"Sober curious" Americans are reshaping nightlife: "I actually have more fun without alcohol"

"Sober curious" reshaping social life

A growing group of Americans are reducing their consumption of alcohol or cutting it out entirely. Interest in the "sober curious" community can be seen at new alcohol-free bars and events and online, with more than 1.2 million #soberlife Instagram posts and more than 500,000 #soberissexy posts.

The demographic is wide-ranging and all encompassing, CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula reports. Some people are recovering from alcohol addiction, but for a large part, many are abstaining from alcohol in pursuit of a healthier, cleaner lifestyle.

"It's really hard to be, like, in your early 20s and, you know, doing things that doesn't revolve around drinking," said 23-year-old Mikaela Berry, one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who identify as "sober curious."

Berry added that she likes going out and meeting people, but "the connection's not as genuine" when everyone is drinking.

"There's this kind of blind spot in culture where a lot of our social life, and a lot of our night life, is exclusively built around alcohol," said Lorelei Bandrovski, who created Listen Bar in New York, a pop-up booze-free bar and social space for clear-headed connections.

Bandrovski said she sees "big business indicators" that the sober market is growing. Major brands like Budweiser and Heineken now sell zero-alcohol beers. The non-alcoholic beer industry is expected to grow to over $25 billion by 2024, and there's also a slew of alcohol-free spirits saturating the market.  

"I think now it comes from a place of … people being very considerate with their choices," Bandrovski said.

The movement is also helping those in recovery. MJ Gottlieb created the app Loosid to connect recovering addicts and the sober curious.

"It comes down to connection and engagement," he said. "When I was getting sober, it was diners and coffee shops, right?" Now, with the app, people can connect through "sober dating, sober events, sober travel, sober groups," he said. "That's the magical part."

Loosid user Philip O'Hara has been in recovery for over three years.

"We grow up hearing, you know, alcohol is bad, and what they don't tell us is the first time we have a drink is, it actually feels good," he said. "I remember, like, being at a bar, 23-years-old … feeling completely not OK until I had a drink."

O'Hara said an app like Loosid provides a space to socialize safely. One of the alcohol-free places he has gone to is Getaway in Brooklyn, one of the first brick-and-mortar sober bars in the country.

"You have a platform for people to be connected with other sober people, and then the 'sober curious' movement gets brought into it," he said. "And it turns out you like going to the sober bar, you have more fun, you make more connections, and then you decide on your own that, like, 'I actually have more fun without alcohol.'"

A new study from the University of Hong Kong found abstaining from alcohol could actually boost mental health and well-being.

Asked if he thinks sobriety can help improve mental health, O'Hara said, "I think it's a huge part of what's driving this sober curious movement is the amount of mental health and depression issues that people are realizing they can't solve with substances." 

Berry also said she thinks her generation is prioritizing mental health. "We talk a lot about self-care now," she said.

For those of who do choose to drink, the CDC dietary guidelines recommend limiting alcohol consumption to one drink a day for women and two a day for men.