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Why the ‘Sober Curious’ Trend Is Taking Off During Dry January

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The first time I remember hearing about the concept of not drinking in January, it was with my basketball buddies after a rec game in the East Village in New York City. This was a winter night more than a decade ago, over a table of chicken sandwiches. One guy, who worked in commodities, was explaining to a group of us how, after the excesses of the December holiday season, he liked to take the month off from drinking. To detox. To refresh. To healthify. It felt like a strange secret from a better, more progressive place—particularly coming out in this postgame huddle. That night, the sweaty dude was just full of rarefied wisdom.

Nowadays the concept of a sober January doesn’t feel so exotic. In fact, as known by its pop-lexicon title, “Dry January,” it’s practically a brand. According to a YouGov poll, 23 percent of Americans over 18 had plans to attempt a booze-free January in 2019. That would correspond to an astounding 58 million temporary soberers.

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I have what I consider to be a pretty good relationship with drinking. Plainly: I’m a fan. I wasn’t a young drinking prodigy. It was when I moved to New York, at 21, that I fell in love with bars and the things that can happen in them. I met some of my best friends that year. I also puked more that year, quite possibly, than in the rest of my life combined. Over time, I’ve calibrated my intake choices and minorly dabbled in drugs, from gateway to stronger stuff. It’s all brought me back to the same initial conclusion: In drinking, I have all the vice I ever need.

And yet I’ve been swept up, too: I’ve attempted Dry January three years running. Meanwhile, beyond episodic fads, sobriety has morphed into a lifestyle, the sober curious, a term popularized by the author/podcaster Ruby Warrington via her 2018 book of the same name. These people don’t just do Dry January—they hang out at sober bars, download sobriety podcasts and apps, and consume content from self-branded sober gurus. “I feel like alcohol is the new cigarettes,” says Warrington. “Smoking was completely socially acceptable 20 years ago. Fast-forward a couple of decades and people will drink and use alcohol much differently.”

Celebrities Visit SiriusXM - October 17, 2017

Ruby Warrington.

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As Dry January has boomed and cross-pollinated into sober curious, it’s also become divisive. If you have partaken, you know. Some people get it. But turn down a drink during the month of January and someone will declare, as if they’ve caught you: “You’re doing Dry January?” You have to be ready—aesthetically, morally, spiritually—to defend your decision.

To me, that makes total sense: The rapid permeation of the sober-curious wave has given it a slight tinge of mass psychosis. We’re talking about millions of people, largely people who don’t believe they have a drinking problem, giving up the sauce. Why would anyone willingly stop drinking?

Well, okay: You stop drinking because it is, almost surely, not all that great for you. In 2018, The Lancet published what it called “the most comprehensive estimate of the global burden of alcohol use to date.” Its widely publicized conclusion contradicted years of prior research and general common wisdom and declared, dramatically, that, actually, there is no safe level of drinking. That even one drink a day correlates to an increased chance of health problems. And that more drinking correlates to, yes, more problems.

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While some criticized the study’s observational tactics and other research points to the potential benefits of moderate alcohol intake, its conclusion resonated widely. Perhaps that’s because sobriety is attaining an increased cultural cachet. Sober curious is part of a more general move to open up decision-making trees in various aspects of modern life. People used to be either something or not that thing. But you can temporarily quit meat, or only do gluten when you’re partying. It’s not just all-or-nothing. Nowadays there are all sorts of gradients. There are so many reasons to choose sober-ish.

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To learn more, I belly up to the bar at Redemption in London, where the food is vegan and the drinks are non-alcoholic. And there are sober bars like this across America and, of course, an app, Loosid, to help you find like-minded sober folks. Zoey Henderson, head of ops at Redemption, tells me about how her cocktail menu has moved away from “homemade kombucha, shrubs, tinctures, and essences” and toward an influx of nonalcoholic “plant spirits” and bottle brands that replicate gin and rum flavors in cocktails that are a combination of “mixology and alchemy.”

The Redemption bartenders, Henderson explains, are using “older recipes and herbal tonics that give you all those wonderful, positive reinforcements that you look for in a drink. They make you feel a bit buzzy. They make you want to dance.” She specifically recommends Redemption’s hibiscus sour, “a powerful botanical elixir.” And as for what a night out at Redemption is like, it’s “exactly the same” as a social outing with alcohol, Henderson says, “except the toilets stay cleaner, nobody gets rowdy, glassware is smashed a lot less—all the positives, none of the negatives!”

