June 28, 2021 -- The pandemic was more than unnerving, lonely, and isolating. It ended up being a drinker’s dream, with margarita Mondays and wine Wednesdays becoming a regular occurrence on top of nightly happy hours. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 adults said they managed pandemic stress by drinking more, according to an American Psychological Association survey released in February.
“Drinking particularly increased among people who don’t consider themselves to have an alcohol problem,” says Joseph Volpicelli, MD, executive director of the Institute of Addiction Medicine in Plymouth Meeting, PA. “It creeped up on people.”
On the other end of the spectrum, COVID-19 prompted many Americans to start taking steps to eliminate alcohol entirely. If you’re among this group, science is definitely on your side, with recent studies increasingly showing that no amount of alcohol is healthy and that alcohol can be cancer-causing.
Health concerns may be one of the biggest things driving the current sober-curious movements that include committing to “drying-out periods” of several weeks or more, inspirational hashtags like #soberissexy, online sober coaches, “sober” bars, and “craft” distilleries that make and sell plant-based faux booze.
In fact, when even Molson Coors is getting in on the rapidly evolving nonalcoholic drinks market -- the company just debuted Huzzah, a seltzer powered by probiotics and “feel-good ingredients” -- it’s yet another indication that the big brands are jumping into this societal change.
Shelley Elkovich, founder of For Bitter For Worse, a Portland, OR-based alcohol-free botanical cocktail company that launched 6 weeks before the pandemic, quickly hit the ground running as customers sought out sophisticated cocktail alternatives as many began feeling like their drinking was getting out of control.
Elkovich can relate, as she says she was once an enthusiastic drinker.
“I was what experts call a gray-area drinker,” she says. After being diagnosed with a rare neurological syndrome after a boat ride, she broke up with booze.
For Elkovich, this has led to a radical life change.
“I now see alcohol abstention and sober-curiosity as a social movement,” she says. “I like that we’re pushing back on what messages are OK and which aren’t.”
Sober Bars Are a Thing
Going to a bar that doesn’t serve alcohol may sound revolutionary, but an interesting variety of these gathering places have popped up. Listen Bar in New York City opened to much fanfare (though it’s now operating virtually).
“The owner wanted to create a rowdy bar that just happens to not serve alcohol,” Elkovich says.
In addition, more bars and restaurants are creating extensive alcohol-free drink menus, says Ruby Warrington, who coined the term “sober curious” and wrote a book of the same name in 2018.
“I liken it to veganism,” she says. “You used to have to ask for a separate menu if you were a vegan, then there was one vegan option on the menu. Now you have entirely vegan restaurants. I think we’ll see a similar thing with the alcohol-free movement.”
Virtual Sober-Safe Spaces Have Proliferated
Kelly Bertog founded Sip Yours, an online community for the sober-curious, in early 2020. Three months into the lockdown, the site, which features recipes and reviews of nonalcoholic beer, wine, and cocktails, began seeing “exponential” growth, he says.
“A lot of people were drinking and decided it isn’t for them,” he says. “We’ve been conditioned to think that alcohol should be at the center of every social engagement, but people began discovering communities online once they decided to make a change. They found our site when they were researching mocktail recipes, but we found that they also wanted tips on how to cut alcohol out of their lives.”
For those looking for support during the challenging moments that can happen when you’re trying to quit drinking, there are plenty of digital options, including Loosid, which celebrates a sober lifestyle and offers support for those in recovery; Tempest, which offers virtual support and daily emails; and Be Sober, a private Facebook group that offers support and a community for its nearly 21,000 members.
Faux Buzz Brands Are Getting In on the Action
Craft distilleries that make and sell plant-based fake booze are also on the rise, given these shifts in consumer demand. The marketplace is getting flooded with products that purport to be as tasty as regular booze and give you another type of buzz in the process.
Some experts suggest you speak to your doctor, however, before starting any new herbal regimen as some of the ingredients could conflict with your prescription medications.
Here are a few brands to know about:
Droplet: Promising “self-care in every sip,” these adaptogenic -- herbal substances that purportedly provide psychological benefits -- beverages also contain prebiotic fruit purees. Go here to read more about adaptogenics.
Kin Euphorics: With names like Lightwave and Dream Light, these drinks contain “calming adaptogens,” botanicals, vitamins and minerals, and “nootropics” like GABA -- gamma aminobutyric acid, said to improve mental skills.
Ritual Zero: For those who want a whiskey or tequila substitute, these nonalcoholic beverages are said to taste just like the real thing.
Sun Chaser: This citrusy drink is made with four mood-boosting supplements: GABA; L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea, said to lower anxiety; cordyceps, a mushroom that “supports stress and fatigue reduction”; and 5-HTP, another amino acid said to improve mood.