If you've noticed an uptick in fancy mocktail menus lately, it's not your imagination. Thanks to the 'sober-curious' movement, abstaining from alcohol has become a full-blown wellness trend.
What does being 'sober-curious' really mean? Well, according to Ruby Warrington, who penned a book by the same name (she also has a Sober Curious podcast series), it's all about taking stock of your relationship with alcohol and drinking culture in general. For some, this means cutting back on booze, and for others, going completely sober.
For those who want to dip their toe in, month-long challenges lke Dry January are a great option. And now, there's even Sober October.
Curious (ha — see what we did there?) to learn more about the rules and the health benefits of nixing alcohol (even if just for a month)? Here’s everything you need to know.
VIDEO: Anne Hathaway Gave Up Drinking for an Extremely Relatable Reason
What is Sober October?
Like Dry January, Sober October involves cutting alcohol for the entire month (yes, all 31 days).
The origins of the movement have been linked to two groups, starting with the Australian non-profit Life Education, which created the fundraiser "Ocsober" in 2010. The actual name "Sober October" is credited to Macmillan Cancer Support, a UK-based charity that funds emotional and financial support for people with cancer.
Their month-long Sober October challenge was designed both to fundraise (you can sign up to go sober and set up a giving page where friends and family can make donations) and to encourage a healthier lifestyle.
Now, Sober October has now officially hit stateside thanks to social media. Stand-up comedian Joe Rogan, the host of the podcast "The Joe Rogan Experience" has popularized the trend by committing to Sober October for the last three years and challenging listeners to join in. This year, Rogan partnered with WHOOP, a fitness tracker that measures your heart rate and activity levels, and links you with a community of like-minded people. WHOOP even set up a page where podcast listeners can check in with Rogan and his co-hosts throughout Sober October.
The best part of all of this? You don't have to actually join anything to make Sober October happen in your life. Just commit to 31 days without alcohol and — bam — you're on track for a healthier lifestyle. You don't have to wait for a challenge or even the first day of a month.
So, how is this different from Dry January?
Yes, they both involve giving up booze for a month, but Sober October is arguably an even better time to try out the booze-free lifestyle. While Dry January coincides with New Year’s resolutions and 'new year new you' messaging, October comes with less pressure to lose weight or overhaul your lifestyle. And that may make it easier to follow-through on your goal. (Plus the charity component, if you choose to formally participate, is a nice bonus.)
And despite the fact that Dry January is much more common, the idea of giving up drinking in the fall seems to be catching on. Search "Sober September" and you'll find last month also played host to an alcohol-free challenge. This points to the growing awareness for the overarching purpose behind these challenges: reevaluating your relationship with alcohol and reaping the health benefits of doing so, no matter the season.
Now, onto those health benefits…
What are the physical health benefits?
Sorry to break it to you, but despite headlines you may have seen touting the benefits of being a wino, a 2018 study showed that there is no level of alcohol consumption that improves your health. In fact, alcohol takes a serious toll on pretty much every major organ in your body, including your brain, heart, liver, pancreas. Drinking also puts you at a higher risk for stroke, high blood pressure, and even increased risk of certain cancers, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Luckily, going sober for just one month can have physical health benefits. A 2015 study found participants who stopped drinking over a five-week period saw a reduced risk of liver damage, improved glucose balance, and improved weight loss efforts, according to Medical Daily. A month without alcohol has also been shown to lower cancer-promoting proteins in your blood.
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Not only will you feel better in the short-term, but the challenge can also help you evaluate your alcohol consumption throughout the rest of the year — and beyond. "Many people don't realize how much alcohol they're drinking," says Nate Favini, M.D., medical lead at Forward, a preventive primary care service. "Sober October is a great opportunity to put that in perspective and see how the alcohol you drink is impacting you."
What are the mental and emotional benefits?
The correlation between mental health conditions and alcohol use can become a bit of a chicken-or-egg situation because they often exist together.
Regardless, experts know there is a connection. In fact, a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that adults — especially women — who gave up alcohol saw a boost in their overall mental well-being.
It makes sense: "Alcohol is a central nervous depressant and, by definition, a mood-altering substance,” says Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D., an Ohio licensed professional clinical counselor and Talkspace therapist.
Sober October can also help improve both your sleep and your emotional coping skills. That's because while drinking may help you doze off faster and sleep deeper initially, it interferes with your sleep cycle and deep REM sleep. When you can't get the restful sleep you need and wake up feeling tired, this can impact your overall mood and functioning, O'Neill explains.
Plus, many people use alcohol (and other substances) in order to ease social anxiety, which can actually hinder your natural ability to self-regulate difficult emotions, like anxiety and sadness, O'Neill explains. By taking a break from alcohol, it encourages you to find other ways to cope.
“[Sober October] is a great invitation to focus on other self-care skills," O'Neill says. For example, instead of having a glass of wine after a stressful workday, try taking a stress-relieving long walk outside instead, she suggests.
What about the skin and weight-loss perks?
Most women will say cutting out booze has come with some skin and weight-loss benefits. (Even if it's not the reason you do Sober October in the first place, it's certainly a bonus!)
You may notice your skin feels the opposite of glowy after a night of drinking, and there's a reason why. "Alcohol also has several negative effects on the skin," says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Not only does alcohol dehydrate the skin, but "it has been shown to lower antioxidant stores in the skin, increasing your risk for free radical damage," he explains.
The good news? Cutting alcohol will help boost your skin's hydration and collagen production, leading to an overall more "radiant and supple" appearance, Dr. Zeichner explains. (Of course, better skin over the long haul would mean cutting back on alcohol even after the one-month challenge!)
Weight-loss is another added perk if you’re looking to shift the number on the scale. In a recent study published in the journal Obesity, researchers found that people who decreased or eliminated calories from alcohol experienced greater weight loss (not surprising considering alcoholic beverages are a top contributor of calories in Americans’ diets). But it's not just a calorie-for-calorie thing when it comes to alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, when alcohol is traded for carbohydrates, people tend to lose more weight, indicating that the body processes calories from alcohol differently.
Who shouldn’t do Sober October?
If you are struggling with alcohol addiction, then Sober October isn’t for you.
"For people with true dependence, stopping alcohol suddenly can precipitate withdrawal, which can be dangerous," Dr. Favini says, adding that shakiness, agitation, restlessness or even confusion when you stop drinking are all signs you should seek medical attention.
Consult with your healthcare provider about the best treatment plan for you, including inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs. You can also call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI or text “HELP” to 741741.
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