Riding the heels of Oktoberfest celebrations, “Sober October” has been trending across social media and the internet recently, challenging people to give up drinking alcohol for the month ahead of the holiday season. CivicScience survey results show that 10% of drinking-age adults are participating or planning to participate in Sober October this year.
Sober October, Dry January – these kinds of viral challenges can be seen as part of the broader “sober-curious movement” that has gained momentum in the media in the past few years, even being recognized as a growing trend among Millennials prior to the pandemic. Being sober-curious can be defined as rethinking and adjusting your relationship with alcohol, whether that’s reducing the amount of alcohol you drink to abstaining completely. It could also mean replacing your drink of choice with a non-alcoholic or low-alcoholic substitute that mimics the real thing (e.g. the “mocktail”).
Yet, just how prevalent are sober-curious trends today? Here’s what the numbers say.
1. Interest in a sober lifestyle has grown.
A recent CivicScience survey shows that the percentage of U.S. adults (21+) who abstain from drinking alcohol altogether has not grown since 2020. In fact, we see that slightly fewer people say they don’t drink any alcohol today compared to mid-2020. However, a greater percentage of people report they are curious about living a sober lifestyle that removes alcohol completely. The ‘sober-curious’ have grown from 12% in 2020 to 19% today.
2. Is drinking losing its appeal?
The pandemic altered drinking habits. While abstaining from alcohol altogether does not appear to have grown, data does suggest that people who drink alcohol are generally drinking less of it. A survey from May of this year saw both a simultaneous rise and fall in drinking among U.S. adults, with slightly more people consuming less alcohol; 23% of drinking-age adults who consume alcohol said they were drinking less compared to the beginning of the pandemic, while 17% were drinking more.
Fast-forward to today. When asked how their alcohol consumption has changed over the past year alone, a September-October survey finds that 34% of drinking-age adults report they are drinking less now, compared to just 10% who say they are drinking more. This much more significant divide could potentially suggest that Americans are trending toward drinking less than they were prior to the pandemic.
What does that actually look like? Putting those numbers into context, additional results reveal that the majority (52%) of Americans who partake in alcohol do so at least once per week. Nearly 40% drink multiple times per week to daily.
3. Gen Z tops the list of the most sober-curious.
Looking at the ‘who’ behind the sober-curious, the greatest interest in living a fully sober lifestyle is found among Gen Z adults (21-24), followed by young Millennials (25-34). Adults aged 55 and older are the least sober-curious, but also the most likely to say they already abstain from alcohol altogether.
However, data show that Gen Z adults (21-24) are the most likely to say they are drinking more now than they were last year. They also are the most likely to drink daily. This could be related to campus life for some and the novelty of being old enough to legally drink. Young Millennials (25-34), on the other hand, are the most likely to say they are drinking less now and are the least likely to drink daily. That suggests that being ‘sober-curious’ for many Millennials means reducing or limiting alcohol, rather than removing it completely.
4. Sober curious individuals index as heavier drinkers, but they are attracted to living a healthy lifestyle.
Sober curiosity correlates with drinking frequency. The data indicate the more sober-curious you are, the more likely you are to drink more. Nearly 40% of the ‘very curious’ consume alcoholic beverages every day and close to 60% drink multiple times per week. This suggests that frequent drinking habits are in part fueling an interest to change course toward an alcohol-free lifestyle.
In fact, interest in going alcohol-free appears to be driven in large part by a desire to lead a healthy lifestyle. All in all, these sober-curious individuals are much more likely to value living a healthy lifestyle, and nearly one-third of the ‘very curious’ are passionate about it.
5. Non-alcoholic beverages – yay or nay?
With the sober-curious movement trending, many beverage producers have pivoted to offer a greater selection of low- and alcohol-free (“NA”) products. These include alcohol-free beer, wine, liquors and spirits, and mocktails. Even certain celebrities such as Katy Perry have their own line of NA beverages.
However, despite the nearly 40% of U.S. adults (21+) who abstain from drinking alcohol and the rising interest in drinking less or going alcohol-free altogether, interest in consuming these kinds of beverages is relatively low. Just 24% of drinking-age respondents express any interest in NA beverages.
Although 37% of drinking-age adults have tried non-alcoholic beer (such as Budweiser Zero or Guinness 0.0), just 13% say they like it. Those numbers have remained stagnant over the past year. Similarly, 30% of adults have tried non-alcoholic liquor or spirits, but just 10% are favorable.
The data paint a rather ‘sobering’ view of the hype around alcohol-free beverages. They may appeal to those looking for alternative options but as of now do not appear to be gaining in wider adoption or favorability. All in all, general interest appears to be trending more toward drinking less alcohol rather than completely eliminating it, yet interest in a fully sober lifestyle does have appeal among Gen Zers and Millennials.