Why even casual drinkers are embracing the pleasures of sobriety

Why even casual drinkers are embracing the pleasures of sobriety
Image: Kezia Gabriella for Quartz
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In the summer of 2019, Angela Martin decided it was time to stop drinking. “I woke up one morning after having a couple margaritas,” says Martin, a 41-year-old health and wellness coach who lives in Bend, Oregon. “I felt horrible and was like, ‘Why do I continue to do this?’ No matter how bad the hangover was, I never seemed to learn.”

Martin had taken a break from alcohol before. But that 90-day stretch came to an end when a friend who worked in public relations offered her a spot on a free wine-tasting trip in California’s Napa Valley. “I got trashed, I lost my keys, I had a huge fight with my husband—and he and I never argue,” she recalls. She says she knew the only way to really change her relationship with alcohol was to make a big commitment: one year of not drinking. She announced her plan on social media. “I thought, ‘Shit, now I’ve really got to do this.’”

Martin didn’t have many sober friends, and Alcoholics Anonymous wasn’t the right fit for her; she doesn’t identify as an alcoholic, and she wasn’t comfortable with what she saw as the more religious aspects of the program. But she’s found a sense of community via podcasts—she’s a fan of life coach Rachel Hart’s Take a Break—and books like Laura McKowen’s We are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life. On Instagram, Martin follows the Sober Mom Tribe, an account with more than 39,000 followers. “They celebrate their milestones on social media, so I feel like there’s a lot of other women out there doing this,” she says. She stays abreast of the exploding market for nonalcoholic beverages, favoring Spirity Cocktails’ ready-to-drink options like Mindful Mule and Mindful Margarita.

In all these ways, Martin has tapped into the new sobriety movement—one that frames sobriety not as a last resort reserved only for people struggling with addiction, but as a positive lifestyle choice that anyone might make.

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Table of contents

The sober lifestyle | The new guides to quitting alcohol | The mocktail metamorphosis | Sobriety as a revolutionary act

The sober lifestyle

Over the past five years or so, a flood of books, podcasts, alcohol-free bars, ready-to-drink mocktails, and even alcohol-free dating apps have emerged to support the idea that sober living can be fun.

Chris Marshall, 37, is the founder of Sans Bar, the renowned alcohol-free bar in Austin, Texas. He got sober when he was 23, and worked as a substance abuse counselor for eight years. During that time, he noticed a pattern: “The determining factor for most people returning to alcohol use was that social piece,” he says. People’s mindset was, “If I stop drinking, I cannot connect to the friends and the social experiences that I so enjoy in life.”

In 2017, he opened Sans Bar with the goal of providing a space where people could find a sense of community without alcohol in the mix. While the pandemic has forced Marshall to temporarily shutter the bar’s physical space, he’s kept up the connection with customers through a series of virtual events featuring live music and comedy, called Sans Bar Where You Are. In March, he is rolling out a bartending school that will teach aspiring entrepreneurs how to mix mocktails and open their own alcohol-free spaces.

Sans Bar founder Chris Marshall behind bar
Chris Marshall, founder of Sans Bar
Image: C/O Chris Marshall

Sales of low- and no-alcohol beverages—which tend to be driven by people who drink alcohol sometimes, too—grew by more than 30% in both the US and in the UK in 2020, according to reports from market research firms IWSR and Nielsen Scantrack. Marshall predicts that demand for sober spaces and products will only continue to increase in the post-Covid world.

“This pandemic has made us much more aware of the ways that we expose ourselves to risk,” he says. “I think that that whole experience is going to help us to examine where there’s risk elsewhere in our life. And we now know that alcohol is a known carcinogen. We’ve known this. But now I think the public is becoming more aware. And I feel like it’s going to go the way of cigarettes and big tobacco, where people are going to realize that there’s really no need to have alcohol present.”

By the digits

16 million: Americans who meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder

200: Diseases and injuries in which alcohol is a causal factor

72: Alcohol’s harmfulness score, out of 100, making it the number-one most harmful drug to individuals and society, according to a landmark 2010 study

27: Cocaine’s harmfulness score, out of 100, according to the same study

6.4 liters: The global average amount of alcohol consumed per person in 2016

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In countries like the US or UK, sobriety has historically been the kind of thing people tend to keep quiet. After all, admitting to not drinking was tantamount to admitting you had a problem, and admitting you had a problem was shameful because everyone was supposed to always be happy and productive and in control, addictive substances’ quite predictable impact on our brains be damned.

