Waitrose embraces ‘sober curious’ trend: Addiction expert weighs in on the bold marketing choice


Hi Dan,

Earlier this week, British supermarket Waitrose announced that it would be clearing shelf space across stores to make room for a wider selection of alcohol-free products, with demand set to increase in the coming months.

The news is hardly surprising given that people are more conscious than ever about how, when and why they choose to consume alcoholic beverages.

In fact, Google Trends data revealed that searches for the term ‘sober curious’ were up a staggering 189% so far this year, while many celebrities, including Spiderman actor Tom Holland and supermodel Cara Delevingne, have also openly discussed their choice to cut down or quit drinking.

Below we’ve asked Martin Preston, addiction expert and Founder and Chief Executive at Private Rehab Clinic, Delamere, to weigh in on why he believes there has been such an increase in sober curiosity over the last few years, and whether it’s simply a trend or here to stay.

Why has there been a rise in sober curiosity?
“Since the pandemic, people are more concerned about their health than ever before and that includes considering how much they drink and why they do so. Therefore it is unsurprising that over the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of people choosing to become sober curious, and that could be for a number of reasons.

“Firstly, it’s apparent that people are waking up to the negative effects alcohol has on your life, whether that’s your mental health, physical health or both. Heavy drinking, especially regularly, comes with a lot of associated risks and serious health issues, such as liver damage, heart disease, or increased depression and anxiety.

“Though, prior to 2020, there were a lot of people that chose to cut down on drinking or give it up altogether because of negative experiences, the covid-19 pandemic highlighted to a lot of people the importance of prioritising health. In some cases, pubs being shut and access to alcohol becoming a bit harder than normal, offered individuals the opportunity to cut down on their alcohol consumption, or create a healthier relationship with their approach towards casual drinking.

“Another reason we’ve seen a rise in sober curiosity – especially among Gen-Z and younger populations – can be taken from societies changing attitudes towards alcohol. Many people often argue that this is because this generation has grown up in a unique landscape with societal and financial pressures that their grandparents and even parents didn’t experience. This has led them to become a lot more cautious and educated on the associated health risks thanks to social media and the spotlight on alcoholism.

“As well as this, young people have the benefit of knowing far more about how heavy drinking on a regular basis can lead to addictive tendencies. In fact, a recent study revealed that 60% of young people associated drinking alcohol with loss of control, and harboured concerns about developing an addiction.

“Whatever the driving factors, it is clear that drinking behaviours over the past few years have seen dramatic progression, but whether it will be here to stay is a different question.”

Is sober curiosity a trend or something more?
“For centuries, the consumption of alcohol has changed dramatically, often peaking and dipping over time. For example, during the late 90s and early 2000s, alcohol consumption spiked considerably, so seeing another fall in attitudes towards drinking alcohol isn’t unsurprising.

“However, given the onset of social media, which hasn’t been experienced during other time periods, we often see health movements become trends. In this case, it could be argued that sober curiosity technically counts as a trend, as it is a new ideology that other people are becoming aware of – usually via social media – and want to get involved with. The fact that we’ve also seen a number of celebrities discussing their sobriety in the public sphere could also lead people to believe the decision to stop drinking is something being shared for social media clout and engagement.

“As well as this, we’ve seen more people than ever engaging in sober movements such as Dry January and Sober October. Awareness events like these act as a great incentive to cut down on drinking for a while, and since 2017 their popularity has risen year after year. Some could argue that people do it because they feel the need to join in due to lots of people sharing their experiences online, with the #dryjanuary hashtag accumulating 9.1 million views on TikTok. While others could say that rising figures suggest more people are actually interested in re-evaluating their relationship with alcohol.

“Cutting down on alcohol consumption through ‘sober curiosity’ may seem like a trend to some, yet it is likely that this notable shift in attitude towards drinking is something that we are going to see continue for a long time, with the drinking industry even changing their offerings to adapt to young people’s preferences, offering mocktails or non-alcoholic versions of alcoholic beverages.”

“It is important to note, however, that people should only engage in sober curiosity whether a trend or not, if they are looking to cut back on how much alcohol they consume, and not those who struggle with alcohol dependency. Trying to detox through methods like this can be extremely dangerous to those that suffer problems surrounding alcohol consumption. Instead, they would need professional intervention in order to abstain from alcohol safely.”

The benefits of cutting down on alcohol or going sober

Sleep patterns improve
Alcohol is often used as a sleeping aid to help you drift off, but despite helping to relax you, drinking in excess can affect the quality and pattern of your sleep due to headaches, dehydration and the increased need to urinate.

When you give up or reduce your alcohol intake, you will often find that your quality of sleep will be better, without frequent interruptions. This in turn will mean you have more energy to spend on other activities instead of waking up feeling groggy, after heavy drinking the night before.

Blood pressure reduces to healthier levels
Drinking in excess for a prolonged period of time can raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels, which could lead to more complicated health problems down the line.

Cutting down or abstaining from booze for good will help lower your blood pressure to a much healthier level, and could even help reduce the risk of other health issues that are associated with high blood pressure and alcohol consumption, such as strokes, heart disease and chronic kidney disease.

Reduced levels of anxiety and depression
Alcohol is a rather deceiving depressant; and while you may feel relaxed or excited during the time of consumption, alcohol actually has a significant impact on mental health.

Drinking alcohol, particularly heavy consumption, interferes with chemicals in the brain that maintain good mental health, meaning that after drinking, you may experience feelings of depression and anxiety, sometimes referred to as “beer fear” or “hangxiety”.

By embracing sobriety or sober curiosity, on the occasions you choose not to drink, levels of alcohol will no longer affect the balance of chemicals in your brain, meaning mental health can improve. If you rely on alcohol as a result of bad mental health, exercising or other forms of relaxation, such as yoga or meditation, are a great alternative for improving well-being.

Healthier-looking skin
A minor benefit to cutting your alcohol intake is the look of your skin. Alcohol causes your body to become dehydrated more quickly, which can lead to dry and scaly skin when drunk in excess. Not only that, but consumption of sugary drinks like cocktails can also lead to outbreaks due to increased hormone levels.

Those who embark on their sober curious journey might notice spots or dry skin patches start to clear up when they don’t drink alcohol.

You’ll feel generally better
Drinking in excess can often lead to feeling groggy, lethargic and generally unwell the next day because it interferes with the day-to-day functioning of the body.

During the periods that you choose not to drink, whether it’s occasionally or for good, you may find that you have more energy to do things that you normally wouldn’t, like being more active or spending more time out of the house with friends.

If you find yourself craving an alcoholic beverage during your sobriety, perhaps opt for a soft drink or non-alcoholic version – you are guaranteed to feel better having slept well and waking up with no hangover.