Another group of people sliding into sobriety are those on restrictive eating plans. Well-known lifestyle diets like keto and Whole30 famously restrict or eliminate your alcohol choices. I have two very smart scientist friends in Boston: Rachel, who is a physician and scientist at Harvard, and Greg, a scientist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Both are paleo. “I use paleo more as a framework for a low-glycemic-index diet, which is the diet that has the most data behind it as being good for overall health,” Rachel explains. “I do still drink, but being on a paleo/low-glycemic-index diet has made me more conscious in general about what I take in and how I feel after eating/drinking things.” For Greg, paleo helps him maintain “an overall healthy lifestyle” and “control in the amount of alcohol I consume.” And even when drinking, he stays paleo via grape-based Ciroc. “Thank God,” he says, “for Diddy.”

Sean Combs Press Conference to Announce New Business Venture with Diageo North America and Ciroc Premium Vodka

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While Greg gets loose on grape vodka, many more are relying on a buzz from a different botanical source, popularized by West Coast rappers like Snoop Dogg. Though the legalization of marijuana has not impacted the sales of spirits, it has illuminated a spectrum of usage that ranges from “cross-fading” (spirits and weed) to “Cali-sober” (weed only). Writer Katie Heaney recently chronicled her Cali-sober journey, detailing how smoking marijuana has helped take the edge off cutting back on alcohol. As Heaney told me, “I don’t necessarily relate to the more wellness-y aspects of sober curiosity. I think it’s great if anyone wants to drink less. But I think that’s a decision most people have to come to on their own, for their own reasons. For some people, having a like-minded community might really help with that, but it’s just not my thing.”

However, data on overall alcohol consumption for the past several years does reveal year-on-year declines, so people are drinking less, especially millennials. Annie Grace, another author/influencer/podcaster, credits social media for this trend and says young people “don’t want to be embarrassed on a platform that lives forever. I certainly am glad there was no photographic record of what I did in my early 20s.”

It’s not just about embarrassment, though. As The New York Times put it in a recent sober-curious story: “Beyond the health risks, the booze that flows freely at fraternity parties or holiday mixers has started to look to some women like a tool of oppression in the age of radical consent.” Grace adds another factor in the decision-making of millennials and Gen-Zers: “Their experience with their own parents drinking. It seems that they feel alcohol is their parents’ drug.”

Instead, the kids want to get high on . . . wellness?! You know, yoga, meditation, adult coloring books, wheatgrass shots, CBD everything, and so much more. “Once a person begins the journey into health and wellness, alcohol often sticks out as a sore thumb,” says Grace.

I personally didn’t dip a toe into the sober-curious pool, via Dry January, because of sober bars, sober gurus, diet, weed, or youth. It wasn’t thanks to the sweaty hoops player either, but through the wisdom of someone even more impressive: my girlfriend.

If I were ever to try it, trying it with her seemed like the most palatable option. I thought cutting out one twelfth of my yearly alcohol intake seemed like a pretty good idea. I’d save money, lose weight, focus better, blah blah blah.

I succeeded, with pluck and guile, in my first attempt. I found that all the clichés were true. I did want to socialize less. I did want to eat more ice cream. I also found out that, after the first week or so, it got easier. That once I got even a little bit of a head of sober steam, the booze cravings weren’t crowding my brain. I slept better! I also felt, slightly, like I was living in stasis.

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There are many reasons to stop drinking, either temporarily or altogether. For me, the reason is this: I need to check with myself that, while I love drinking, I do not need it. And not to get carried away here, but if you’re not questioning everything in 2020, as the world tilts on so many axes, maybe you’re not thinking hard enough. We should be analyzing our relationships with our coworkers, our romantic partners, our families, our best friends. We should be thinking about our booze.

We can do that in January. Or we can do it whenever. And if it’s January and we’re not feeling good about our fast, we can just—stop! Years ago, I was with a pal at breakfast, contemplating getting a doughnut. I hemmed and hawed and muttered to myself how it was “bad for me.” He looked at me and he pointed to his brain and he said something I’ve honestly never forgotten: “It’s good for the mental, though.”

Yes, even one drink is bad for you.

But even one drink can be damn good for the mental.

Use these tips to thrive whether you’re doing Dry January or leaning into sober curious.

  1. If alcohol helps you decompress after work, do another activity that helps you relax. It could be a short workout, like a fitness snack (see page 13), or committing to a daily stroll. Or something more explicitly stress-busting like meditating or writing down whatever is on your mind, says psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, M.D.
  2. If you enjoy the rituals of drinking, plan your alcohol-free stand-ins at home and out. Think about what you like most about your go-to drink and give yourself alcohol-free options, whether it’s a nonalcoholic beer or mocktail or seltzer or kombucha, advises Jenna Hollenstein, nutritional therapist and author of Drinking to Distraction.
  3. If alcohol is your social lubricant, you may need professional treatment. Talk therapy is a proven way to deal with social anxiety, says Dr. Ramsey. Or talk to a doctor about meds. Alcohol calms by enhancing the same neurotransmitter effects as Xanax.