Now more people are opening up about their decision to stop drinking for any number of reasons, from clear-cut addiction to the desire to feel healthier or as part of an overall spiritual tune-up. Model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen announced on social media at the end of last year that she’d decided to quit drinking after reading Holly Whitaker’s 2019 feminist-manifesto-slash-memoir Quit Like a Woman. “I was done making an ass of myself in front of people (I’m still embarrassed), tired of day drinking and feeling like shit by 6, not being able to sleep,” she wrote on Instagram. Actor Anne Hathaway has publicly vowed not to drink until her young son turns 18, declaring that hangovers interfered with her ability to parent.

By the digits

30%: Percentage of Americans who don’t drink

20%: Percentage of adults in Great Britain who don’t drink

23%: Percentage of Australians who don’t drink

57%: Percentage of the global population that hasn’t had a drink in 12 months

It’s becoming more commonplace for people to openly question their ongoing relationship with alcohol, too, whether that means taking a month or two off drinking or otherwise finding ways to cut back. More than 6.5 million people in the UK—equivalent to one in five drinkers—said they participated in Dry January at the beginning of this year, up from 3.9 million the year before. A 2019 Morning Consult poll found that 40% of American adults said they were drinking less than they had five years ago, a pattern that applied across age brackets; the biggest reasons included wanting a healthier lifestyle, wanting to save money, and trying to lose weight.

On a recent episode of the popular self-care podcast Forever35, co-host Kate Spencer mused aloud about whether she should stop drinking entirely. “I think my time with alcohol is nearing the end,” she declared, adding, “I do think there’s a larger conversation about alcohol and self-care and how it’s been perpetuated as a part of self-care, when I don’t think it is.”

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One doesn’t need to give up alcohol full-stop in order to be part of the modern movement. Those who aren’t addicted but nonetheless are intrigued by the teetotaling life may instead identify as “sober curious,” a term coined by Ruby Warrington, author of the 2018 aptly titled book Sober Curious.

“We make this binary choice between sober and not, and nothing is that black and white,” says Sans Bar’s Marshall. “I say that there’s sober curious and sober serious, and wherever people fall along that line is okay. And even ‘sometimes sober’ is a real point on that spectrum.”

The new sobriety, inclusive though it may be of the sober curious, is not without complications. Many of the most prominent leaders of the movement are white middle- to upper-class women who are spearheading a necessary conversation about the relationship between women and alcohol, but one that’s at times lacking in intersectionality. Buoyed by Instagram influencers boasting of glowing skin and brandishing t-shirts with mottos like “Sober is sexy,” the new sobriety can sometimes come across as yet another status symbol.

There are certainly upsides to framing sobriety as a luxury—people are more likely to consider alcohol-free living if it’s seen as desirable rather than as a joyless grind. But there are risks in making sobriety seem like the realm of the privileged elite.

“I remember going on Instagram and seeing yoga and coffee and the aesthetic of skinny, white, and blonde,” says Khadi Olagoke, an attorney who went on to found the online support group Sober Black Girls Club. “At the time, sobriety wasn’t a fun thing for me, it was something that I was really trying to grasp because my life had become unmanageable.”

These days, Olagoke thinks there’s a place for aspirational sobriety. “We need to show the positives of living a sober, alcohol-free life, even if you don’t have an addiction or such,” she says. “But at the same time, it’s important to show the other side, of addiction.”

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A 2018 report from Berenberg Research found that Americans in their teens and early 20s were drinking 20% less per capita compared to millennials when they were that age. The broader wellness trend is certainly one reason why. Mark Willenbring, an addiction psychiatrist who runs the treatment center Alltyr in St. Paul, Minnesota, and who previously served as director of treatment research at the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, suspects it partly has to do with the legalization of marijuana; people are using weed more and alcohol less, perhaps even becoming what’s known as “Cali sober.”

The growing openness with which people talk about mental-health struggles, which are often intertwined with substance abuse, also may be playing a big role. “It’s being driven by the blogosphere and social media, where people are sharing a lot more of their personal experiences,” Sober Curious author Warrington says. And the more people mention their choice not to drink, the more sobriety starts to seem like a possibility for others.

