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Sober Curious vs. Harm Reduction: Which is Best For You?

You may have seen terms like “sober curious” or “mindful drinking” popping up a lot recently. Both may sound appealing, but what do they actually mean? Is “sober curious” just another word for drinking moderately? How is the idea different from phrases like harm reduction or moderation management?

Ultimately, all of these terms are about drinking less alcohol. The main differences are in approach—where you are coming from, and what perspective works best for you. In this post, we’ll explain what these differences are, and help you decide whether the sober curious movement is right for you.

What Does Sober Curious Mean?

Sober Curious vs Harm Reduction
Image by Helena Lopes from Unsplash

If someone is sober curious, it means that they dislike alcohol’s negative effects and don’t drink it regularly. These people don’t categorize themselves as “sober”: Instead of swearing off alcohol completely, they trust and follow how they feel.

As people become more concerned about health and wellness, many are also questioning the role alcohol plays in their lives. While some studies suggest that having a drink or two can provide certain health benefits, other recent research contradicts these findings. A large 2019 study found that even moderate alcohol consumption increases blood pressure and the risk of stroke.

In addition to health concerns, many people are also realizing they don’t like how alcohol makes them feel. From hangovers, to a general feeling of “haziness,” health conscious adults are finding that they are more productive and energetic when they don’t drink. They are increasingly turning to alternative social options that don’t involve booze.

How Did the Sober Curious Movement Start?

Ruby Warrington first coined the term in her 2018 book “Sober Curious.” But before this, movements like Dry January (and later Dry July) had been trending for some time. It seems many people had been craving an excuse to take a break from alcohol, or reassess how they use it.

Warrington wrote the book after realizing that, although she wasn’t addicted, she still depended on drinking in social situations, and to calm her emotions. This resonated with a lot of people, and the term began to spread. “Sober Curious” has sparked a conversation, and encouraged many people to think about why they drink.

Taking note of these growing trends, entrepreneurs are starting to target non-drinkers. In major cities across the country, sober bars are popping up to serve crafted non-alcoholic beverages. This allows sober curious people to experience the same social environment without the risk of a hangover.

What are Harm Reduction and Moderation Management?

Harm reduction is a set of practices that minimize the health risks of a drug without requiring someone to abstain from it. In the context of alcohol, this is often called moderation management. Becoming completely sober can seem like a lofty goal for some, discouraging them from even trying. Cutting back can seem more doable and less threatening. In a society where drinking is a part of the culture, knowing you can still have a beer can seem more reasonable.

Psychologically, making alcohol “forbidden” can make you want it more. Giving yourself a choice can empower you to make better decisions. Compared to abstinence-based programs, moderation management is also more accessible, less costly and less intensive, and often has higher success rates.

In summary, while sober curious people may simply dislike alcohol’s negative effects, people who practice harm reduction are doing so to treat their dependency on alcohol.

Sober Curious vs. Harm Reduction: Which is Right for You?

Sober Curious vs Harm Reduction
Image by Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash

If this post has made you think about your relationship with alcohol, you may be wondering if one of these approaches is right for you.

The sober curious movement may be a good fit if:

  • You want to cut back but don’t want to stop completely
  • You use alcohol to numb emotions
  • You’re concerned about how drinking is affecting your health
  • You drink to feel comfortable in social situations
  • You’re tired of feeling hungover or foggy the morning after

Harm reduction through moderation management may be the right choice if:

  • You have alcohol use disorder, or recognize some type of dependency
  • You’re unable to quit cold-turkey, or are having trouble reducing your consumption
  • Long-term abstinence is unrealistic for you
  • Abstinence-based treatments haven’t worked for you
  • You’re committed to change

You should also consider:

  • The severity of your problems with drinking
  • Whether drinking in any amount could make a physical or mental health problem worse
  • Your preferences (whether you’d prefer to stop completely, or still drink occasionally)

The right strategy for addressing alcohol dependency varies from person to person. If your goal is sobriety, moderation management may be a good way to achieve that over time. In other cases, people may benefit more from an abstinence-based approach.

Getting Started with Moderation Management

If you’d like to switch to a “sober curious” lifestyle, but are having trouble cutting back, there are plenty of support options available. Ria Health is one program that can give you access to coaching and prescription medications to reduce your cravings. Ria makes use of telemedicine, which allows you to do the whole thing through an app on your phone. Schedule a call today to learn how you can change your relationship with alcohol.

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