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'Mindful Drinking' Is the Latest Health Craze. Here's What It Is

'Mindful Drinking' Is the Latest Health Craze. Here's What It Is
From TIME - January 4, 2018

Kate Atkinson was tired of spending her weekendsthe only respite from a demanding public relations career and the grind of modern lifehungover. Its the ultimate typical Saturday for the working person to wake up feeling foggy and ill, Atkinson says. I wanted my days of not feeling horrendous back.

In pursuit of that goal, Atkinson, 35, began to zero in on her drinking habits. She started going to CLUB SDA NYC, a social network that helps New Yorkers develop healthier, more intentional relationships with alcohol through booze-free events and workshops, and things began to change. She still drinks sometimes, but says shes become more mindful of my decisions and where they might lead.

Atkinson is far from alone. These days, a chasm is widening in American culture: Binge drinking and alcohol dependency rates are higher than theyve ever been, but, on the flip side, a growing number of individuals are drinking less, at least some of the time. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that the percentage of Americans who said they had used alcohol within the past month took a small but statistically significant decline between 2014 and 2015, the most recent year with available data.

Off-and-on drinkers like Atkinson can fill their calendars with alcohol-free events, like those from CLUB SDA, which consistently sells out its 200-person gatherings; Daybreaker, which hosts sober early-morning raves for as many as 700 people in 17 cities globally; and Sober Grid, a 10,000-users-strong social app for people who dont drink. Others use mindfulnessa focus on the present moment that recent research has found to be effective in helping heavy drinkers cut backand similar strategies to booze when it suits and teetotal when it doesnt. And this month, more than 5 million people around the world will atone for excess holiday drinking through Dry January, a month-long experiment in sobriety. Together, to borrow a phrase from CLUB SDA cofounder Ruby Warrington, these disparate cohorts are the sober curious.

There are many shades of gray when it comes to alcohol addiction, Warrington says, and perhaps there can be shades of gray when it comes to sobriety, also.

CLUB SDA and its ilk arent necessarily helping people get sober. Warrington and her cofounder, Biet Simkin, are careful to state before each event that CLUB SDA is not an addiction recovery group, and Simkin estimates that only 30% of attendees never drink. The group isnt even angling for people to drink less, though thats often the result. Instead, its more about cultivating mindfulness around drinking, and questioning what effort are they actually putting toward bliss in their life, other than shooting mezcal down, Simkin says.

MORE: How a Short Meditation Can Help People Drink Less

That message resonated with Ebenezer Bond, 41, who started going to CLUB SDA two years ago, after realizing how often he drank while entertaining clients as the cofounder of an experiential marketing firm.

I just got to a place where I wanted to stop having alcohol be such a presence in my life, says Bond, who now typically limits drinking to Friday and Saturday nights. I still like alcohol, but I wanted to bring more focus into my life, and less allowance for distraction and covering things up.

While research suggests that about three-quarters of Americans drink at least occasionally, a recent international survey of 72,000 respondents found that almost 33% of people wanted to reduce their booze consumption, for reasons ranging from physical health to sexual regret to embarrassment. That mindset seems to be gaining steam, especially for younger generations: 72% of Millennials said they disapprove of people ages 18 and older drinking one or two drinks nearly every day, according to research from Monitoring the Future.

However, other Nielsen research shows that Millennials, who make up 25% of the legal drinking population, drink 35% of beer in the U.S., 32% of spirits and 20% of wine.

Just as the reasons for wanting to cut back on booze vary, so, too, do the methods for doing so. Mindfulness is one popular technique.

At the mindful drinking classes Lodro Rinzler runs at his New York-based meditation studio MNDFL, students take time to smell, taste and fully experience their cocktails, with the goal of staying present and analyzing the physical and psychological effects of drinking. The goal is more that they would have a healthier relationship to [alcohol] than to drink more or less, Rinzler says. That said, many people do notice, I will meet with that friend and instead of having one, I have four drinks. They end up saying, I dont need to do that.

MORE: How Meditation Helps You Handle Stress Better

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