Edith Zimmerman, a writer and artist who frequently discusses sobriety in her essays and comics, notes that while the internet and social media have no doubt been a boon for people looking for information and community while trying to quit drinking, there are potential downsides, too. “I know my own muscle of courage atrophies when I can do everything on my own, in the privacy of my own home,” she says. “It’s easier to forget that I might go out and be among other people who are in the same boat.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has also propelled some people toward drinking more in order to cope with isolation and stress. One in four Canadians between the ages of 35 and 54 say they’ve started drinking more during the pandemic; 14% of American adults say they’ve also been drinking more, particularly women. There are plenty of people who still need help—and who, for whatever reason, may be looking for alternatives or complements to the 12-step programs that have long dominated alcohol recovery.

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The new guides to quitting alcohol

Among the most influential people in the new sobriety movement is Annie Grace, author of the books This Naked Mind and The Alcohol Experiment. She runs two digital recovery programs and hosts a twice-weekly podcast that has more than 8.5 million downloads to date.

Grace, who got sober in her 30s and previously worked in marketing, has a soothing voice and down-to-earth smile. Her school of thought holds that it’s possible to rid oneself of the desire to drink—thereby making sobriety not a struggle, but an easy choice, once you decide to make it. When you change your perspective on alcohol, she writes in This Naked Mind, “you begin to see the truth about drinking. When this happens, no willpower is required, and it becomes a joy not to drink.”

The book explains that alcohol doesn’t actually do the things we think it does (relax us, make us happy, make us have more fun). The craving we have for a drink at the end of the day, she writes, is a signal we misinterpret—it’s not the drink itself we want, but an end to the feeling of wanting.

Annie Grace, author This Naked Mind
Annie Grace, author of “This Naked Mind”
Image: C/O Annie Grace

Another crucial Grace tenet is that the term “alcoholic” isn’t always useful. “The idea of identifying as an alcoholic once you hit some level of rock bottom, I think is very narrowly helpful to people who are finally ready to say, ‘OK, yes, I need that identity’” because that clearly means they need to quit, says Grace. “But the backlash of that is that we create this false dogma in our society that there are alcoholics and normal drinkers”—an idea, she says, “that’s really harmful to the rest of us” who may also have unhealthy relationships with alcohol or other reasons for wanting to give it up.

Grace wants to do away with this divide, instead pushing society toward acknowledging that people don’t have to wait for their problem to worsen before quitting drinking.

More than 200,000 people have participated in The Alcohol Experiment, a regimen in which Grace guides users through a 30-day break from alcohol. Participants can sign up for the free program, which includes daily emails and videos, or pay $47 for a version that includes live online coaching. For people who are looking to make a permanent break with alcohol, she offers a year-long program called The Path. Each day, participants get live coaching, as well as access to videos, written content, and journal prompts. It costs $999 for a year, or $197 a month.

Grace’s ideas can be controversial. When she was writing This Naked Mind, her resistance to the term “alcoholic,” and the idea that people might choose her method over Alcoholics Anonymous, became a point of contention with a handful of critics who petitioned to keep her from publishing the book, she says. She understands why some people resisted her message. “If you’ve gone through what must be a gut-wrenching process to finally come to terms with the identity of an alcoholic, and then pinned your very life on this identity…And somebody says, ‘Hey, there’s no such thing,’ there’s fear that could arise.”

It’s understandable that people who feel their lives were saved by AA might worry about alternative communities and support systems. That said, different approaches to sobriety are inevitably going to resonate with different kinds of people.

Another influential online recovery support program that aims to help people quit drinking is Tempest. It was founded in 2015 by the aforementioned Whitaker and has membership tiers available at $149, $450, and $850 per year, and a free newsletter with more than 100,000 subscribers.

Whitaker’s book Quit Like a Woman, published at the tail end of 2019, offers a fiercely political critique of alcohol’s role in contemporary society. It draws a clear line between the rise of mom wine culture (from the celebratory wine signs skewered on Saturday Night Live to a coloring book called Mommy Drinks Because You Cry) and the lack of support provided to women parenting young children, and between the stressors that affect women generally and the cultural messaging that wine is appropriate for every occasion. Why is it, Whitaker asks, that we don’t blink at the peddling of “wineglass holders for my bathtub, wine yoga for my nerves, pro-wine onesies for my baby, wine wipes for my wine-stained teeth, wineglass holder necklaces for my aching arms, wine sports bras for my runs”? (These are all real products, in fact.)

