What is sober shaming?
Increasing numbers of us are choosing to cut out alcohol. A 2019 report by the Office of National Statistics says the average person drinks around 40% less than in 2004, with one in five choosing not to drink at all. But new research reveals that the path to conscious drinking doesn’t always run smoothly, particularly for men who want to cut down or cut out alcohol entirely.
As we become increasingly more aware of the health risks associated with alcohol consumption a new term has emerged – sober shaming.
A poll, of 1,000 UK Brits aged 18 to 60 years found that while six out of ten (61%) men are actively looking to cut down their alcohol intake 64% admit to having been sober-shamed by friends and family for their efforts.
Choosing to consume alcohol or not is a personal choice. We shouldn’t be made to feel ashamed about our decision. When we sober shame others it can make their decision to abstain much harder. And for some it may be enough for them to give in to pressure.
Sober shaming is understandable to an extent, and often we may not realise we are doing it. Alcohol consumption is so deeply integrated into our social culture that it seems abnormal for people to abstain. Feeling good? Celebrate with a drink. Feeling sad? Cheer yourself up with a drink. Want to enjoy some nice food? Here’s the best wine to go with that. Watching sports, a band, a show? Why not improve the experience with some alcohol? It can be very difficult to disassociate ourselves from alcohol, when it is so ubiquitous. The marketing machine is very powerful, and going sober is still considered ‘unusual’ in many circles.
Sometimes people sober shame to mask their discomfort with their own relationship with alcohol. They may not be ready to address their own drinking, and someone who doesn’t drink can cause them to feel uncomfortable
Some people’s relationship with alcohol may have changed during the pandemic. We know that for many consumption has increased. While others have used the lockdown as an opportunity to cut back or even stop entirely. As pubs and venues open, people may be feeling anxious about meeting up again. They may be feeling worried they’ll be pressured into drinking, or be made to feel like their choice not to drink is somehow wrong, boring or offensive.
We can support our friends, family members and colleagues who choose not to drink. We can show them that we care, and make their lives better. It’s a simple thing that makes a huge difference.
Some examples of sober shaming
“But it’s my birthday, you *have* to have a drink!”
“You’re not drinking? Why?!
“Oh go on, just have one!”
“You can’t be serious – you’re not drinking on your own stag do?!”
“Don’t be boring!”
“The night won’t be the same if you’re not getting drunk with us…”
“Oh my goodness, are you pregnant?? No? Then why won’t you have one?”
“But you don’t have a problem with alcohol, do you? So why not have a couple?”
“Don’t tell me you’re teetotal now!”
“You can’t come to my party if you’re not drinking!”
Getting bought an alcoholic drink despite saying you didn’t want one.
Find out more
- Guardian article – How to support a friend who has stopped drinking
- Diary of a sober shamer – Richard shares his story at Alcohol Change UK
- Alcohol and relationships – guidance and support
- Alcohol and COVID – the impact of the pandemic on alcohol consumption in the UK
Are you sober curious?
If you want to avoid alcohol as a lifestyle choice why not start with a short break? Sober challenges can motivate us to cut-down or even quit alcohol. For some it can be an effective starting point to completely change their relationship with alcohol.