Hutton says she chooses to abstain from alcohol.

"I definitely know of people like my age that give it up in spurts, like, you know, I'm trying a new diet, so I'm not going to drink for the next three months," Hutton said.

Hutton says she started drinking less alcohol about five years ago.

"I think I was maybe 22 or 23," Hutton said. "It wasn't kind of like a cold turkey thing where I just stopped. I kind of just started doing it less and less and less until it was just not really a part of my daily life anymore. And I didn't really want to."

For her, the decision was mostly based on medical reasons due to a family history of acid reflux.

"I just know that my health is better for it," Hutton said.

The temptation to drink has faded, but she says it's still very much a social expectation when she's at parties.

"It's pretty astounding how much people feel like they need to get me to drink even though I don't want to," Hutton said.

For those who find themselves "sober curious," Hutton says there's an effective way to prevent potentially awkward conversations.

"Mocktails or putting something in your cup that's not just water at events," Hutton said. "People are way less likely to bother you."

If you're determined to be alcohol abstinent, Moeller suggests you focus on other ways to connect with people.

"You want to have things in place," Moeller said. "In therapy, we call them protective factors. So you want to have hobbies. You want to have things that you enjoy. You want to have something else that can take the place of the alcohol."