As you’ve probably guessed from the name, Sober October is an effort aimed at getting folks to take a month off from drinking alcohol. It began in 2014 as a fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK, and has grown into a worldwide trend, boosted, perhaps by the increase in alcohol consumption that accompanied COVID.
There are other popular “dry” month campaigns—Dry July, Dry January—but I think October is the best time of year for a 30-day ride on the wagon. It’s right before Thanksgiving and Christmas, where you’ll probably be doing some extra imbibing, and there’s something about the approach of winter that encourages solemnity, sobriety, and self-assessment. Plus, “Sober October” rhymes.
The benefits of going sober in October
More than an opportunity to test your will power, going without booze (or cutting down) for a month has real benefits. You’ll have more money in your pocket, you’ll feel good about setting a goal and achieving it, and the health benefits from just a short period of abstinence are substantial.
A 2015 study conducted by Professor Kevin Moore of the Royal Free Hospital in London found that moderate to heavy drinkers who abstain from alcohol for 30 days show improved insulin resistance, lost an average of 3kg of weight, lowered their cholesterol, and reported improved energy, sleep, and mood. Also: It’s good for your liver. Quitting alcohol reduces the fatty changes that can lead to cirrhosis and other liver diseases.
Another benefit of sober October: Nothing will highlight a problem with alcohol with more clarity than having trouble stopping drinking for a time.
Tips for a successful sober October
Alcohol has a strange place in our culture. It’s a powerful, addictive, and potentially deadly drug, but it’s available everywhere, and so socially accepted that it’s practically socially expected. All this can make saying “no” difficult even if you’re not dependent on booze. Here are a few tips to hopefully make your sober October a little easier.
- Make up your own rules. There’s no right way to do sober October, so decide for yourself whether it means cutting out one drink a night, or all drinks for the month. Any progress is better than none.
- Don’t think of it as abstinence. Think of it as an opportunity to get out of your rut for a few weeks to gain a clearer perspective on your relationship with alcohol.
- Let supportive friends and family members know your plans. Turning down a drink or a trip to a saloon is difficult, so make sure the people you’re close to know not to ask.
- Practice how you’ll turn down a drink. Preparing mentally for what you’ll say can alleviate some of the social pressure that often surrounds alcohol.
- Plan activities that don’t involve alcohol. Maybe you could white-knuckle a trip to a bar by chugging down club soda, but why test it? Instead, use October as a chance to do all the fun, alcohol-free things you’ve been meaning to. Visit the observatory. Take a dance class. Learn to play pickle ball. Volunteer. Walk a corn maze. There are tons of options.
- Exercise more. A fun little workout can provide the mood boost you might be looking for with a drink.
- Take it one day at a time. This is the famous AA advice. Don’t think about quitting for a month; think of not having a drink for just today. Breaking time into manageable chunks makes it seem less daunting.
- Indulge yourself in other ways. If you’re the kind of drinker who downs a glass of wine after dinner as a treat, replace it with something else. Making elaborate mocktails is fun. So is eating a piece of chocolate.
- Don’t sweat it if you slip up. If you have a beer one night, it doesn’t mean the whole thing is ruined. Just start again. No one is keeping score.
Take it seriously if you find you can’t do it
Taking part in sober October encourages a more thoughtful relationship with alcohol, and part of that assessment involves being honest with yourself. It’s possible to be dependent upon alcohol without fully realizing it, to abuse alcohol without being addicted to it, and any number of other possibilities on the alcohol-use spectrum.
If you genuinely can’t go 30 days without a drink, even though you want to, you should consider the possibility that you have a problem with alcohol. Take a self-assessment and talk to your doctor or therapist about your concerns.