The World Health Organization warns that alcohol may put people at increased risk for coronavirus and weaken the body’s immune system.
At the beginning of the global pandemic, uncorking a bottle of wine seemed to be the thing to do. A grip on a champagne stem felt like a grip on life, virtual happy hours were all the rage and there were plenty of memes about drinking making the rounds. But more than a year into quarantine, Dry January has come and gone, yet evidence suggests sobriety is sticking around.
And it’s not just those who struggle with alcoholism who have embraced a sober lifestyle. There’s a growing group of people that are becoming sober or significantly cutting back on drinking to improve their health and well-being.
Just ask Chrissy Teigen, for one.
In fact, sales of nonalcoholic beverages at retail locations like grocery, liquor and convenience stores, continue to rise, according to NielsenIQ. As of late February, dollar sales of nonalcoholic beer were up 39% over last year; plus sales of nonalcoholic wine were up 34%.
Meanwhile, online marketplace Etsy saw a 205% rise in searches for “sober or dry gifts” from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, compared with last year, says trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson. What If Media Group found that more than half respondents surveyed in February reported consuming less alcohol during the pandemic, in each age group (20-80+). Participants also expressed interest in alcoholic beverages that reduced calories, carbs, alcohol content, or were alcohol-free. The age groups who most frequently described themselves as “somewhat/very interested” in these types of beverages were the 20-29 year-olds (46.42%) and the 80+ (45.45%).
Teigen revealed in late December that she had given up booze, crediting Holly Whitaker’s book “Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol” for helping with the transition.
“I was done with making an (expletive) of myself in front of people (I’m still embarrassed), tired of day drinking and feeling like (expletive) by 6, not being able to sleep,” Teigen, 35, explained in an Instagram story.
The book, released in 2019, reappeared on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books List at No. 47 on Jan. 7, and peaked at No. 24 on Jan. 28.
Celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin, who counts Teigen as a client and friend, opened up about her decision to break up with booze in her December memoir.
“I finally cut out alcohol for good in 2018, and looking back now, it’s so obvious that I was drinking to quiet my mind and take the edge off my anxiety,” writes Atkin, 41. “Had I realized that earlier, of course, it could have saved me a lot of hassle – and money on wine. But it became obvious that when I finally conquered one goal (better stress management), I was able to conquer the other (quit drinking). And – bonus! – I also stopped waking up feeling drained and looking as dehydrated as a raisin.”
Complete abstinence is not a solution for everyone, says Nick Allen, founder and CEO at Cutback Coach, an online system designed to help people decrease alcohol consumption by being more mindful about their drinking.
“We’ve created this false dichotomy around the role that alcohol plays in our lives,” Allen says. “We as a society have come to think that either you have a drinking problem and you’re an alcoholic… or, as the narrative goes, you’re totally fine and your alcohol habits are completely healthy and you don’t need any intervention or help at all.”
Allen says, in actuality, things aren’t so simple: “For the vast majority of drinkers, it’s clear that there’s an opportunity to be healthier without needing to live this totally sober life.”
Tyler Barker, 22, remembers leaning on alcohol to help with his anxiety and ease into socializing at parties. At the height of his drinking, he estimates he would down 20-25 beers in a weekend.
“The clarity of my brain when I was drinking a lot was just not there,” he recalls. “Physically, I didn’t look the best, or feel the best.”
When he wasn’t drinking, he “would feel alone and sad and actually realize I’m not really doing this for the best reason.”
Now, Barker consumes approximately one beer every two weeks and shares his journey and reviews of nonalcoholic beverages on his nonalcoholicguy Instagram account and as a host of “The NA Happy Hour” podcast.
“I just don’t really find a purpose in drinking as much anymore,” he says, “’cause I feel very fulfilled every day with everything I do.”
Marisa Silveri, director of Neurodevelopmental Laboratory on Addictions and Mental Health for McLean Hospital, says drinking could be a symptom of another issue.
“If you feel like you need to drink to have fun, then there’s probably something else going on, too,” she says. “Are you depressed? Are you anxious? Are you both? So taking a look at what one is trying to cope with, or manage, or self-medicate is also important.”
Silveri counts any decrease in consumption as a win.
“It doesn’t have to be forever,” she suggests. “If you can have some reduction in drinking and then you try to introduce it again at a later point, your perspective is going to be shifted. And, if you find that you go back to the way it was, then try it again.
“There is no failure here. Any reduction will be helpful. And the more you improve your mental health and your well being, the stronger someone will get in their ability to be able to continue the path.”
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It’s important to note, sobriety is much more than a trend for some people. For those like Abigail Lalumandier, the stakes are much higher.
The 27-year-old is a recovering alcoholic who previously drank to drown out her insecurities feasted upon by school bullies. Her dependency on alcohol eventually resulted in a hospitalization after she ingested a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Lalumandier got sober for good on June 9, 2015.
The Dallas resident, who runs the popular account TheSoberStyle on Instagram, is delighted by an interest in sobriety and the sober curious movement.
“I think it’s awesome,” she says. “The more marketing that is put into alcohol… everyone believes that you have to drink and have to have alcohol to enjoy life. So the more that it is talked about and spread that (with) sober lifestyles you can enjoy life and there’s so many things to do without alcohol, it just makes for a healthier, more pure society as a whole.”
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