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The ‘New Sobriety’ movement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Not drinking is not all it’s cracked up to be. Need proof? Donald Trump is a teetotaler, and a very poor advertisement for life six steps back from the bar.

Heather Hopp-Bruce/Adobe/Globe Staff

I’ve stopped drinking alcohol, for various reasons. The lower-rent brews and vintages that I traditionally favor now give me a headache. I read somewhere that you lose weight by not drinking, because your metabolism retains less water. This happens to be 100 percent untrue — alcohol is a diuretic — but I still believe it.

Another reason to quit the sauce: The past four years have successfully carpet-bombed my central nervous system. Why onboard more negative neurotransmitters by drinking? I can always watch TV.

Yet, I must confess: Not drinking is not all it’s cracked up to be. Need proof? Donald Trump is a teetotaler, and a very poor advertisement for life six steps back from the bar.


Think of these remarks as a public service message for proponents of the “New Sobriety,” which features alcohol-free bars, “sober-curious” yoga retreats, and “mocktails,” e.g., virgin cucumber gimlet = ugh. The New Sobriety movement has all the hallmarks of a millennial fad, in which the ascendant generation congratulates itself for discovering eternal verities and celebrates each breakthrough with a Twitter-ready hashtag; #Parenting! #TheEnvironment! #SocialJustice!

Wait until they encounter #Death! But I anticipate.

If this is the New Sobriety, then put me down for the Old Sobriety. I’d just as soon have Carrie Nation putting the axe to the ale houses, or listen to hymns at Sarah Brown’s Save-a-Soul Mission from “Guys and Dolls” than hang out with a bunch of soberer-than-thou striplings.

There is a burgeoning book genre called Quit Lit, which may or may not be an unintended play on words. Sample titles: “Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice To Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol” and “The Sober Lush: A Hedonist’s Guide to Living a Decadent, Adventurous, Soulful Life — Alcohol Free.” My contribution will be “Not Drinking: A Non-Love Story.”


Right now we are in the midst of vogueish “Dry January,” which attracts several million adherents, way up from the few thousand Brits who first espoused the idea in 2013. This again is old wine in new bottles. My Catholic friends, many of them no stranger to the grape, often eschew hooch from Jan. 1 until Feb. 3, the Feast of St. Blaise. That day is also known as the Blessing of the Throats, because St. Blaise — Dr. Blaise to you — miraculously saved the life of a small boy with a bone caught in his throat.

To be fair, some New Sobrietists are trying to navigate between the extreme of full-on Alcoholics Anonymous “recovery,” i.e. no drinking, ever, and permitting the occasional nip. Although I wouldn’t be caught dead using the phrase “mindful drinking,” this is where I find myself now. I don’t want to stifle the part of me that enjoys the sensual experience, and the camaraderie, of drinking. I quaffed some decent champagne on New Year’s Eve, and I plan to drink on my birthday, Jan. 25. Should I lift a glass on Feb. 7, Super Bowl Sunday?

Don’t worry — I can quit any time. Ha, ha, ha. Ha.

I once complained to a friend that the biggest challenge of not drinking was how to spend the extra 45 minutes recaptured at the end of each day when you weren’t dozing off to sleep in a gauzy alcoholic funk. My answers seem to be: Hate-watch the doggy PBS series “All Creatures Great and Small,” read a few more pages of David Blight’s excellent but prolix Frederick Douglass biography, or agonize over my only unsolved clue in Brendan Emmett Quigley’s latest “Marching Bands” puzzle, “Spanish composer Isaac whose piano works have often been transcribed for classical guitar.”


No Googling allowed! It’s enough to drive a man to drink.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.