Are you “sober curious”? Here’s how to reduce your alcohol intake in social situations

Are you “sober curious”? Here’s how to reduce your alcohol intake in social situations

Worried about the pressure to drink socially now the world is re-opening? Ruby Warrington, the author of the book Sober Curious, has some advice that will help you reduce your alcohol intake in social situations.

Welcome to The Curiosity Academy, Stylist’s new learning hub where you can access workshops, how-to guides, new research and learn the most up-to-date skills from the UK’s most in-the-know people.

Having spent most of the last year in lockdown, our lives have changed pretty dramatically. And, as the world begins to open up again, you might be starting to re-evaluate whether you want to go back to the way you were living before coronavirus. 

Our social lives are likely the most pressing way in which things have changed and, for many of us, an inevitable part of socialising is drinking alcohol. Research undertaken by the University of Sheffield found that alcohol consumption fell overall during the first lockdown in the UK and for many people, this might have meant realising that alcohol isn’t actually something they need or want in their lives. 

Whether you have discovered similar feelings towards drinking or are just not ready to swap those long weekend walks for being hungover every Sunday; whatever your reason, reducing your alcohol intake can be difficult. Not only because alcohol is an addictive substance but because, particularly with British drinking culture, we’re often used to seeing socialising and drinking as one in the same thing. 

This is something Ruby Warrington noticed when she coined the term “sober curious” to help herself re-evaluate how she perceived alcohol and, eventually, reduce the amount of alcohol she drank.

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“I couldn’t really see myself as a problem drinker because when I looked at what we as a society consider to be alcoholic drinking or problem drinking, my drinking didn’t look like that,” she says. “I knew that it was causing many negative side effects: hangovers, anxiety, decreased productivity but I didn’t realise, actually, how much it was impacting my overall sense of self-esteem until I stopped.”

Ruby uses the phrase “sober curious” to advocate for a more intuitive approach to alcohol that ultimately leads to drinking less rather than total abstinence. “The thought of abstinence, the thought of never drinking again, it’s just too big for our brains to wrap themselves around,” she says. Ruby’s advice, via her books, podcast and events, has helped so many people develop a more positive relationship with alcohol. Here, for The Curiosity Academy, she shares her top tips for reducing your overall alcohol intake, as well as developing a more positive relationship with drinking.

Start with a 100-day reset

“I do recommend a period of sustained abstinence in the beginning,” Ruby says. “For anyone who really wants to change their drinking or really wants to get a clear-eyed view of why they drink the way they do, which can be the most powerful tool for making a change in the long term.”

100 days will allow you to adapt to your “new normal” which will stop you normalising drinking to the extent that you might be at the moment and Ruby adds that, “It also takes 90 days for the last traces of alcohol to no longer be detected in a hair sample.”

Ask yourself why you want to drink every time the opportunity arises

After you have completed 100 days of being sober, Ruby recommends an intuitive approach towards drinking alcohol in which you consciously choose when and why you might want to bring alcohol back into your life. Ask yourself, she says, “Is a drink appropriate for me today? Is a drink appropriate in this situation? How is a drink going to make me feel today?”

By doing this, if alcohol is something that is affecting your life negatively, you’ll end up making the decision to have a drink a lot less than you would if you hadn’t asked yourself these questions. 

“It’s also training you to be really in touch with your needs – your physical, mental, emotional needs on a daily basis – which has an amazing ripple effect in terms of the other choices you’re making in your life.”

Go to events that aren’t centred around drinking

I found myself moving in these circles where alcohol was just off the table and yet people were having really great connections

“Particularly at the beginning of this journey and exploration, being surrounded by a lot of other people who are drinking and when the alcohol is free-flowing is making it harder for yourself than it needs to be,” Ruby says. She recommends that you try and find events that aren’t centred around drinking, like going out for brunch, yoga or exercise sessions or other classes like life drawing.

“I found myself moving in these circles where alcohol was just off the table and yet people were having really great connections,” Ruby says of her own experience. “I made some really strong solid friends during that period where our relationship wasn’t based on alcohol from the outset.”

Of course, you can still do the kinds of things you usually do where alcohol is at the centre of the evening, but Ruby says that it is worth working your way up to these kinds of events.

Find a “sober buddy”

When you do start attending events focussed on drinking like dinners and going to the pub, Ruby recommends finding a “sober buddy”. This could be someone who also doesn’t drink much alcohol (or any at all) or you could simply ask a close friend or partner to also choose not to drink at one event with you.

