February 14, 2024

What is ‘sober curious?’

friends having fun at the beach

You may have come across the phrase ‘sober curious’, or ‘semi-sober’ online or in conversations with friends.

With campaigns like febfast gaining popularity in recent years, many people are exploring semi-sobriety by having a break from alcohol, or drinking less.1

But what does being ‘sober curious’ look like?

Here, we unpack the sober curious movement, potential benefits and challenges, and where to get more information, or help and support.

Sober curious’ explained

The term ‘sober curious’ came from a book by Ruby Warrington and has since grown in popularity, particularly among younger people and on social media.2, 3

The movement encourages people to reflect on the role alcohol plays in their life.3

Drinking is often part of social activities and celebrations, and is also used to cope with stress or ‘unwind’.

Being sober-curious means being mindful of these habits and choosing when and if to drink – instead of doing so out of habit, or to meet social expectations.

The sober curious movement aims to:

  • challenge drinking culture and norms.
  • improve individual health and wellbeing.
  • support people to create sustainable, less risky alcohol habits.2, 3

Sober curious differs from sobriety, as it doesn’t necessarily mean stopping drinking entirely.

But, by being more mindful about your alcohol use, you may choose to drink less often, less heavily, or maybe stop altogether. This choice depends on the individual, and abstinence (no alcohol) isn’t the only option available.

The idea is to create healthier drinking behaviours for the long-term, that suit you and your goals.

What does a ‘sober curious’ lifestyle look like?

A sober curious lifestyle can look different for each person, but it might involve:

  • taking a break from alcohol over certain periods, for example during Dry January, or even getting involved in fundraising initiatives like febfast or Ocsober
  • having alcohol-free days during the week
  • choosing not to drink, or to drink less, at social events even when others are, or where it might be expected (a party, birthday or wedding, for example)
  • doing more activities that don’t have an alcohol focus. This can be anything you’re interested in and enjoy – such as exercise, being in nature or a creative hobby.3

Benefits of cutting back on alcohol

Drinking less can lead to better health and wellbeing. Cutting back on alcohol in the short term can improve things like sleep, energy levels, and memory.4

Reducing your drinking can also help to lessen the chance of experiencing anxiety after a night out – also known as ‘hangxiety’.

And we also know that taking a break from alcohol for a set period, like febfast, can reduce someone’s drinking in the longer term - helping to build healthier habits.5

In the long-term, drinking less can reduce the risk of developing:

  • cancers - alcohol is known to increase the risk of seven types of cancer including throat, mouth, liver, breast and bowel cancer6
  • heart disease7
  • stroke8
  • liver disease9
  • pancreatitis10
  • gastrointestinal disease.11

You can find out more about the short- and long-term health impacts of alcohol here:

Barriers and challenges to reducing drinking

For some, being sober curious sounds straightforward and achievable, and preferrable to ‘traditional’ sobriety.

For others, it might sound difficult, overwhelming, or out of reach.

Being open to a sober curious lifestyle can depend on things like your mental health, relationship with alcohol, social supports and access to resources (for example, secure housing and healthcare).3

There are lots of things that can get in the way of someone being able to think about changing their drinking habits.

Barriers can include:

  • Time – working long hours, and/or family, carer and home responsibilities all reduce the time available to reflect on your drinking choices, or dedicate to other activities to manage stress without alcohol.
  • Housing – having a safe, stable, affordable, and comfortable environment where your choices are supported and respected can go a long way when trying to change behaviours or form healthier habits.
  • Social – having positive relationships with friends, family or others that you can rely on for help and support if you need it.
  • Financial – the amount of money you might have to spend on things like mental health or physical health services, physical activities (like a gym membership), paid mobile sobriety/health apps, or other services that can support a sober curious lifestyle.
  • Local services – living regionally or remotely can limit access to certain health services, or non-alcohol focused social activities.3, 12

Drinking culture also impacts opportunities for sober curious living, and can vary depending on your work and social circles. In some industries, alcohol may play a role in networking, or after-work functions.

