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Mindful Drinking vs. Sober Curiosity: Navigating the Spectrum of Conscious Consumption

Kinsey Mahaffey
Kinsey Mahaffey
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In American culture, drinking alcohol is extremely prevalent and is often integrated into regular aspects of life such as celebrations, business deals, relaxing, socializing, or de-stressing. It can be easy to fall into the “everyone else is doing it!” mindset in those situations, mindlessly grabbing a cocktail to not stand out.

The sober curious movement challenges this mindset by encouraging people to begin to question their relationship with alcohol so that they can make conscious drinking choices, whether that means engaging in mindful drinking or abstaining altogether.

This article explores the differences between mindful drinking and being sober curious, the impact of alcohol consumption on health, and how to begin to change your drinking habits.

Table of Contents 

The Rise of the Sober Curious Movement

In 2018, Ruby Warrington published a book titled “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol”, coining the phrase “sober curious” for a movement that had recently begun among those who were questioning their relationship with alcohol.

Sober curious is not the same as sobriety, a term associated with alcohol addiction or dependence. There are many reasons why you might choose to either decrease the amount of alcohol you consume or abstain altogether. Perhaps alcohol is no longer in line with your health, wellness, or career goals, or maybe it’s beginning to have detrimental effects on current relationships or your mental health.

According to Warrington, those pursuing a sober curious lifestyle “choose to question, or get curious about, every impulse, invitation, and expectation to drink, versus mindlessly going along with the dominant drinking culture”.

Sober curiosity is defined as having the option to change one’s drinking habits, for mental or physical health reasons. The movement recognizes that not everyone chooses to completely abstain from alcohol. Instead, many explore a journey of mindful drinking, which involves an intentional approach to making conscious drinking choices.

The Impact of Alcohol on Health and Wellness

One of the reasons many choose to question their relationship with alcohol has to do with its impact on their health and wellness, and, rightfully so. Here are some of the ways that heavy alcohol consumption can impact your health and wellness:

      • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease such as stroke and heart failure
      • Increased risk of liver disease, digestion problems, and immune system weakening
      • Increased mood disturbances and other mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and problems with learning or memory
      • Increased risk of cancer
      • Suppressed ability to burn fat and reduced muscle protein synthesis
      • Increased overall caloric intake (from calories in alcohol and as a result of negative influence on dietary choices)
      • Reduced deep, restorative sleep and increased dehydration, which will both impact athletic performance negatively

The way that each individual responds to drinking alcohol will depend on the amount consumed, time frame, and consistency over time. It is recommended to drink less than seven standard drinks per week, with drinks being spread out evenly throughout the week, to minimize the risk of mortality from all causes.

Understanding Mindful Drinking

Mindful drinking involves approaching alcohol consumption with a heightened awareness and consciousness. Simply put: it’s paying attention to current drinking patterns in order to make intentional decisions about drinking moving forward. Most alcohol consumption happens mindlessly.

For example: getting another round with the rest of the table, guzzling a beverage as you chat with friends, or having a drink at dinner because “that’s just what we do”. Mindful drinking is an invitation to be present and intentional with each sip.

Strategies for Mindful Drinking

In addition to simply paying attention to current drinking patterns, here are a few additional strategies one can employ while practicing mindful drinking:

      • Consciously choose your next sip. Pause and decide whether another drink supports you and the life you want to live.
      • Set limits ahead of time. Instead of relying on good decision making after you’ve already had a drink, set a limit ahead of time and stick to it. If you know you tend to stay out too late on nights when alcohol is involved, consider setting a time that you need to bow out and tell your friends when you first arrive so that they aren’t surprised when you bounce earlier than normal.
      • Surround yourself with friends who are on the same journey. This will make mindful drinking easier to stick to when others are also making intentional drinking choices.
      • Enjoy every sip. Stay present in the moment and savor each sip. Notice the flavors, the smell, the bubbles or stillness of your beverage. Set down your glass between drinks to give yourself time to enjoy every sip.
      • Try a mocktail. No and low alcohol drinks are becoming increasingly popular, as movements like Dry January gain traction. Check your local watering holes for fun, imaginative drinks crafted to stimulate, rather than dull, your senses.

