How brands and celebrities are demystifying the stigma around sobriety
I spent summers at my friend’s house down the street. We hung out a lot, and we’d catch some reprieve in the dog days of Florida heat by eating snacks and sipping Capri Suns on his back porch. I’ll always remember reaching for the juice boxes in his fridge and seeing beer to the side (my parents didn’t drink growing up, so alcohol was foreign to me).
The brand was O’douls. That logo is forever imprinted in my brain, like some Irish beer brand, which I later in life discovered was… non-alcoholic beer.
Looking back, it got me thinking: how wild it is that in 15 years, we really went from O’douls being the only alternative for those practicing sobriety to this very moment, where there appears to be a drink alternative for any type of customer, city, and scenario.
Non-alcoholic IPAs. Craft, of course.
All of this with a side concoction of shrubs, herbs, and adaptogens. Oh, and a shot of way too sexy branding to push us over the edge. We have the DTC Blanding gods to thank for that.
But I’m not here (today) to survey all the brands out there (and trust me, there are a sh*t ton of them!). I’d rather dive into sobriety, why we crave it in the first place, and how the resources that are available right now are helping reframe the bigger conversation around sober drinking.
Getting sober and demystifying the stigma around it
This January, nearly 10% of the United Kingdom (some near-eight million strong) alone took the month off drinking. That’s a 22% increase from the previous year.
“Over the past decade, women (specifically) have been drinking more than ever… This was exacerbated during the pandemic, where we saw individuals drinking 20% more than pre-pandemic,” Amanda White, a licensed therapist, and Author of Not Drinking Tonight unpacks some of the cultural and sociological reasons why we’re drinking less these days.
She adds, “Scientifically, we’ve learned more about how much drinking negatively impacts sleep, anxiety, and even depression. Between that and the rise of the explosion of interest in the wellness space, Millennials and Gen Z are realizing that it’s counterproductive to prioritize your health while also drinking something that has so many negative health effects.
And the stigma around dropping booze doesn’t make things easier for us to try it. Societally, there’s a subtle judgment that choosing not to drink is directly correlated with the fact that you have a drinking problem, or worse: you’re an alcoholic.
“In our culture, if someone chooses not to drink, those same people are afraid that they will be judged or thought to have a problem with alcohol,” says White.
But, that narrative is gradually changing. Thanks to celebrities like Chrissy Teigen and Bella Hadid, who have candidly begun questioning their relationship with alcohol publicly, exploring sobriety, there’s a refreshing openness towards those who want the same. Kin Euphorics, an adaptogen beverage brand recently brought Bella on as a co-founder and partner for the business.
We’re also seeing celebrities launch their own brands, like Katy Perry recently did De Soi, which is French for “pleasure with restraint”. It’s also a canned aperitif drink filled with all sorts of buzzy good stuff. In an interview with People mag, she explained more behind the drink inspiration.
"I love herbs. I love alchemy. I love wellness. And I love the feeling of some of these different adaptogens that are actually in the drinks. Some of these herbs, ingredients will help brighten your mood or help ease you into the evening."
She’s not strictly sober, though. For Perry it’s about balance. "On a weekday, having a couple [of alcoholic drinks] will take me out of the presence game for the next day or two. So I like to have a bit of self-control on the weekdays and then have dinners with friends and stuff on weekends or when I'm not working, et cetera… Really it's about balance."
Or how about Blake Lively’s Betty Buzz, a sparkling drink mixer meant to be sipped on its own. Which is funny, since Lively’s married to Ryan Reynolds, who’s crushing it right now with Aviator Gin.
"For me, I don't drink because I don't like the effects of alcohol, but I like being a part of it. I like being social, I like people coming together," Lively explained in an interview with InStyle.
This seems to be one way that we can dust off the stigma around sobriety, by bringing public figures into the limelight who can speak publicly about their own stories and challenges, demystifying the shame and guilt surrounding it.
Sober-as-a-Service; the new SaaS
We’re also witnessing a rise in resources and experiences for the sober curious.
One fascinating resource that’s popped up is Listen Bar, a startup dedicated to making it easier to enjoy sober drinking. If nothing else, their homepage is a phenomenal clickbait:
“Listen Bar is an alcohol-free bar in NYC that’s gone 100% virtual. All our bartenders are musicians. Snoop Dogg asked us to name a drink after him.”
Snoop? Unbeatable. The Listen Bar hosts live, virtual events, offers mocktail-making classes for you and your friends, and even sells a few mocktail recipe books if you want something to put on your coffee table. They also curate dope playlists too. I like the approach LB takes because it reframes the point of drinking. It’s not about the buzz or the high.
It’s about friendship; community.
On the newsletter front, there are other great content resources like Good Drinks, a cocktail creator on Substack, one that focuses on sober drinking. And there’s also the infamous Snaxshot, a cult-followed community and weekly newsletter that trends and shifts in the CPG and Food & Bev space. Founder Andrea Hernandez has been writing about the no-lo drinking movement for a few years and even spotted some pioneer brands earlier in their journeys like Seedlip, Kin, and Ghia.
The rise of sober bars and booze(less) bottle shops
Bored of drinking at home? That’s cool too. Coastal cities already have sober bars that literally feel like regular bars, except… they’re sober. Check out the Getaway in Brooklyn.
C’mon. The vibes are exquisite. Feels like a tiki meets Havana Cuba concept. Expect more of these to pop up in niche neighborhoods in first and second tier cities.
Speaking of which, southern cities like Atlanta are getting their first bars too. Zilch Market & Bar is expected to launch this spring. It’s the first of its kind in Atlanta, but carries all the best brands you’ve likely been served ads to on Instagram.
Hell, there’re even traveling bars now! Sans Bar is a mobile concept that goes on tour in cities around the U.S.
No-lo bottle shops are becoming a thing too. In London, fashion designer Anya Hindmarch collab’d with Dry Drinker (a local booze-free store) to create Off License, a month-long popup shop stocking everything from wine and beer, to ciders and spirits.
Don’t live in London? There are also online marketplaces like No & Low, stocking all the best brands in-class.
Normalizing sobriety for the people
Getting plastered with your friends and feeling hungover AF the next morning.
Sipping adaptagen-infused mocktails with your friends at a sober bar while you talk about ice baths, what you learned in therapy, and how you’re into Athletic Greens.
The truth is, things are changing. If the old path to sobriety was paved with isolation, shame, and dullness, the new path is infused with color, inclusion, empathy, and a sense of pride. Sobriety is a personal choice, and that’s evident in how brands are positioning themselves to consumers in 2022.
Lorelei Bandrovschi, founder of Listen Bar is here to help. “People who once felt like the odd man out because they weren’t drinking are now part of a rising momentum of sober-curious people,” she said to the New York Times.
“I don’t think drinking is going away,” adds Bandrovschi, “but not drinking will feel very normal.”
And that’s something you can raise a glass to.