And for some of us, drinking at social events is common or expected.

It can be helpful to think about your response ahead of time, for if you’re asked why you’re not drinking, or drinking less than usual. See some examples and ideas in our article Tips for avoiding drinking at events.

And for information on how to access help and support, see our list below.

A sober curious lifestyle may not be appropriate for everyone.

If you think you might be experiencing an alcohol dependence (addiction), talk to a professional for guidance on 1800 250 015 or visit our website for more information about safely withdrawing from alcohol.

Find out more:

Online communities and apps:

Help and support

If you’re worried about your own, or someone else’s drinking, there’s help and support available:

  • National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline: 1800 250 015
    A 24/7 telephone service where you can chat about your alcohol and other drug use, and treatment and referral options
  • Path2Help: the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s free, online platform that helps you find alcohol or other drug services near you.
  • Family Drug Support (NSW, QLD, NT, ACT): 1300 368 186
    A 24/7 national telephone service for families and friends who are impacted by a loved one’s alcohol and other drug use.
  • Family Drug Help (VIC, TAS, SA): 1300 660 068
    A 24/7 national telephone service for families and friends who are impacted by a loved one’s alcohol and other drug use.
  • Parent and Family Drug Support Line (WA): Metro 08 9442 5050 Regional 1800 653 203
  • Counselling online: alcohol and other drug support – confidential free and available 24/7.
  • Health direct service finder: to locate a health service, including GP, near you.
  • Ask Izzy: for information on social, financial and health services.
  • What medications can help me stop drinking?
  1. de Ternay J, Leblanc P, Michel P, Benyamina A, Naassila M, Rolland B. One-month alcohol abstinence national campaigns: a scoping review of the harm reduction benefits. Harm reduction journal [Internet]. 2022 [05.02.2024]; 19(1):[24 p.].
  2. Myles C, Vander Weil B, Watson B, Wiley D. “Sober Curious” or “Semi-Sober”? An Exploration of the Moderation Movement in the United States as “Trendy Teetotalism” or “Neo-Temperance”. Cham: Springer; 2023 [05.02.2024].
  3. Lunnay B, Nicholls E, Pennay A, MacLean S, Wilson C, Meyer SB, et al. Sober Curiosity: A Qualitative Study Exploring Women's Preparedness to Reduce Alcohol by Social Class. International journal of environmental research and public health [Internet]. 2022 [05.02.2024]; 19(22).
  4. National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia; 2020 [05.02.2024].
  5. Siconolfi D, Tucker JS, Pedersen ER, Perez LG, Dunbar MS, Davis JP, et al. Sober curiosity and participation in temporary alcohol abstinence challenges in a cohort of U.S. emerging adults. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs [Internet]. 2023 [05.02.2024].
  6. National Cancer Institute. Alcohol and Cancer Risk 2021 [05.02.2024].
  7. Biddinger KJ, Emdin CAMDD, Haas MEP, Wang MP, Hindy GMD, Ellinor PTMDP, et al. Association of Habitual Alcohol Intake With Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. JAMA Network Open [Internet]. 2022 [05.02.2024]; 5(3):[e223849 p.].
  8. Jeong S-M, Lee HR, Han K, Jeon KH, Kim D, Yoo JE, et al. Association of Change in Alcohol Consumption With Risk of Ischemic Stroke. Stroke [Internet]. 2022 [05.02.2024]; 53(8):[2488-96 pp.].
  9. Patel R, Mueller M. Alcoholic Liver Disease. NCBI [Internet]. 2023 [05.02.2024].
  10. Klochkov A, Kudaravalli P, Lim L, Sun Y. Alcoholic Pancreatitis. NCBI [Internet]. 2023 [05.02.2024].
  11. Seitz Helmut K, Scherübl H. Alcohol Use and Gastrointestinal Diseases. Visceral Medicine [Internet]. 2020 [05.02.2024]; 36(3):[157-9 pp.].
  12. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Alcohol and other drug use in regional and remote Australia: consumption, harms and access to treatment 2016–172019 [05.02.2024].

Share this