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      12 Best Soaps for Men 2020

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      You may not have thought about bar soap in a while, except when you’re suddenly confronted with it in a hotel room shower or a guest bathroom. It seems retro, like something you used when you were taking baths as a kid, but we say it’s time to re-examine the power of the bar.

      Body washes may be exceedingly popular among men, especially those who struggle with dry skin, but the kind of clean you get from a bar soap is second to none. While they are not self-cleaning as Joey Tribbiani once claimed, they get the job done with less mess and can last longer than a bottle of wash.

      Plus, in our current age of sustainability and eco-friendliness, bar soaps come with less waste. Think about it: they’re smaller, you can use them till they’re completely gone, and there is no plastic bottle to throw into the recycling bin when you’re done. Many soap companies are even changing their packaging to make bar soap an even greener option. In short: there is no way Greta Thunberg uses body wash.

      Bar soaps are versatile and can be great for you no matter what your skin type. You can find a soap for oily skin, dry skin, sensitive skin, and everything in between. Check out the 12 best bar soaps and we promise, you won’t go back to the bottle.

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      Baxter of California Vitamin Cleansing Bar

      baxterofcalifornia.com

      $18.00

      One of the biggest complaints about bar soap is that they can make your skin feel too dry; not this one. It contains sunflower oil and glycerin to keep your skin hydrated and smooth all over. Plus, the citrus and musk fragrance is one of our favorite men’s scented soaps.

      Method Men Sea + Surf Exfoliating Bar Soap

      Exfoliating bar soaps have a little grit in them to help smooth away dry, dead skin cells and leave your body feeling clean and fresh. This one contains minerals, instead of microbeads (better for the environment) and the scent is fresh without being overpowering. 

      Dove White Beauty Bar

      This dermatologist-endorsed bar is one of the best for your face, but here’s a secret: you can use it all over your body, too, especially if you have sensitive skin. It’s contains gentle moisturizing ingredients that hydrate and clean skin without overstripping it.

      First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Gentle Cleansing Bar

      Another soap bar that can be used on your face as well as your body, this one includes colloidal oatmeal, which is known for its skin-soothing properties. It’s ideal if you struggle with sensitive or dry skin and other skin issues like eczema.

      Beekman 1802 Goats Milk Bar Soap

      Beekman soaps are hand made from natural ingredients. The brand says goat milk is a natural anti-inflammatory agent, which means it may help calm irritated skin while cleansing. All we know is that it smells damn good and leaves you feeling clean AF.

      The Rich and Clean No 09 Bar Soap

      therichandclean.com

      $12.00

      For guys with oily skin or who sweat a lot, the charcoal in this soap helps soak up excess oil and leave you fresh without that telltale tight feeling. The Japanese peppermint is said to help curb oil production, but also gives this soap a bite of fresh, but not overpowering, fragrance.

      Caswell-Massey Cold Cream Luxury Bath Soap Set

      Triple milled soap is known for its silky-smooth texture and it cleans effectively with less lather (which can strip away your skin barrier). The natural vegetable base of this soap is gentle enough for all skin types and the subtle almond fragrance smells fresh, without being in your face.

      Ursa Major Morning Mojo Bar Soap

      It’s called Morning Mojo, because the peppermint and eucalyptus fragrance in this soap gives you a jolt of clarity in the morning, even before you have your first cup of coffee. It has grit to it, but doesn’t feel rough on your skin, thanks to moisturizing honey and coconut.

      PLANT Apothecary BE GENTLE Organic Bar Soap

      This soap is heavy on the shea butter, which is great news if you have dry or sensitive skin. The ingredients are naturally-derived and sulfate-free, but still gives enough lather to adequately clean your whole body.

      Oars + Alps Natural Moisturizing Alps Bar Soap

      Want to smell like you just got back from a hike through the Rockies? This soap delivers a woody, outdoorsy scent that says “I’d rather be exploring.” It also contains shea butter, so it’s gentle on even dry skin.

      Ethique Pumice, Tea Tree, & Spearmint Bar Soap

      Ethique has every kind of bar you could imagine (even shampoo and conditioning bars), but we like this exfoliating and clarifying bar because it helps get rid of dead skin cells and excess oil at the same time. It’s ideal to keep in your gym bag for a refreshing post-workout shower.

      Lush Karma Bar Soap

      This handmade soap sounds like it would be overpowering, but it also has citrus which helps temper what could otherwise be a heavy fragrance. Bars are made fresh with natural ingredients and last for months.

