“Sober curious”? How to embrace mindful consumption instead of struggling with Dry January

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The dry month of January – or Drynuary, for the insiders – offers your body and mind a chance to rejuvenate and reflect after the seasonal bloating and fatigue. Rather than cutting out alcohol altogether, however, a growing number of people are “soberly curious,” exploring the elements of an alcohol-free lifestyle without abstaining altogether.

According to Rosamund Dean, a journalist in London who published a book based on the term, “drinking mindfully,” an expression and philosophy that brings self-reflection to meditation in a glass of wine or beer, has become more and more common in recent years. in 2017. She wanted to become more intentional in her relationship with alcohol, she says, instead of seeing alcohol as a habit or a crutch.

“It was going to the work event where there was bad, cheap white wine and spilling it,” or “putting the kids to bed after a busy day and opening a bottle,” she says. “It’s the drinking that you do without really thinking about it.” Conscious drinking, on the other hand, means “making you aware of your behavior in relation to your decision to drink alcohol”: for example, counting the number of cocktails you consume in a given night, or giving a drink. pay close attention to why, where and when you are drawn to the drink.

Collectively, we’ve inherited this alcohol story that the only way to change your drinking is to hit rock bottom.

This mindset of moderation could be especially appealing to people looking for ways to curb the disturbing habits they developed during the pandemic. Ruby Warrington, a writer in New York City, started using the term “curious sober” five years ago. At the time, she says, her drinking habits seemed to be under control: she never passed out, or even drank for more than two nights in a row. But she drank more than she wanted, she didn’t feel able to say no. Warrington longed for a middle ground approach to alcohol consumption: the ability to question one’s relationship with alcohol without ending it altogether.

In 2018, she published Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol, articulating the philosophy behind what she calls “choosing to question” her urge. to imbibe. Warrington says questioning his drinking habits often leads people to adopt more conscious drinking strategies.

“Together we have inherited this story about alcohol that the only way to change your drinking is to hit rock bottom,” says Dru Jaeger, Co-Founder and Director of Programs at Club Soda, an online community that sprouted almost seven years ago in Great Britain. The group runs alcohol-free online and in-person social events, as well as free and paid programs that teach members how to reduce their drinking habits. About half of the more than 70,000 Club Soda members want to moderate their alcohol consumption rather than become completely sober. The group has seen steady growth, especially in the United States, in recent years, along with increased interest from those in their twenties concerned about the consequences of alcohol use on their mental health.

There is limited scientific evidence on the effectiveness of using mindfulness to moderate drinking behavior. A 2017 study of 68 heavy drinkers in Britain found that those who received 11 minutes of mindfulness instruction significantly reduced their alcohol consumption the following week. This “meditation microdose” may have helped participants regulate their emotions, encouraging them to rely on mindfulness when they might otherwise turn to alcohol to deal with stress, according to Professor Sunjeev Kamboj. of Psychology at University College London and senior author of the study.

Dry January: Conscious drinking can include counting down how much you drink in a given night.  Photograph: iStock / Getty

Dry January: Conscious drinking can include counting down how much you drink in a given night. Photograph: iStock / Getty

The conscious consumption approach also draws on strategies similar to cognitive behavioral therapy, a psychological intervention used to treat depression and anxiety, says Kenneth Stoller, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. By encouraging people to identify the impact of alcohol on their thoughts, feelings and behavior, mindful drinking can be an effective tool for people interested in reducing their alcohol consumption, he says, but not for anyone with a serious alcohol use problem or alcohol use disorder. .

Here, some “sober and curious” experts and veterans offer tips for better thinking about alcohol.

Stop and think

Warrington recommends that those interested in reducing their consumption consume alcohol for an extended period of time, usually between 30 and 100 days. This break is a time for reflection, she said. Ask yourself questions about the role alcohol plays in your life and the times in your daily routine – the weekend dinner with friends, the TV episode before bed – that make you want it the most , and find other ways to fill in the gaps.

Stoller advises thinking about what you like and don’t like while drinking. Is it the taste of alcohol that appeals to you? The bodily sensation of a buzz? Identify how much alcohol you typically consume to induce a certain effect, then examine the aspects of drinking that you enjoy less, such as hangovers or feeling out of control. Articulating these aspects of your alcoholic life can help you formulate realistic guidelines for reducing your drinking, he says.

Make a plan

Drinking reduces our focus on the world, Stoller says, creating what some psychologists call “alcoholic myopia” – we focus only on the present moment. That’s why it’s crucial to establish a conscious drinking plan ahead of time, he says. This can include drinking with a friend who also practices mindful drinking, making sure you eat while you drink, and having the bartender use half the amount of alcohol in a cocktail. These tips will slow down the rate of alcohol entering your system, he says, which can help you be more intentional about the drinks you choose to consume.

Dean sticks to what she calls the rule of three: three drinks or less, no more than three nights a week. Often times, she ends up drinking less than that, she says, and the hard limit prompts her to savor every drink.

To ask questions

Don’t take alcohol for granted. If you are going to drink, make it a conscious and deliberate choice. Ask yourself if alcohol will add value to your experience – what difference will drinking alcohol make to your time at a party or your night at the bar? And if you’re drinking to try and enjoy an event where you’re not having fun, just consider going home.

Gooch encourages those new to mindful drinking to continue to question the motivators behind their drinking, such as who they drink the most with and when they go to bars.

“If you really want to have a glass of wine, have a glass of wine,” says Warrington. But watch out for how it feels to drink it. What does wine taste like? What made you crave alcohol? How do you feel the next day? “Stay curious,” she said. – This article first appeared in The New York Times

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