What to Read, Watch, and Listen to When You’re Sober Curious
This is the sober-curiosity canon — created almost entirely by women
Recently, when a friend asked me why I thought so many people we knew had stopped drinking, I responded with, “Um, maybe because the pandemic is one of the biggest challenges humans have ever faced, and it’s the only way we can exert a modicum of control over our existence?”
That’s all true, but there’s also the fact that once we’ve quit, many of us discover a new vitality. Even if it’s not a full-on lifestyle change, getting a little dry time under our belts seems to catalyze creativity.
For adherents of 12-step recovery programs like me, there is no middle ground when it comes to substance use. You could stay sober for 10 years, then drink one glass of wine and have to reset your counter to zero. But for those who are currently playing with sobriety, it isn’t so black-and-white.
Even though I’m completely sober — a journey I write about in my upcoming memoir, Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls: A Memoir of Addiction, Women, and Love — decoupling the concept of sobriety from the still-stigmatized disease of alcoholism has granted people greater freedom to experiment with self-restraint without feeling a sense of shame or failure if they do decide to do that tequila shot or meet their friends for a dragon bowl.
This has led to an explosion of art that addresses sobriety and sober curiosity, much of it created by millennial women. It may be that women’s historical experiences have primed us to have a particularly nuanced (and perhaps slightly sinister) view of the power of alcohol and the ways it can compromise both our safety and happiness. Still, this new movement is exciting and dynamic and reflects something deeper and more political than just not wanting a hangover. Here’s a list of the best (and mostly new) books, TV shows, podcasts, and more coming out of the movement. It’s for the sober, the sober curious, and the sober-curious curious.
Book: ‘Lit’ by Mary Karr
This rock-bottom-to-redemption tale is the ur-recovery memoir, a bible as valuable to some (me) as the Big Book, the basic text for Alcoholics Anonymous.
Podcast: Jardine Libaire on ‘Recovery Happy Hour’
Jardine Libaire wrote the novels Here Kitty Kitty and White Fur and is about to publish The Sober Lush: A Hedonist’s Guide to Living a Decadent, Adventurous, Soulful Life — Alcohol Free. Here, she beautifully chronicles letting go of the idea that her heavy partying was cool and finding her way to recovery.
These doodles on sobriety are silly, entertaining, and sometimes incredibly profound. My recent favorite proclaims, “I’m done celebrating having a high tolerance for pain.” Tabs for advice and motivation are great places to collect tidbits of wisdom to get you through a drink-free day.
Website: The Small Bow
This recovery-focused news platform features thoughtful, hopeful, sometimes sad but always engaging essays on the pursuit of a good sober life. Pieces like “I Still Miss You, Heroin” and “A Gratitude List for People Who Are all ‘Eh’ About the Word ‘Gratitude’” will make you feel less alone. The Small Bow was founded by A.J. Daulerio, the former Gawker editor who published Hulk Hogan’s sex tape, which led to a lawsuit and the bankruptcy of the media mini-empire. (Read about why he launched the site here.)
Book: ‘How to Change Your Drinking: A Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol’ by Kenneth Anderson
This cult classic focuses on minimizing the negative effects of drinking from a harm reduction perspective, meaning you don’t have to give it up altogether. It’s a fantastic resource for anyone looking to be more mindful about their intake and feel more in control of how booze is affecting their life.
Book: ‘I’m Black and I’m Sober: The Timeless Story of a Woman’s Journey Back to Sanity’ by Chaney Allen (Out of Print)
An inspiring story that sheds light on the intersecting forms of oppression that affect addiction and access to recovery for marginalized people.
Podcast: Dax Shepard’s ‘Armchair Expert’
The comedian and actor’s beloved podcast is funny, informative, and deep. Even though Dax Shepard doesn’t talk about sobriety with every single guest, he brings the refreshing clarity and self-awareness of a sober dude to every show. One episode is particularly great: Erin Lee Carr is a talented documentary filmmaker and the daughter of the late, great journalist David Carr, whose harrowing memoir, Night of the Gun, is a mainstay of addiction lit. She talks to Shepard about her journey, her father, and why she considers sobriety a “superpower.”
Podcast: ‘Edit: Editing Our Drinking and Our Lives’
If you’re interested in recovery but can’t relate to some of the more extreme stories of alcoholism, this podcast is for you. Hosts Aiden Donnelley Rowley and Jolene Park talk candidly about “gray-area drinking,” as well as the ways that not drinking can affect work, romantic relationships, and especially our relationships to ourselves.
Story: Edith Zimmerman’s piece on Annie Grace’s book
Edith Zimmerman, a writer and illustrator, founding editor of The Hairpin, and house illustrator of The Small Bow (see above), has quickly become one of the best new voices on recovery. Here, she interviews writer Annie Grace about This Naked Mind, the book so many sober people swear CHANGED THEIR LIVES in all caps. (Bonus: I love Zimmerman’s brilliantly modest essay “How to Change Without Willpower” on what it took to stop drinking.)
