The Current

Drinking a lot during the pandemic? Why some are turning to more mindful consumption

While some people’s alcohol consumption increased during the pandemic, nearly as many Canadians said they’ve reduced their drinking. We speak with people who are practicing more mindful drinking, and examine what it means to be “sober curious.”

With non-alcoholic options on the rise, it’s possible to socialize without booze, says Laura Willoughy

While some people have been drinking more during the pandemic, nearly as many have scaled back. In January, more than one in five Canadians — about 22 per cent — reported a decrease in their alcohol consumption, according to Statistics Canada. (Getty Images/Imagebroker RF)

Read Story Transcript

Nine years ago, Laura Willoughby started to worry about how much alcohol she was consuming.

"I was a bit of an idiot with drinking," she said. "I'm British. We do it really, really well. And I decided that I really had to knock it on the head." 

But while Alcoholics Anonymous may work for others, it wasn't for her, she said. So she decided to co-found her own group, called Club Soda, to help others become more mindful of their drinking habits — or quit alcohol altogether. 

"We're not all the same. We need different things for different people," Willoughby told The Current's guest host, Mark Kelley. "It is really important that we find different ways to change drinking." 

According to a March report from Statistics Canada, nearly one in four Canadians who drank before the pandemic said their alcohol consumption increased since COVID-19 began. In some cases, boredom, stress or social isolation were contributing factors.

Laura Willoughby is the co-founder of Club Soda, which helps people become more mindful of their drinking habits, or quit alcohol altogether. She says she helped start the group nine years ago, after she realized she had to 'knock' her drinking habit 'on the head.' (Mick McGurk)

However, nearly as many Canadians have been scaling their drinking back. In January, more than one in five Canadians — about 22 per cent — reported a decrease in their alcohol consumption, according to the same report from Statistics Canada.

And with sales of low- or non-alcohol beverages on the rise around the world, including in Canada, it's becoming even easier for the sober curious to adjust their alcohol habits as they choose.

What does it mean to be sober curious?

Kerry Benson, a registered dietitian in Philadelphia and co-author of the book Mocktail Party, said the idea of being sober curious is about being mindful of what you're drinking, why, and how it makes you feel.

"For some people that will lead towards drinking less, potentially, or maybe not drinking at all," she said. 

It's something she and her co-author, Diana Licalzi, explored while writing their second book on mocktails for pregnant moms-to-be during the pandemic.

Kerry Benson is a registered dietitian in Philadelphia and co-author of the book Mocktail Party. (Submitted by Kerry Benson)

"We were seeing a lot of people drinking more alcohol, and as we were doing research on the link between alcohol and health, it just kind of started to make us question our own relationships with alcohol," she told Kelley.

So, they decided to give up booze for a month, she said. While Benson went back to drinking for a little bit, she's since stopped drinking entirely.

"I became so in tune with all of the options that were available, and just how good I felt, and the transformation that I had over that past month, that alcohol really lost its appeal for me," she explained. 

Producing zero-alcohol options 

Bob Huitema is helping provide one of those alcohol-free options for people like Benson, who want to try cutting back their booze or nixing it from their diet altogether.

He's president of DistillX Beverages in Toronto, which makes an alcohol-free gin called Sobrii. He said he came up with the idea after noticing booze was putting a damper on his productivity the day after having a few drinks. 

"I love cocktails. I hated hangovers," he told Kelley.

Now, he takes what he calls a "flexitarian" approach to drinking, where he might start the night with one alcoholic drink, and then move to something non-alcoholic afterward.

Bob Huitema is president of DistillX Beverages in Toronto, which makes an alcohol-free gin called Sobrii. (Submitted by Bob Huitema)

In the last 10 years, he said, he's noticed more people becoming conscious of how alcohol affects their health, helping drive a rise in new non-alcoholic drinks on the market.

And Willoughby has noticed the shift too.

"When I gave up nine years ago, there wasn't anything. And now I can go into the pub and there's more than one beer and there's an alcohol-free spirit, and there's a kombucha, and I'm spoiled for choice," she said. 

"As somebody who likes socializing, that's great. I don't feel like I'm being treated differently anymore."


Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Idella Sturino.

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