“Sober Curious” and “Straightedge”—Dreaming of a Youth Culture Which Supports Abstinence

Happy friends are running in a city.

Last week I saw an article in U.S. News titled, “The Rise of the Sober Curious.” The subheading read, “Alcohol-free events, bars, and drinks are increasing as people explore ways to lower their alcohol intake-and improve health.” Seeing this reminded me of my younger days— when the “Straightedge” culture was all the rage. It seems that, with each new generation, young people are consistently looking for a way to popularize abstinence and clean living.

It’s as though, even as the drug problem and the alcohol problem continue to grow, we all know deep down inside, that a sober life is the best life one could ask for. The younger generation knows that living free from drugs and alcohol is the right way to go, the “ideal scene” one could say. Even in the face of near-insurmountable peer pressure, a megalomaniacal pharmaceutical industry, billions of marketing dollars spent by alcohol companies every year, and increasing illicit drug trafficking into the U.S., the younger generation still knows the importance of living a drug and alcohol-free life.

To those who would promote a culture of clean living, I say, "Yes, more power to you.” We need to recognize and appreciate the groups that are dedicated to convincing other young people to live a drug and alcohol-free life. Our addiction crisis will not be done away with until every addict is helped into and through residential drug-treatment programs. But by that same token, we also have to prevent more people from becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol.

“Sober Curious” and “Straightedge”—A Budding Culture Inclined towards Clean Living

People who don’t drink alcohol are often stereotyped for it. They are labeled as people who “don’t have fun.” Yet studies indicate that more and more young people are beginning to forgo alcohol, stigma or no stigma. According to a British study published in 2018 and cited in U.S. News, about 29 percent of youth ages 16 to 24 were non-drinkers in 2015, compared to 18 percent who were non-drinkers in 2005. In one decade, the total percentage of young Brits who did not drink almost doubled.

Another sign that alcohol-free living is on the rise is in the growth of beverage companies that make alcohol-free beverages. A 2019 report also cited in U.S. News talked about how the sale of alcohol-free beer products is expected to grow by 8.8 percent, alcohol-free wine by 13.5 percent, and alcohol-free mixed drinks by 8.6 percent.

There is even more evidence of the rising sober culture in the growth of groups dedicated to social interaction and important events, all done entirely alcohol-free and drug-free. Dry bars and local, sober events are popping up all across the nation. Witness Listen Bar in New York City, Empath in Pittsburg, or Punch Bowl Social in Atlanta. And these bars are just the beginning. Every major city in the U.S. is now seeing a sober culture begin to flourish.

Sober groups are also on the rise. From the Sober Girl Society to the Sober Glow, to sober events, parties, and projects, sober-awareness groups, sober activism, and sober-help groups. It seems that every city has some group or organization dedicated to drug and alcohol-free living.

Why Is a Completely Sober Lifestyle a Good Choice?

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out why people are opting not just to stay away from drug use and alcohol misuse, but to swear off mind-altering substances completely. People are getting tired of the headaches, the hangovers, the stomachaches, nausea and vomiting, the drunk texts, the hefty bill at last call, the poor choices made while intoxicated, etc.

People are choosing to say no to drugs and alcohol because they want to be clear of mind and body all the time. They’re saying no to substances because they only have so much free time during any given week. Why spend it with a cloudy mind, a lot of dollars spent, and a bad hangover the next day?

More young people are starting to see that even occasional drinking or even light drug use has a poor return on investment. They are beginning to see that much of the “enjoyment” in social experimentation with substances is borne out of peer pressure and the culture of substance abuse. It’s a farce, really. They’re starting to see that there is very little enjoyment, if any, in using substances.

Enjoyable Activities That Do Not Require Mind-Altering Substances

Two friends cooking sober meal.

Young people are also starting to see that there are countless activities and pastimes that do bring a good result and a fun time for all involved. And none of them leave one feeling worse the next day. Some such activities include:

  • Throwing a sober dinner party.
  • Going to the spa for the day.
  • A weekend camping trip, done with no mind-altering substances.
  • Daily exercise.
  • A relaxing movie night with friends or family.
  • Reading a good book.
  • Hosting a game night with friends.
  • Going for a drive.
  • Meditating, going to church, or engaging in another form of spiritual mindfulness.
  • Going out for dinner and a movie with a close loved one.
  • Volunteering one’s time and energy for a good cause.
  • Playing sports.
  • Going swimming.
  • Going for a walk.
  • Writing one’s thoughts and ideas in a daily journal.
  • Planting and tending to a garden.
  • Organizing and cleaning out one’s closet or room.

That list could go on and on. And the fantastic thing about the above activities is that not only can all of them be enjoyed without the use of drugs and alcohol, but those activities are best enjoyed without the use of drugs or alcohol.

Sober living is being attacked by alcohol-spiked carbonated water, hard iced teas, hard juices, etc. It's becoming increasingly more difficult to live a totally sober life, but the benefits of doing so are more than worth it. Some alcohol companies are seeing those benefits too, and they are offering non-alcoholic beer options for their customers as a result. But the alcoholic options still far outweigh the non-alcoholic options. And the list of alcoholic options is growing.

A life lived sober is always going to be a life better lived than one hampered by drinking and drug use. People talk about the “good times” they had while partying. But closer inspection usually reveals that those good times were not all that good at all. Better yet to pursue a sober and substance-free life. Better to reap the benefits of an awake and alert mind and a healthy body than to seek an oversold idea that there might be something positive gained out of recreational drinking or drug use.


Reviewed and Edited by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.