In the United States — and worldwide — alcohol seems to flow freely just about everywhere. Alcohol consumption, and even alcohol abuse, are often normalized in our society. Whether we turn to a glass of wine to unwind after a long day or knock back one too many on the weekends, these activities are perceived as completely commonplace. While the average person drinks 38% more water than they did 15 years ago, data shows that we’re also drinking more alcoholic beverages now, too. In fact, nationwide alcohol consumption has been on the rise for at least the last decade and a half. What’s more, researchers say that U.S. alcohol consumption should be considered a public health crisis.
But amidst the growing prevalence of consumers of boozy beverages has emerged a new demographic: the “sober-curious.” As more young people dabble with the idea of giving up alcohol as an experiment — or making the decision to stay or get sober for the long term — the idea of being a teetotaler is becoming more widely accepted. And as a result, traditional bars and consumer goods brands are willing to meet new demands.
Whether you have a history of alcoholism or are simply more interested in the health benefits of an intoxicant-free lifestyle over the allure of a drunken evening, there are a lot of good reasons to give up the booze. For one thing, it’s a lot safer. If you don’t drink, you won’t worry about getting pulled over for drinking and driving. Underage Michigan motorists, for example, can be charged with “zero tolerance” OWIs if they have even a tiny amount of alcohol in their system while operating a vehicle. Or take drivers in South Carolina. In 2015, a car accident occurred every 4 minutes. Even if you aren’t underage, being in an intoxicated state while driving can heavily increase your risk of being a part of that statistic. Not wanting to be involved in criminal activity, regardless of your age, can be a powerful motivator.
Of course, so can the desire to preserve one’s health. Although there is scientific evidence to show that moderate drinking (defined as up to one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men) may have a correlation to fewer cardiovascular disease fatalities, there’s ample data to show that alcohol does much more harm than good. Alcohol consumption is currently the seventh leading cause of death and disability worldwide, while an analysis of nearly 600 different studies showed that “the level of alcohol consumption that minimized harm across health outcomes with zero standard drinks per week.” In other words, you’re much better off being sober. Staying sober can keep you out of emergency rooms and urgent care centers. 3 million people visit urgent cares every week, so just imagine the medical bills attached to that. Bankruptcies stemming from those costs affected an estimated 2 million people in the U.S. during 2013, you could potentially save a lot of money just by giving up drinking (in both the long and short term).
Although choosing to abstain from alcohol has come with its own stigmas (which is interesting, considering the even stronger stigma associated with substance abuse), it’s starting to become more commonplace. One British study found that only 18% of 16- to 24-year-olds were non-drinkers in 2005, but that number rose to 29% by 2015. The trend is popping up in the U.S. as well, with more establishments and brands offering options for non-drinkers. Even in notoriously alcohol-fueled locations like Las Vegas, popular non-drinking events are emerging. According to TIME, alcohol-free mixed drinks increased by 35% on bar and restaurant menus from 2016 to 2019, with 17% of people surveyed between the ages of 22 to 24 expressing an interest in mocktails. More food and drink establishments are offering artisanal mocktails on their menus to mirror their signature mixed drinks in an effort to appeal to customers, and many are seeing extraordinary success. And with the increased variety and quality of alcohol-free spirits and other beverages now available, sober individuals no longer have to stick to seltzer water or order a Shirley Temple (unless they want to).
In the end, alcohol consumption isn’t going to disappear. And for the foreseeable future, both the sober and the sober-curious will likely need to field questions from those who can’t imagine their lives without the hard stuff. But given how willing many establishments are to embrace alcohol-free patrons and offer them a wider variety of options, avoiding alcoholic beverages no longer means being left out of social situations altogether — nor does it mean you have to give up enjoying a delicious concoction.
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