AJ Daulerio, founder of the sobriety newsletter The Small Bow, cites Quit Like a Woman as helping to launch the recent surge of interest in sobriety. I think that there are going to be a lot more people like her, who had those kinds of stories that aren’t just like the traditional, you know, I [hit] rock-bottom, go to rehab,” says Daulerio. “And I think that’s a good thing because, as much as 12-step programs helped me, I know it’s not for everybody. And it shouldn’t alienate people. It shouldn’t prevent you from getting sober or getting better, [which] is really what it’s about.”

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Tempest’s target demographic is people who are not dealing with severe addiction, but rather people with mild to moderate alcohol use disorder. The program’s core components include cognitive behavioral therapy, peer support, and one-on-one coaching from people who are themselves in recovery and have graduated from Tempest’s in-house training program.

Ruth Sun, a veteran in the health technology field who most recently served as chief operating officer of remote physical therapy company Force Therapeutics, was brought on as Tempest’s CEO in February to shepherd the company to a new phase of growth. One part of her plan is to offer the program to employers as an employee benefit. (“It helps with employee satisfaction, it helps with employee retention, it helps with productivity,” Sun says.) Whitaker, meanwhile, stepped down as CEO and is now chief creative officer.

I asked Sun about a criticism that I’ve heard about programs like Tempest’s: Given that 12-step programs like AA are free, why should people pay for help? Sun says that AA is quite effective. “There’s a reason why it’s been around for almost 100 years,” she says. But she’s heard from members that they appreciate the personalized aspects of Tempest’s approach. We do not view ourselves as the only right option,” she notes.

There are also a number of new, smaller groups that are free (or nearly free) besides AA.

Shari Hampton struggled with alcohol addiction for years before getting sober in 2014, with help from holistic treatment at the hands of a psychiatrist who happened to be a family friend. (Her regimen included a raw diet, yoga, and chiropractor.) In 2015, she started Served Up Sober.

“The mission was to bring holistic services to marginalized communities,” Hampton says. Had it not been for her personal connection with the psychiatrist she saw, she says, “I would have never been able to afford the types of services that he was offering me.”

Shari Hampton
Shari Hampton, founder of Served Up Sober

In the pre-Covid era, Served Up Sober, based in San Diego, California, offered donation-based meditation classes, acupuncture, yoga, sound healing, and restorative eating classes. Many of the classes have migrated online during the pandemic, though some, like sound healing, don’t translate. Two treatment centers in Los Angeles also offer the Served Up Sober program.

Olagoke founded the Sober Black Girls Club in 2018. It offers online support groups for Black women and nonbinary people, as well as groups for people who identify as BIPOC and queer. The club also offers a mentorship program that matches newcomers with women who have at least a year of sobriety under their belt, a Saturday newsletter called Sober Night Live, and medical funds for people who need to go to rehab.

Olagoke says she developed a drinking problem while studying for the bar exam, shortly after graduating law school. “I was in a really deep depression,” she says, “and I started to drink more and more and more.”

After meeting with a therapist and doctors, she realized that she was dealing with addiction. Her doctors recommended that she check out AA, but when she went to meetings, she found herself surrounded by older white people. “I remember being the only Black person in there,” she says.

The experience inspired her to start the Sober Black Girls Club. A key part of recovery for the women in her group, Olagoke says, is building up self-esteem. Many Black women, she notes, “have a problem with detailing and talking about their mental health, or any type of illness they have, because no one wants to be looked at as crazy, especially when you’re a doctor or lawyer or professional.”

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The mocktail metamorphosis

On a recent weekday afternoon, I walked a block to Boisson, the new alcohol-free spirits store that opened in my Brooklyn neighborhood in February. The store is small and bright with white brick walls, its shelves lined with alluringly colorful bottles and cans—on one side ready-to-drink items like the CBD-infused Recess and Athletic Brewing beers; on the other, bottles of beverages like Kin Euphorics’ High Rhode aperitif; Lyre’s Dark Cane Spirit and American Malt (meant to mimic rum and bourbon); Proteau (a botanical drink reminiscent of wine’s top-notes without the wine itself, featuring ingredients like blackberry and dandelion); and Seedlip, the nonalcoholic drink that helped kickstart the alcohol-free beverage trend and is served in more than 100 Michelin-starred restaurants.

Just as wine can be a marker of status, sophistication, and identity, so too might a glass of Seedlip or one of its brethren, whether sipped while consuming a farm-to-table meal at a restaurant or served from a home cocktail bar. The new breed of beverages serves the purpose Kristi Coulter jokes about in her sobriety memoir Nothing Good Can Come From This, describing her frustrations upon finding herself a sober foodie. “If I drank water, how would people know I had taste? How would they know I was cool?”

