Is 2023 the Year ‘Sober Curious’ Goes Mainstream?

As even the notorious CNN New Year's Eve hosts plan to tone it down, here's a look at why more people are choosing to cut back or cut out alcohol use

December 28, 2022
New Year's Eve fireworks

In recent years, CNN has broadcast a Times Square New Year’s Eve program in which the hosts’ on-air alcohol use seemed to increase with each hour that ticked closer to midnight. Many audiences laughed along with the exaggerated (?) behavior of the anchors and correspondents, which last year included Andy Cohen, Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon. But some winced. After some particularly questionable comments made during the 2022 show, CNN’s CEO was among them.

Variety reported last month that a directive from the top aimed to limit the on-air consumption of the hosts, and Semafor followed up with a clarification that, actually, the CEO “preferred no drinking on air at all.”

That may be more in step with the national mood toward alcohol use in 2023. Since at least 2018, polls have shown that young adults are using less alcohol than older generations did at their age, and that a higher percentage of young people abstain entirely now than they did 10 or 20 years ago.

New research also suggests that even moderate alcohol use may be more harmful than once thought, leading to potential health problems in the brain, in the heart and during pregnancy. Combine that with a blossoming industry of sophisticated nonalcoholic beverages for adults, as well as the input of sober influencers and sober celebrities on social media, and it’s easy to see why the “sober curious” movement is swinging into full force. Insider recently delved more into some of the factors:

Younger people haven’t been drinking as much as older people did at their age — and the trend of moving away from alcohol has been occurring since the aughts.

The Washington Post reported in 2018 that the “Monitoring the Future” survey from the University of Michigan suggested that millennials and Gen Zers were drinking less than baby boomers and Gen Xers did at their age.

Across the pond, where pub culture has historically been pervasive, a 2019 survey of 2,400 British workers found that 56% of millennials considered themselves to be mindful drinkers, compared with 37% of baby boomers.

study published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2020 found that the share of 18-to-22-year-old college students in the U.S. who reported that they abstained from alcohol increased from 20% in 2002 to 28% in 2018.

Another study published in 2018 found that in the U.K., the percentage of 16-to-24-year-old nondrinkers increased to 29% in 2015 from 18% a decade prior.

Recent research suggests imbibing has few health benefits.

Researchers who conducted a global study published in The Lancet in 2018 concluded that no amount of alcohol consumption is safe. They found that alcohol was a leading risk factor for disease worldwide, that it led to 2.8 million deaths in 2016, and that it accounted for 10% of deaths for people ages 15 to 49.

New research has associated a medley of other problems with alcohol use:

The sober curious movement began to form around 2018.

The “sober curious” movement is believed to have started in 2018, when Ruby Warrington published a book called Sober Curious. Other authors, like Holly Whitaker and Catherine Gray, have written bestsellers meant to help readers take a step back from alcohol.

Millie Gooch, the founder of Sober Girl Society, told Insider’s Rachel Hosie that “sober curious” is a purposefully ambiguous phrase, as the movement includes all kinds of gray-area drinkers.

Gooch said that for some people, being sober curious means being more mindful of when and why they’re drinking. Some sober-curious folks cut down on drinking or abstain for extended periods, while others stop drinking completely.

The movement’s prevalence on social media has appealed to young people, especially young women, Insider previously reported. Sober curious influencers post TikToks and Instagram Reels detailing how they’ve stepped away from drinking, and they partner with brands selling alternatives to booze.

Celebrities have been open about their choice to cut back on drinking.

Chrissy Teigen has documented her break from alcohol on social media. The cookbook author, who celebrated one year of sobriety this July, has said the book Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol inspired her to stop drinking.

Bella Hadid, too, has spoken on numerous occasions about taking a break from drinking starting in mid-2021. The supermodel recently said she drinks sometimes but cut out hard liquor.

Hadid and other celebrities have founded or invested in companies that make alternatives to alcohol. Kin Euphorics, a wellness brand that sells drinks infused with so-called functional mushrooms, welcomed Hadid as a cofounder in 2021, and Katy Perry launched a line of nonalcoholic aperitifs earlier this year.

Learn more about what’s driving people to explore sobriety and leave alcohol behind in 2022, in the full story at Insider.

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