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Sober or Sober Curious? The Times Are Changing, Should the Definition of Sobriety Change Too?

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A New Definition of Sobriety

All things change, so they say, but is the meaning of the word “sober” really as flexible as some people today think it is? Maybe. In a time when almost everything falls into the subjective gray area, why can’t the true meaning behind the word sober also be up for discussion? Does sober mean you never drink? Or, perhaps, is the definition of “sober” more along the lines of someone who doesn’t have a drinking problem, but enjoys the odd drink? Certainly that person isn’t always sober but most of the time they are, so does that count? In any case, many people are dubbing themselves “sober curious” nowadays, along with other new terms, and it begs the question:

Are we sending a mixed message, or can we individualize our interpretation of what sobriety is?

As a drug and alcohol rehab, Searidge Foundation’s mission is to set addicts on a committed path of sobriety, therefore we place a lot of weight on an individual’s relationship with sobriety, but also society’s perceptions of sobriety. But before anyone jumps to the conclusion that the idea behind being “sober curious” or “part time sober” (as some refer to it), is harmful to the discussion surrounding alcohol addiction and alcoholism, hold off on making up your mind. Just for a second, anyway, because though these changing definitions and terminology may seem silly to some, the people behind it are actually doing a lot of good. They are running parties, events, girls nights, and plenty of other fun activities normally associated with drinking copious amounts of alcohol, and branding them as sober nights where no alcohol is advertised, sold, or consumed. It’s an interesting idea, and a growing trend in the city that doesn’t sleep:

“After moving to New York in 2012, Ms. Warrington tried 12-step programs briefly but decided that “Ruby, alcoholic” was not the person she saw in the mirror. Three years ago she started Club Soda NYC, an event series for other “sober curious,” as she termed them: young professionals who were “kind-of-just-a-little-bit-addicted-to-booze […] These gatherings featured panels on topics like “Sex, Lies, and Alcohol,” as well as New Age icebreaker activities like “deep-eye gazing” and Kundalini disco.”

Hot-spots in many cities are beginning to host alcohol-free evenings as a way for people to mingle and get to know each other without the need of any “social lubricant,” alcoholic beverages being the go-to tool for many as a way of loosening up around new people:

All of this is certainly interesting, but the definition of sober curious, for instance, remains a bit of a mystery due to how subjective it is. You might ask one person and get their answer, ask ten more and get a wildly varying set of definitions that do not closely resemble what we had in our mind going in. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, but many are concerned that changing terminology and adding a layer of “personal take” may in fact be harmful:

“To be fair, this isn’t exactly a brand new concept. In late 2018, author Ruby Warrington came out with a book called Sober Curious. The thesis is to dispel myths about sobriety, as well as serve as a handbook for someone who wants to change their relationship with alcohol. More products have come out in the past year that allow people to wade in the waters of sobriety for the first time — or, at the very least, think about their drinking habits. Booze-free mocktail bars, such as Listen and Getaway, thrive in hip Brooklyn neighbourhoods. Sober Instagram influencers amass thousands of followers. There are even dating apps specifically for sober young people to meet.”

“”Sobriety was not built on a consumerist ideal,” Whitaker says. In many ways, sobriety is a rebellious act, because it rejects the mainstream cultural norm that suggests you have to drink alcohol in order to fit in, she adds. For lots of sober individuals or those in recovery, the choice to stop drinking comes at a cost. They may have done so at the risk of losing their jobs, harming their reputations, or affecting their places in society, she says. “Co-opting the pretty parts of sobriety completely strips it of all meaning,” she says. On Instagram, Beth Holden, the 21-year-old who runs the blog Sober Bitch, echoed this sentiment. “Sobriety is not a trend, but a way of breaking the trend,” she wrote in an Instagram caption responding to the New York Times piece.”

To no one’s surprise, coining new terminology that changes the way we’ve seen sobriety for years comes with much resistance. Many people have struggled for years to attain a very rigid definition of sobriety, and are much better off for it. Perhaps changing what sobriety means is cheapening our sense of accomplishment and the achievements of those who broke one of the hardest destructive cycles to break, alcoholism.

Squabbling over words, however, has gotten many folks into a lot of hot water in the past few years. We argue over the meaning of this, the definition of that, and we forget about what really matters in the end. There has yet to have been found a catch-all cure to alcoholism. What does that mean for a new or altered definition of sobriety? If calling oneself sober curious, while attending sober parties helps them with their alcoholism, why not do it? There is no magic pill to cure alcoholism, and it’s often a combination of many strategies that allows someone to end their chaotic relationship with the substance, therefore any new strategies are welcome so long as they do not cause harm or further complications with someone’s addiction.

If you want to explore all your options for ditching alcohol and it’s stranglehold on your life, call Searidge today and take advantage of our free evaluation. We’ll get to know you, you can get to know us, and we’ll have a friendly chat about what’s going on in your life and what direction you want to take it in. We also speak to family members and offer support, information, and can point you to the best resources available to help your loved one get on the right track.


Alex Williams, “The New Sobriety,” The New York Times, June 15, 2019.

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