As it turns out, plenty of people are thirsty for a good mocktail. Nearly half (46%) of the US drinking-age population has tried a non-alcoholic beer or cocktail, across all age groups, according to a 2019 Morning Consult poll. The Guardian reports that in the UK, sales of no- and low-alcohol drinks have doubled in the past four years. Research firm IWSR predicts that consumption of low-and-no alcoholic beverages will grow 31% by 2024, with 10 countries making up three-quarters of the global market: Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, South Africa, Spain, the UK, and the US.

Ben Branson, founder of Seedlip
Ben Branson, founder of Seedlip

Seedlip, founded by Ben Branson in 2015, has been pivotal in revealing the previously untapped market of non-drinkers. Branson, who grew up in the English countryside, is a former designer who grew interested in beverage-crafting after happening on a book about distillation. “The process of taking plants and creating a liquid that smells and tastes like that plant was just kind of addictive,” he says.

Seedlip comes in three varieties: citrusy Grove, cardamom-dashed Spice, and the herbal Garden. Branson’s initial idea was to create and sell 1,000 bottles of Seedlip, which he thought would sell out in five months. Instead, the company sold out within three weeks—a harbinger of the enormous thirst for alcohol-free beverages that his business would help quench.

A big part of Seedlip’s success, Branson says, lay in convincing big names in the food world, from Dan Barber to Heston Blumenthal, to offer it in their restaurants, and making deals with retailers like Selfridges and Williams Sonoma. Today, it’s available in 37 countries, with robust markets in countries like New Zealand and Belgium, in culinary cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore, as well as the key markets of Australia, the UK, and the US. A majority stake in the company was sold to Distill Ventures, the venturing arm of spirits giant Diageo (parent of brands including Smirnoff, Tanqueray, and Guinness), in 2019.

“We found an audience of people that are interested in food and drink and where things come from, and are interested in moderation,” Branson says, “and in making considered choices about the products they buy and what they put into their bodies.” He notes that one way Seedlip identifies its target markets is to look at whether they have a lot of yoga studios or Lululemon stores—signifiers of the local appetite for wellness.

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Equally associated with health and wellness is the aptly named Athletic Brewing Company, co-founded by Bill Shufelt in 2018 and based in Stratford, Connecticut. What’s remarkable about Athletic’s craft beers is that they actually taste good—the brand won Brewer of the Year in 2020’s International Beer Challenge, beating out its alcoholic competitors.

An appetizing non-alcoholic beer may not sound so unusual to Europeans, where the non-alcoholic beer market is about 30 times the size of that of the US, Shufelt says. But it’s a radical shift for Americans accustomed to weak, metallic flavors. “No one was putting R&D into” non-alcoholic beer until recently, he says.

Athletic Brewing’s offerings include Run Wild IPA and Upside Dawn Golden Ale, along with seasonal and limited-edition flavors, as well as a line of fruity, hoppy, alcohol-free seltzers. The brand is currently available in the US and Canada, and plans are in the works for it to expand to Australia, the UK, and Europe. The private company is backed by angel investors including cyclist Lance Armstrong, celebrity chef David Chang, and football star JJ Watt.

One thing that makes Athletic Brewing distinct in the non-alcoholic market is its accessible price point—a six-pack costs $12.99, whereas many other non-alcoholic spirits cost upwards of $30. The goal was to make a beer that could be served at high-end restaurants, Shufelt explains, while staying approachable.

Like Seedlip, Athletic Brewing has found that demand for its products far outpaces supply. “We grew out of our Connecticut brewery in about 10 months, which we thought we’d have for about five years’ runway,” Shufelt says. “Then at our San Diego brewery that we bought last year, we’re already bumping up against capacity there, too.”

Shufelt sees Athletic Brewing’s beers as fitting in a lifestyle in which people might not drink at all, or only once a week. He frequently mentions words like “performance” when describing why one might opt for his beer, whether referring to his customers’ professional concerns or their desire to hop out of bed at 5am to work out. Shufelt himself has been a non-drinker for about eight years, having first given alcohol up while training for an ultramarathon. “I slept through the night, I felt great, I was eating healthier,” he recalls. “I felt so good I decided not to go back.”

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Another recent entry in the non-alcoholic beverage market is Ghia, founded by Mélanie Masarin, the former head of retail and offline stores at cool-girl makeup and skincare brand Glossier. Masarin, who grew up in the south of France between Léon and Cannes, wanted to make a drink in the tradition of the aperitifs that are a hallmark of the transition from day to evening in the Mediterranean.