Ready to further explore mindful drinking? Enroll in our Mindful Drinking course today!

Comparing Mindful Drinking and Sober Curiosity

Mindful drinking is often a component of a sober curious lifestyle, but there are nuanced differences between the two concepts:

  Sober Curiosity Mindful Drinking
Definition A conscious exploration of a life without or with reduced alcohol consumption. Being present and intentional with alcohol consumption.
Focus Questioning societal norms around drinking and challenging personal habits. An emphasis on the quality of the drinking experience rather than the quantity.
Goals Increased self-awareness, improved health, and a reassessment of one’s relationship with alcohol without committing to complete abstinence. Moderation in alcohol consumption, savoring the moment, and fostering a healthier relationship with alcohol.


The Role of Community in Conscious Consumption

Having a support system can make or break your success as you begin a sober curious or mindful drinking journey. Changing drinking habits can be challenging to do alone, but discussing your goals and why it matters to you can help you rally the support and encouragement of those closest to you.

You can also search for sober curious groups in your area through social media or other social sites to make friends with people who are on the same journey. While the love and support of friends and family is critical, also surrounding yourself with others who think the same way can help you continue forward in a sober curious lifestyle.

Note: NASM is not associated with AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or any other related support group. If you need help with alcohol addiction, seek the help of a licensed professional or AA group in your area..

How to Get Started with Mindful Drinking or a Sober Curious Lifestyle

Start by paying attention to your current drinking patterns. This process may include asking yourself some of the following questions:

      • When and where do I drink?
      • Who do I drink with?
      • Do I drink more than I want to in certain places, at specific times, or with certain people?
      • How does drinking make me feel? How do I feel the next day?
      • What impact is drinking having on the rest of my life?

Next, make a plan for what a sober curious/mindful drinking lifestyle looks like for you. Does it mean drinking less? Pushing pause on drinking for a specified period of time? Clearly define your personal plan and consider what it will take to put it into action.

Find support. Surround yourself with others who are exploring a sober curious/mindful drinking lifestyle, especially those you will be socializing with as you begin.

Find sober ways to socialize/have fun. Try a new hobby or invite friends to do activities that don’t involve alcohol. Get creative and have fun exploring your city while staying sober.

NASM's Course on Mindful Drinking: Your Next Step

To learn more about this topic yourself or to help clients embark on this journey, check out NASM’s Mindful Drinking course. Course author and NASM Certified Wellness Coach Derek Brown covers a broad range of topics from understanding more about alcohol, its impact on health and its role in culture, to learning how to employ strategies for making behavioral changes related to drinking alcohol.

This course will even cover innovative methods for crafting the perfect mocktail! Earn CEUs as you enhance your knowledge to help yourself and/or your clients gain control over drinking habits.

Final thoughts…

While sober curiosity and mindful drinking are not synonymous, they are very much related. There are many health benefits to reducing overall alcohol consumption that can spill over into other areas of life.

Anyone who is considering decreasing their consumption of alcohol as part of a sober curious lifestyle would benefit from adopting a mindful drinking practice. Simply paying attention to each sip and enjoying the moment can lead to the type of conscious consumption that really lies at the heart of the sober curious movement.

What next


Mosel, S. (2023, August 16). Mental effects of alcohol: Effects of alcohol on the brain. American Addiction Centers.

National Academy of Sports Medicine. (2023). Certified Wellness Coach. Online education program, accessed at

The Author

Kinsey Mahaffey

Kinsey Mahaffey

Kinsey Mahaffey, MPH, is a Houston-based fitness educator, personal trainer and health coach who developed her commitment to lifelong fitness while playing Division I volleyball. She’s passionate about helping others cultivate a healthy lifestyle and enjoys educating other fitness professionals who share this vision. She’s a Master Instructor and Master Trainer for NASM. You can follow her on LinkedIn here.


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