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      ‘The Goop Lab’ Review – Inside Gwyneth Paltrow’s Netflix Series

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      A few weeks ago, I passed along to a friend some CBD lip balm that had come across my desk. “Sure, I’ll take it,” the friend said. “And remind me—why would I want CBD in my lip balm?”

      The best I could come up with was a shrug, because the mountain of evidence that backs up what it could do in a lip balm is pretty much flat ground right now. But people buy it. It’s trendy. They’re curious. They want to feel better, look better, be better.

      Which is probably one of the reasons people are also tuning in to The Goop Lab, a 6-episode Netflix show that launches today, billed as a series “guiding the deeply inquisitive viewer in an exploration of boundary-pushing wellness topics.” It’s by Gwyneth Paltrow’s “lifestyle brand” Goop, of course, and the 30-ish minute episodes feature its staffers trying trends like psychedelics, cold therapy, energy healing, anti-aging, and psychics. It also explores female pleasure (hopefully not just a trend).

      There are plenty of jabs you can take at the series, especially given Goop’s history of being slapped with penalties for making false claims about the products it sells (the essential oil that claimed to help prevent depression and the infamous Jade Egg). But passing on egregiously bad “facts” isn’t really one of them. In what’s probably a smart move for the company but a less helpful one for viewers, there aren’t a lot of them. In the first episode, staffers fly to Jamaica to take psilocybin—magic mushrooms—after a brief interview with the executive director of MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) Canada, who outlines some legit findings about psychedelics (sure, it could go deeper, but it’s not claiming to be an investigative show). Their experience is interspersed with testimonials (positive! Whaddya know!) by other people whose lives have been transformed by psychedelics.

      The trouble is that when the Goop starts—with the cast in the mushrooms episode imbibing and then crying, hugging, wow-ing over the clouds—you just don’t care. All you see is a bunch of willowy superpeople trying this trend as if it were another hoodie from Supreme. The crying, the writhing, the exaggerated comforting hugs feel like an endless scroll through the narcissistic Instagram feeds that make you say, “Oh, congrats! You took another picture of yourself!”

      Which can turn the very real quest for feeling better and doing better into a potentially exhausting try-the-trend circuit—or a potentially expensive buy-the-trend circuit, conveniently available on Goop.com. Which may be why, no matter how many times her elegant wrists get slapped, people keep coming back for more Gwyneth, more Goop, more stuff.

      Maybe so many people love/hate The Goop Lab and Gwyneth because it’s the symbol of the thing we want to deliver but never quite does. It’s the thing that left us with an empty wallet and an empty spirit but a smoldering desire to have abundance in both. There it is, the empty tube of CBD lip balm (or roll of CBD toilet paper, or CBD hair products) that’s still making you scratch your head about what it does. Meanwhile, you’re suffering under your workload, your mom has dementia, that pain in your back keeps getting worse, and you can’t afford PT.

      For a moment, The Goop Lab might take your mind off all that, if you can stand the Goopy patina of perfection, the peek into “real” experiences that feel as authentic as reality TV does. But at the end of the day, or the end of the episode, you’re still left wondering, “now, why do I need this?”

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      James Corden Doesn’t Always Drive During Carpool Karaoke

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      • A behind-the-scenes video revealed that James Corden doesn’t actually drive during his Carpool Karaoke segments.
      • The fans are betrayed. The fans are angry. The fans feel lied to.
      • This is their story.

        Update: January 23, 4:28 pm

        The Late Late Show has released a statement about Corden’s Carpool Karaoke segment: “James always drives during Carpool Karaoke. However, on the rare occasion when there is a stunt component and the producers feel it is unsafe to drive, we will use a rig (tow).”


        January 22nd was a pretty nice day, full of promise and hope—until Twitter user @zolihonig revealed that James Corden is NOT actually driving during the ever-popular and Emmy-winning TV segment Carpool Karaoke, and he actually just pretends to drive while his shiny black Range Rover is actually pulled around on the road by a truck in front of it.

        But how could this be? We’ve seen Corden turn the wheel. We’ve seen him put his foot on the brake. We’ve even seen him, like, swerve out of the way of some unseen obstacle. Well, my dear reader, it turns out that Carpool Karaoke is Corden’s finest acting job since his role as Bustopher Jones in Cats.

        Fans were shocked at the news, and they made sure that betrayal was heard online:

        But even in the midst of all of this outrage, there were a number of people that were like “dude, why would you ever think he was actually driving?”

        While they are actually 100% right, and safety should always comes first, it still stings to know that Mariah Carey wasn’t really driven around by Corden, or that Michelle Obama had to smile and laugh through a fake car ride. And poor, poor Paul McCartney. Doesn’t Sir Paul deserve to be actually chauffeured around?

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