Ghia, which launched in June 2020, is bitter, dry, and citrus-forward. “To me it tastes like summer,” says Masarin, who is a non-drinker herself. “I would prefer to create a drink that’s a bit more of an acquired taste, but that people don’t get sick of it, because they understand it’s healthy.” Unlike some non-alcoholic options that still contain a low amount of alcohol (Athletic beers, for example, are labeled as containing 0.5%), Ghia is 0.0%, so it can cater to what Masarin calls the “sober with a capital S” community.

Melanie Masarin photo
Melanie Masarin, founder of Ghia
Image: Ben Biondo

Because Ghia launched in the midst of the pandemic, the bulk of its business is direct-to-consumer; it’s also available at 112 retail locations in the US. Masarin says her team has already learned some surprising things about the market for nonalcoholic beverages. “We envisioned that it was going to be a demographic that was a little bit similar to the one that I was used to marketing to when I worked at Glossier—female, big cities. And it turned out that actually we really have a very cross-generational consumer,” she notes, and that buyers are “primarily outside of New York and Los Angeles.”

I asked Masarin if she sees any commonalities between the appeal of Glossier—famous for its minimal-makeup looks—and the new sober and sober-curious movements. She thinks it over. At Glossier, she says, “we often said the best version of you is you—you don’t need to cover yourself,” she says. Ghia’s message is similar: “You don’t need to be drunk to be the best version of yourself.”

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Big alcohol brands are getting in on the sober action, too. Heineken’s 0.0 debuted in the US in Jan. 2019, and is expected to break 2 million cases sold in 2021. It’s also available in 84 countries, posting double-digit growth in all regions. Samuel Adams just introduced a nonalcoholic IPA; ABInBev, which owns brands like Budweiser and Corona, has pledged that no- and low-alcohol beers will make up at least 20% of its global beer volume by the end of 2025.

Grace sees this as a hopeful sign. “From a business perspective, there must be a reason based on research to create all these non-alcoholic alternatives, which to me says something about where society is going.”

Author Coulter, meanwhile, says the rising popularity and availability of non-alcoholic beverages is a “chicken and egg thing.” “It’s serving sober people,” she says. “But I also think the growing availability might be leading people to stop drinking or to drink way less.”

Indeed, one of the tricky things to parse about the new sobriety movement is that non-drinkers are being recognized as a powerful consumer demographic, even as a good portion envision themselves as making an anti-consumerist choice.

For some, the choice not to drink is comparable to choosing veganism or refusing fast fashion—a rejection of “material consumption that is perceived to be unethical, unsustainable or excessive,” as Emily Nicholls, a University of Portsmouth senior lecturer in sociology, writes in a recent paper by published in the journal Sociology. And yet benefits like resilience and improved productivity can also make sobriety sound very much like a capitalistic goal.

Sans Bar’s Marshall bristles at Americans’ “work hard, play hard” mentality, in which alcohol becomes a way to cope with the enormous pressure people feel to constantly perform. “How many people have we lost earlier in life due to stress and working 80-hour weeks, and then going home and tying one on to cope with this work-life imbalance?” he says.

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Sobriety as a revolutionary act

It’s no coincidence, Marshall says, that getting sober often coincides with career changes, as people finally have the chance to contemplate their lives with clear minds. “I think that sobriety and not drinking is a revolutionary act,” he says.

But perhaps it won’t be so radical or unusual for long.

Last year, a group of health organizations including the American Society for Clinical Oncology and the American Institute for Cancer Research petitioned the US government to add a cancer warning label to alcoholic beverages. The New York Times reports that the European Union now plans to “slap new health warnings on alcohol and explore new taxes and restrictions on the marketing of alcoholic beverages as part of a $4.8 billion plan to reduce cancer rates.” Such measures can have an impact: One recent study in Canada, cut short when alcohol industry groups objected to the labels, found that when a Yukon liquor store added warning labels, sales dropped 6.6%.

With or without help from regulations, today’s sobriety advocates already are reshaping cultural expectations around what it means to attend a party sober or decline a glass of wine at dinner. “My hope would be that my kids will live in a world where if they said, ‘No, I’m not drinking tonight,’ it wouldn’t be met with any sort of weird energy,” says Grace. “It would just be like someone saying, ‘No, I don’t like nachos. I’m not going to eat those.’”