A Sober Curious Movement Builds Online, Targeting ‘Gray Area’ Drinking

Programs targeting gray area drinking have increased due to Covid-19. The Alcohol Experiment is one that is helping many people find freedom.

Targeting Gray Area Drinkers

Nicola Peachey, 46, says she tried one such program, a 30-day alcohol-free challenge called the Alcohol Experiment, in July after wine became a coping mechanism during the pandemic.

“Alcohol became my new bestie,” said the resident of Perth, Australia. Nicola spent lockdowns with her husband, their two teenagers, and a Brazilian exchange student. Ms. Peachey, a diet and nutrition coach, said she hasn’t had a drink since joining the program, even while on a recent vacation.

According to a Rand Corp. survey of 1,540 adults, the number of days in which Americans drank rose 14% during a month-long period in the spring of 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. In a February American Psychological Association poll of 3,013 adults, 23% reported drinking more to cope with stress during the pandemic.

Sobriety trend

The new programs are part of a broader trend toward sobriety. Authors of drinking recovery memoirs, social-media influencers, and leaders of online sober communities are leading the movement. Many frame abstinence as a healthy lifestyle choice and push back at what they describe as society’s embrace of alcohol.

“For too long, alcohol has been seen as necessary to having fun,” said Ruby Warrington, author of the 2018 book “Sober Curious”. The term that has become synonymous with the move to examine gray-area drinking by questioning personal impulses and cultural expectations to drink. The negative side effects of alcohol, which raises the risk of diseases including depression and cancer, outweigh the benefits for many, she said.

Not quite cold turkey

“Some people can choose moderation,” said Annie Grace, founder of This Naked Mind LLC, which offers a variety of recovery programs, including the one Ms. Peachey completed. Ms. Grace cautions that the effort needed to regulate what, when, and where to drink can lead to mental fatigue that makes it hard to stick to limits.

ohn Kelly, a professor who specializes in addiction at Harvard Medical School, said his research on AA shows strong evidence the program works by building motivation, coping skills and self-confidence, and helping people meet sober friends.

While there is little statistical evidence on the new services, Prof. Kelly said, “Covid has opened our eyes to the fact that online platforms have shown they can be really helpful to people….They help people get their feet wet and find a good fit.”

The price of support

Ms. Grace’s company charges $47 for a live version of the 30-day Alcohol Experiment. Sessions draw as many as 3,000 participants and include a private Facebook group and a live daily online meeting moderated by coaches trained by Ms. Grace, whose book “This Naked Mind” chronicles her recovery from a bottle-of-wine per evening habit. (A version without the live meeting is free.)

Participants receive daily emails with videos featuring Ms. Grace and others, including authors and psychologists, discussing alcohol’s effect on the brain, how to deal with cravings, and triggers for drinking, among other topics.

Keep reading at www.wsj.com