Video: This Inverse Video About ‘Hangxiety’
Understanding the science behind a hangover may not help you decide whether to stop drinking, but it will at least validate your sense that you’re not just queasy — you’re also feeling guilt, shame, and anxiety. This video explores the neurological basis of all of that unpleasantness and is surprisingly fun to watch.
Story: ‘Getting ‘California Sober’ Showed Me a Kinder, Gentler Way to Do Drugs’ by Michelle Lhooq in ‘Vice’
An essay in which a formerly drug-loving journalist moves to Los Angeles after getting laid off and goes “Cali sober” (using only weed and psychedelics), “tweaking [my] body’s neurochemistry through removing substances instead of adding them.” Michelle Lhooq feels her chakras open (yes, she knows how Cali that sounds) and her life begin to change.
Book: ‘Mindfulness and the 12 Steps’ by Thérèse Jacobs-Stewart
This book — which you can read for free online — is a gentle, comforting guide to applying Buddhist mindfulness practice to recovery. The focus on ethical living and personal growth through loving kindness meditation will appeal to those who prefer a little less God-talk in their recovery.
Instagram: Africa Brooke’s Instagram
The coach, speaker, and sober influencer posts motivational content focused on maintaining an abundant recovery mindset. Brooke’s encouragement also veers into other topics, like money and codependency issues. I had to sit down and breathe after a recent post: “Your self-worth isn’t based on how much you can exhaust yourself for others.”
We’ve seen TV alcoholics before, but none like Rob Delaney’s character in this Amazon comedy. He navigates marriage, new fatherhood, and life as an American living abroad in London, while trying to stay sober. Rob feels like a bracingly true-to-life drunk, and the show demonstrates how compatible sobriety and family life can be.
Book: ‘Sober Curious’ by Ruby Warrington
Ruby Warrington is not just a leading voice in the sober-curious movement — she’s the person who coined the term in the first place. Her 2018 book is particularly useful if you need tips on how to conquer FOMA (Fear of Missing Alcohol) or want to be convinced that you can ditch gray-area drinking and still have fun. She also hosts a podcast by the same name that covers a wide spectrum of addiction and mental-health-related issues, from exercise addiction to microdosing.
Book: ‘How to Grow Up’ by Michelle Tea
Novelist, memoirist, and punk hero Michelle Tea situates her recovery tale in the larger story of becoming an adult in this compulsively readable memoir-in-essays.
Website: The Temper
Holly Whitaker, author of Quit Like a Woman, is behind this recovery-focused website, which features personal essays and tackles a range of everyday concerns for sober and sober-curious people, like how to travel and date sober.
Podcast: ‘Drinking after Years of Sobriety,’ the Jemima Kirke episode of ‘Anna David’s Launch Pad’
“Jessa” from Girls talks partying, getting kicked out of rehab(s), trauma bonding, and learning to drink moderately after 12-step recovery.
Audiobook: ‘The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober’ by Catherine Gray
If you want to consider sobriety less soberly, Catherine Gray’s book is for you. Narrated by the author, it’s a full-throated endorsement of the dry life that focuses on how thrillingly, surprisingly good it can feel.
Story: ‘Can You Get Over an Addiction?’ by Maia Szalavitz
This memorable New York Times piece by Maia Szalavitz, author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, explores the idea that maybe we actually can get over our substance problems. “If addiction resides in the parts of the brain involved in love,” she writes, “then recovery is more like getting over a breakup than it is like facing a lifelong illness.”
Story: ‘I Thought I Needed Acohol to Enjoy Sex… But Being Sober Made It So Much Better’ by Ginny Hogan in the ‘Guardian’
For many who are thinking about quitting drinking, the next obvious (panicked) thought is, “OMG, what about sex and dating?!” This Ginny Hogan piece is a refreshing reminder that even though subtracting alcohol from sex might be scary, adding intention, connection, and honesty might make it that much hotter.
Book: ‘Drinking: A Love Story’ by Caroline Knapp
This beloved 1996 memoir was one of the first by a woman to reckon with being a “high-functioning alcoholic.” Caroline Knapp didn’t lose jobs or crash cars — she just discreetly battled her demons for two decades before getting sober. She recounts the story with quiet grace and wisdom in this bestseller.
Manual: Harm Reduction Guide
Long before “sober curious” was in our lexicon, harm reduction advocates were challenging the one-size-fits-all recovery model by arguing that we shouldn’t focus on total abstinence, but rather on reducing the negative effects of drug use in individual lives and society as a whole. This radical approach is finally finding its way into mainstream drug policy. Here, you can learn more about the approach and how to apply it.
This CBS sitcom, starring Anna Faris and the inimitable Allison Janney, is one of the only shows ever to explore intergenerational addiction and sobriety. Faris plays Christy, a newly sober single mom facing endless stresses and temptations. Her biggest challenge, however, is finding a way to handle her mother, Bonnie (played by Janney), who’s also in recovery. The laugh track is grating, but this family show is a charmer.