Be honest with them that you’re feeling anxious about being the only person not drinking and they’ll probably be more open to the idea of joining you in being sober for a night than you might think, Ruby says.

Mark your “sober firsts”

“I really advocate for what I call “sober firsts” which is, [for example], your first wedding sober or your first Friday night meal sober, or whatever it is,” Ruby explains, adding that looking at it this way will help boost your confidence by making you realise that you can attend certain events without alcohol that previously you never would have considered going to without drinking.

I think most people really surprise themselves with how confident they actually feel without alcohol

Realise that you’re probably more confident than you think you are

“I think most people really surprise themselves with how confident they actually feel without alcohol,” Ruby says. She explains that most people start drinking when they are a teenager, a stressful time in most people’s lives, during which many people struggle with self-esteem issues.

“Alcohol comes along just to kind of take the edge off and give us what we think is confidence and so it’s almost like our confidence muscle stops developing at that point. We’ve been outsourcing our confidence to this substance.”

When you remove alcohol, Ruby says that it’s very common that you’re far more competent than you thought, possibly even more so as you have more control over how you act and what you say. “You’ve got your own back in a way and I think that’s really, really empowering for people and actually builds confidence in the long term.”

Learn to ignore other people’s opinions about drinking

Ruby advises going out in smaller groups, maybe just with one other person, the first few times you don’t drink at a social event. “Being one to one can be much easier than in a group setting because [one person] is much less likely to give you a hard time about not drinking.”

Ruby explains that a group mentality is often what causes people to pressure you into drinking but someone close to you on their own will rarely adapt that attitude. “Brits in particular really rely on alcohol,” Ruby says, explaining that our “stiff upper lip” mentality often means that drinking alcohol is the only time we can tolerate outbursts of emotions and expression. 

People might be uncomfortable that you’re the only one witnessing these experiences with a sober eye, or that you’re comfortable expressing emotion sober, but it’s important to remember that their opinions about your drinking habits are always more about themselves than they are you.

Have a stock response ready for when you are questioned about your sobriety

Why do we think having a shocking hangover and having the next day be a write off is an acceptable payoff? When did we collectively agree to that?

Inevitably, people will ask you why you’re not drinking because, despite it being a deeply personal question, drinking alcohol is the norm, and people often feel uncomfortable with those who go against that. Ruby says that it’s best to have an answer prepared, rather than feeling flustered when you’re asked these questions and feeling pressured to share personal details that you don’t feel comfortable talking about.

You can tell them you have a deadline tomorrow, or make up a similar excuse. If you’re feeling particularly bold, when someone asks you why you aren’t drinking, one response Ruby enjoys pioneered by Toni Jones who runs the Shelf Help Club is “why are you drinking?”

This will turn the tables on them and it might mean you end up having an interesting and productive conversation about drinking culture. “That’s part of what being sober curious is about. It’s just equally about questioning our drinking – the way we use alcohol as a society – as much as it is about questioning that on an individual basis.”

“Actually starting the conversation with someone: why do we feel the need to disable part of our brain in order to be able to connect with each other? […] Why do we think having a shocking hangover and having the next day be a write off is an acceptable payoff? When did we collectively agree to that?”

Put mindful practices in place to help you maintain your sober curious goals

Ruby recommends putting a regular meditation and/or yoga practice into place to help you become aware of your cravings tendencies and habits, in order to develop a more positive relationship with alcohol. 

“In terms of slowing down your reactions, getting to know your craving, getting to know your triggers, meditation is a tool that’s really good for that – same goes for yoga.”

Ruby’s favourite non-alcoholic drinks:

“Most of the alcohol-free options are pretty good, actually,” Ruby says. “And they can have a good placebo effect […] and everyone else sort of ignores you as well, because you’ve got a beer in your hand.”

“Those things could be good to take along to a party or like a dinner party or something,” she adds.

If you’re missing cocktails: Lyres

If you’re missing beer: Brewdog Nanny State

If you’re missing gin: Seedlip

If you’re missing fizz: Freixenet

Drinkline is the national alcohol helpline. If you’re worried about your own or someone else’s drinking, you can call this free helpline in complete confidence. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am to 8pm, weekends 11am to 4pm).

Charities like Alcohol Change can also offer you support. Contact them at 0808 808 2234.

  • Ruby Warrington, author

    Photo: Ruvan Wijesooriya

    Ruby Warrington is the author of Sober Curious and The Sober Curious Reset and she is also the founder of The Numinous, a wellbeing platform.

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