Sober or Sober Curious: Which Term to Use and Why?

Sober or Sober Curious: Which Term to Use and Why?

With the rapid rise of the sober curious movement within the last five years, we've seen more and more terms appear. Suddenly, we've got new words to label not only products but our drinking, or lack of drinking, behavior. 

As thousands of people worldwide have begun to reevaluate their relationship with alcohol, it's no surprise our vocabulary has also expanded. 

Before jumping into each new term (so the next time your friend or grandparent asks you why you might not be reaching for your usual glass of wine), let's dive into when and how this movement started. 

The Origin of the Sober Curious Movement 

The term "sober curious" first made headlines with the launch of Ruby Warrington's book "Sober Curious" in 2018. Her book became the first mainstream guide to help those questioning their drinking habits and provide ways to navigate their new lifestyle. 

But were people already mindfully limiting their alcohol consumption before 2018? Yes, they were! Ever heard of the phrase "Dry January"? We don't want to assume, but there's a 99% chance that you've heard of Dry January if you're reading this. 

The start of Dry January can be traced back to 1942 in Finland. "Raitis Januar," also known as Sober January, was a way for the government to encourage their citizens to stop drinking alcohol to save national resources. Globally, countries were trying to reduce or eliminate their use of sugar during World War II. The dry month was a success, improving soldiers' health and reducing nationwide spending. 

In the early 2000s, there were mentions, in newspapers and blogs, of people beginning the new year with a month free of alcohol. People no longer wanted to start the year with new resolutions; they wanted a blank slate and a clear mind while doing so too. 

Although it wasn't until 2013, with the launch of a campaign "Dry January" by UK organization Alcohol Change, that this movement had the official name society refers to 10 years later. 

Now that you're more familiar with the background of the sober curious movement (just in case it ever comes up at your next Trivia Night), let's dive into the words most commonly used when describing people's relationship with alcohol.

Sobriety, Sober Curious, Alcohol-Free, Mindful Drinking: do they all mean the same thing?

While the terms "sobriety" and "sober curious" have been popping up more frequently in conversations about alcohol use, can they be used interchangeably? Short answer, no. 

Although both words refer to abstaining from drinking, fundamental differences exist between being sober and sober curious.


Sobriety refers to the state of being sober, which means not being under the influence of alcohol or other substances that can impair one's judgment and behavior. 

Sobriety is typically associated with recovery from addiction or substance abuse and often involves a commitment to abstain from all substances. It means living a life free of alcohol and drug use, almost always indefinitely.

Sober Curious

On the other hand, sober curious is a term that describes a movement or mindset in which people are interested in exploring a sober lifestyle without necessarily having a substance abuse problem. 

The sober curious approach involves questioning one's relationship with alcohol and experimenting with sobriety as a way to improve health, wellness, and personal growth.

Usually, individuals who label themselves as sober curious are intentionally exploring their relationship with alcohol without necessarily committing to full-time sobriety. 

Being sober curious requires taking the time to examine your drinking habits and ask questions about why, when, and how much alcohol you are consuming. 

You can be sober curious and abstain from drinking entirely or simply be choosing to cut back on your usual intake.


"Alcohol-free" is generally used to describe drinks not containing alcohol. However, more people have recently been using the term to label their lifestyle choice not to drink alcohol. 

If we want to get really technical, in the context of beverages, alcohol-free typically means that the drink contains no more than 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). This small amount of alcohol may occur naturally due to fermentation or may be added as a flavoring agent. However, this level of alcohol is considered too low to produce any noticeable intoxicating effects.

Brands or restaurants often market alcohol-free drinks as an alternative to alcoholic beverages for people who avoid alcohol for health, religious, or personal reasons. 

However, people are now labeling themselves "alcohol-free" or participating in "alcohol-free" months. Nowadays, Dry January isn't the only month when people choose to abstain from alcohol. 

Athletes, students, and even working professionals have alcohol-free months as a way to focus on their goals and increase productivity without the harmful effects of hangovers after a night out.

Mindful Drinking 

Mindful drinking refers to drinking alcohol with greater awareness and intention to create a more balanced and healthy relationship with alcohol. 

The practice is based on the principles of mindfulness, which involve paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity, and non-judgment.

So which term should you use?

It's up to you! 

If you haven't examined your relationship with alcohol, we always encourage you to dive into this journey with a willingness to explore the root reason you grab that glass of wine or cocktail. Is it because you're trying to wind down after a long day, or do you want to celebrate and "let loose" when you're out with your friends?   

Perhaps you’ve landed here because you’ve chosen to explore alternatives to alcohol as you examine your relationship with drinking. Or, maybe you would like more resources to support the sober person in your life. Regardless of the reasoning, we are here for you.

One key thing to remember when comparing sobriety with the above-mentioned terms is flexibility and long-term commitment. Generally, those who have chosen to become sober due to substance or alcohol addiction must have a long-term commitment to their decision. 

How you choose to describe your relationship with alcohol and your choice to refrain or limit your intake comes down to you. 

How to navigate these terms

Never underestimate the power of compassion when discussing your relationship or other people's relationship with alcohol. Their reason for abstaining from alcohol, for that night, week, month, or lifetime, is theirs and doesn't need to be scrutinized, especially not in a group setting. 

Just because someone isn't partaking in ordering the cocktail of the day, or wanting that glass of wine, doesn't mean we always need to ask why. 

Sometimes when we are out with our friends, there is too much emphasis on why someone is not drinking instead of enjoying the present moment together.

Luckily, with the rise of the sober curious movement, many brands have created spirits and alcohol alternatives that taste just as good. 

It's time to say goodbye to the days of thinking you need to order a virgin pina colada or a poorly-made OJ mocktail next time you're out celebrating and don't want to be empty-handed or only drink water. 

With dri/kit, you'll have everything you need to light up the night and skip the morning burnout the next day.

Written by: Elena Rogers

← Older Post Newer Post →

dri/kit Blog


Busting the Nightcap Myth

The nightcap is a staple of the drinking culture. It's often used as an excuse to stay out just a bit longer before heading home...

Read more
Alcohol Free Mocktail Recipe

Recipe: The Lover's Buzz

Heighten your senses, stimulate your mind, and bring on a tingle from head to toe with a cocktail that’ll keep you buzzin’ all night long. ...

Read more