From working as a substance use counselor to founding Austin's first zero-proof bar, Chris Marshall has dedicated his career to supporting people at all stages of their sobriety. We caught up with him for a Q&A to learn about the shifting cultural norms around drinking and his passion for creating fun, alcohol-free spaces for everyone. During Aspen Ideas: Health 2023, he joined other leaders at the forefront of the sober curious movement for an expanded conversation about the trend.
Most people have likely heard about “Dry January” and mocktails, but what is the “sober curious” movement really about? Are there some common misunderstandings?
The sober curious movement is all about being mindful about how alcohol consumption affects us as individuals and as a society. Over the past decade, Dry January, Dry July, and Sober October have become months where people choose to abstain from alcohol, and the sober curious movement takes this a step further by encouraging people to question their relationship with alcohol and make more intentional choices. One common misunderstanding is that the sober curious movement is about shaming or stigmatizing people who choose to drink alcohol, but that's not the case at all. This movement is about creating a space for people to explore their relationship with alcohol and make choices that work best for them.
How can embracing a sober curious lifestyle benefit one’s mental, physical, and emotional well-being?
Embracing a sober curious lifestyle can have numerous benefits for one's mental, physical, and emotional well-being. By reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption, people may improved sleep, more energy, healthier skin, and better digestion. They may also find that their relationships and social interactions improve, as they're able to connect with people on a deeper level without relying on alcohol. Finally, reducing alcohol consumption can lead to improved mental health, as alcohol is a depressant and often exacerbates anxiety and depression.
Tell us about Sans Bar! What inspired you to create Austin’s first alcohol-free bar?
I created Sans Bar because I wanted to create a space where people could come together and have a good time without feeling pressured to drink alcohol. As a substance use clinician for 8 years, I witnessed firsthand how challenging it could be to socialize in environments where alcohol was the primary focus. More than anything, I firmly believed that in an increasingly disconnected world, everyone could benefit from a space where community is at the heart of the social experience.
Why do you think this idea is gaining momentum at this moment in time?
I think the sober curious movement and the idea of alcohol-free bars are gaining momentum right now because people are increasingly interested in living more mindful and intentional lives. There's a growing awareness of the negative impacts of alcohol consumption, both on an individual level and on a societal level. Additionally, as more people are becoming interested in living a sober or sober curious lifestyle, they're looking for spaces where they can connect with others who share their values and interests.
Any tips for those just starting their own sober curious journey?
My biggest tip for those just starting their sober curious journey is to be gentle with yourself and take it one day at a time. That sounds cliche but deciding to reduce or eliminate alcohol is a significant undertaking. It can be challenging to break free from the cultural expectations around alcohol consumption, so it's important to give yourself time and space to figure out what works best for you. I also recommend finding a supportive community or network of people who can offer encouragement and accountability along the way.