Julia Robinson for NPR
pm. 8 On a Saturday night, people start packing into a popular bar called Harvard & Stone in an eastern Los Angeles neighborhood. The chatter becomes higher as the alcohol begins to flow.
In the far corner, a group of about a dozen women also enjoy themselves, but they do not drink alcohol. They sip handmade mocktails with names like Baby's First Bourbon and Honey Dew Collins that contain non-alcoholic distilled spirits.
They are part of a socialist club that consists of most women in their 30s who want to have fun and make friends without alcohol.
The members of this club train out, have demanding jobs and simply do not want to feel foggy or hungover anymore. Without alcohol they say they just feel better.
"Oh my gosh. Well, one thing that was remarkable for just about everyone was my overall health and like my skin, my eyes … I lost myself," says Stephanie Forte, who works in the beauty business .
Another social member of the club, Kathy Kuzniar, says she used to occupy if there was enough wine in the house. She says she feels calmer since she got sober and lost 30 pounds.
"I'm creative again," says Kuzniar. "And I know I wouldn't do these things if I still drink."
Not long ago, a group of women in a bar who did not drink alcohol had been so strange. According to the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 86 percent of adults over 18 reports have had alcoholic beverages or beverages at some point in their lifetime, and 56 percent say they have had alcohol in the last month. Nevertheless, one refrains from alcohol – in the short or long term – becomes more common.
"Not everyone will be wasted when they go to the bar," Forte says. Sometimes there is almost only social and fit.
The "naked inquisitive" or "sober times" movement started as a challenge for those who felt that they had participated a little too hard during the New Year's weekend. First there was "Dry January" when people could boast social media about how they took a break from splashing. Now there is "Dry July" and even "Sober September." And the movement has spread all over the country with people who challenge each other to see how life is without alcohol and part of that experience.
Instagram accounts like the Sober Girl Society and Sober Nation have tens of thousands of followers, like Ruby Warrington, author of the book Sober Curious: The happy sleep, greater focus, boundless presence, and deep connection that awaits us all on it other side of alcohol released last December.
And while there is virtually no inconvenience of taking a break from drinking alcohol – or completely quitting – science has just begun to investigate how abstinence can be good for you.
Short breaks improve health
So far, there are a handful of studies that point to some benefits of abstinence to even moderate drivers – in addition to the commonly recognized benefits to people who have alcohol disorders.
A 2016 UK study of approx. 850 men and women who voluntarily renounced alcohol during "Dry January" found that the participants reported a number of benefits. Eg. 82 percent said they felt a sense of accomplishment. "Better sleep" was quoted at 62 percent and 49 percent said they lost something.
Another study, published last year by UK researchers, compared the health outcomes of a group of men and women who decided to stop drinking for a month compared to the health of a group who continued to consume alcohol .
"They found out that at the end of the month – just after a month – people lost almost anything," says senior executive Aaron White, scientific director of the NIAAA director. "They had improvements in insulin sensitivity, their blood pressure figures improved and their liver looked a little healthier." The improvements were modest, White says, but the wide range of benefits scientists documented was noticeable.
To help understand how a break from alcohol can affect healthy living, researchers in the Netherlands conducted a separate study to document the biochemical effects of a month of alcohol abstinence.
The study was small. It included only 16 people who had been accustomed to drinking about two drinks a day on average. However, the results were provocative, researchers say and deserve to follow up.
After one month, researchers measured levels of a liver enzyme called gamma-glutamyltransase or GGT. "There is an antioxidant made from the liver called glutathione. You can get an indirect measure of how much oxidative stress the liver is under by measuring an enzyme called GGT that helps rebuild glutathione stores," White explains.
After a month, the researchers documented a reduction in participants' GGT.
"The results of these studies are actually very surprising," White says. Health hazards associated with heavy and prolonged drinking are well known, but these are some of the first evidence to help scientists understand how the body responds to even a brief break from moderate alcohol consumption.
For drinkers who have become addicted to alcohol, taking a short break is probably not an option. Many people who drink heavily have not had an easy way to manage their relationship with alcohol.
Julia Robinson for NPR
Chris Marshall in Austin, Texas has been sober for the past 12 years. He started drinking in high school, he says and got his first DUI at 4 pm Then he came to a fraternity in college and stopped drinking.
"All my drink was really centered around the community, and I wanted this connection so much with other people," he says.
He was finally enjoying with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. He became a drug addiction counselor to help others, but found out that being in recovery was often lonely.
"The early days of abstinence from alcohol were so tough because I didn't have any friends," he says.
Then he created Sans Bar, a sober bar in Austin. It is open Friday night and some Saturdays – a pleasant place for people to talk, make sober friends, listen to music and of course drink some good non-alcoholic drinks. (Marshall likes gingerbread, as he says, offers a nice burn in the throat that people sometimes miss when they no longer drink alcohol.)
Sans Bar has become so popular that Marshall took the concept on the road this year. He organized pop-up bars in Washington, D.C., New York and Anchorage. And he has opened new sober bars in Kansas City, Mo. and western Massachusetts.
"What I want to create all over the country is these small incubators for social connection," he says.
Marshall has seen a lot of changes in the way people see mercy over the past 12 years. Back when he got sober, you either suffered – or you didn't, he says. Now there is a whole spectrum of curiosity.
"Not everyone identifies as sober all the time," Marshall says. And that's fine with him.
He welcomes people who are in recovery, and they are just curious about the sober life of Sans Bar as long as they are drug-free when they come and while they are there.
"You know, alcohol is the only substance where you have to give a reason why you don't," he says.
On a recent Friday night, Rob Zaleski and Kim Daniel enter Marshall's Austin bar. They go without alcohol for 30 days, they explain and document their experience in a podcast and on Instagram at #BoozelessATX.
"We came to the realization that we drink too often and too much," says Zaleski.
They wanted to see what new skills and activities they could try while not consuming alcohol. So far, they have discovered archery lessons, played flag football, checked out motorcycles at a biker rally and participated in a free improvisation class.
"We find that we can fill our days," says Daniel, "but sometimes nights are difficult." Then they discovered the Sans Bar.
Julia Robinson for NPR
If you are concerned that you are one of the 17 million American adults who rely on alcohol and alcohol causes stress or injury, seek medical attention. As we have reported, there are a number of treatments in addition to Alcoholics Anonymous, including counseling, medicine and support groups to help people who want to end this addiction. This NIAAA guide can help you find a program or approach that suits you.
But if you can and will experiment with cutting alcohol while others around you drink, Marshall offers these tips to handle it: Be vocal if your not planning to drink. Bring a friend who supports you. And demand a good substitute drink.