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The Sober Curious Crowd

Nearly all of our organizations have attempted to create a culture that rewards and supports employee health. Some of us have even started to consider the impact that social determinants and the stress that accompanies them have on our employee populations.

And for good reason.  

The circumstances where one lives, works, grows, and ages may compel one of our employees to eat right, avoid drugs and alcohol, and exercise five nights a week; another’s circumstances may drive them to alcohol and a night on the couch the second they leave the workplace. Such a dichotomy demonstrates the challenge we face trying to tailor programs across our diverse populations. As such, we’re always on the lookout for new solutions.  

Because we’re unable to create an environment where endless opportunities exist to improve workforce health, perhaps we need to look beyond government, policy, and the advice of our consultants and vendor partners (or constraints of our wellness programs) and start looking for supportive solutions that may exist in the culture at large.            

Who Are Sober Curious? 
For example, one of the more recent social movements that has emerged of it’s own volition belongs to the ‘sober curious’ crowd. This is a group of people, typically in their 20s and 30s, that have been cutting back and drinking less alcohol than their older peers at the same stage in life. Contrary to what the definition of ‘sober’ might mean to previous generations, ‘sober curious’ folks are not necessarily committed to a life completely free from alcohol; they’re simply experimenting, examining the pros and cons, and assessing it as a lifestyle choice similar to eating vegetarian for a month or purchasing a six-class pass to a boutique spin class. More importantly, they’re making ‘sober curious’ cool, and they’re doing it voluntarily.  
Life Without Alcohol 
For some, it’s been brought on by questioning the value that alcohol adds to their life; for others it has to do with being more mindful in their day-to-day; others still want to spend time with friends and family and enjoy themselves without the booze. And some are just doing it to try something new.    
What most are finding is that they can think more clearly, be more creative, and take greater ownership of their thoughts and choices. They’re finding their skin clearing up, their eyes are brighter, and their waistlines shrinking. They’re sleeping better, their blood pressure is going down, and their happiness is increasing.     
It sounds like they’re getting healthier.       
I find it interesting that this sprung up organically. In many ways it's completely the opposite of how most of our workplace wellness programs take shape. Also, our younger generations are turning the idea of sobriety on its head: these adults in their 20s and 30s are removing the stigma of being considered a ‘prude’ or ‘teetotaler’ if they don’t drink. This is the same group that our generational study found breaking down traditional mental health stigmas.  

The Take Away 
All of this is a good reminder that the majority of what affects our employee’s health takes place outside the workplace, is independent of the access to the healthcare system we provide them via benefits, and is influenced more by the world they live in than our efforts to date. We should be inspired by this as we seek ways of creating cultures that support organic processes of health within our organizations.  
These ‘sober curious’ millennials and Gen Zers have already fostered their own organic process of health; how and why they did this is something we should all be curious about. 
And take action on.  

Patty Starr bio image

About the author

Patty Starr

Patty Starr is president and CEO of Health Action Council and is responsible for driving the strategic direction of the organization--build stronger, healthier communities where business can thrive. 

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