Gen Z and beyond exploring the “sober curious” movement

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s holiday party season, so that means work events, family gatherings, and all kinds of social get-togethers. You might be eating and drinking more than you usually do, and for people in recovery, it can be tough to navigate the holiday cheer.

Recently, there’s been a push for more sober-friendly environments and in Philadelphia, one group is ensuring people have the right space to stay on track.

Cheltenham native Julian Mendelsohn, 23, never planned on becoming a barista. He also never planned on getting sober. He’s less than a year into recovery and says he knew he needed help when he started drinking alone in his room. Mendelsohn credits his parents for encouraging him to get help.

Sometimes you can see someone has that look of like they don’t really know what’s going on or they’re not OK, and I think my parents saw that,” he said.

He says life’s been good since he made the decision to ditch alcohol. He went back to college and is working at Unity Java, a coffee shop that attracts employees who are in recovery.

“I think we can do a lot more as a society to make it a safe place for people with mental health or substance use issues,” said Tricia Vasinda, the Director of Operations with Unity Restaurants, which includes Java and Volstead, a sober bar in Manayunk.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism, more than one in 10 Americans over the age of 12 have struggled with alcohol in the past year.

Ironically, the bar is front and center inside Volstead, which Vasinda described as, “a vegan restaurant and zero-proof bar, so completely sober bar, nonalcoholic beer, wine, cocktails, the whole nine yards.”

Vasinda says the demand for more mocktails is growing. Dry January, when you cut out drinking for the month, has become more and more popular and people are exploring the “sober curious” lifestyle.

“I think it really started with the pandemic. I think during that time, a lot of people started to really examine their relationship with alcohol,” said Vasinda.

Mendelsohn says he was met with support from his friends when he decided to get sober. He’s also noticed a shift among Gen Zers who are embracing moderation.

“There’s a lot of freedom in this generation, I feel like, especially with expression and being yourself and not being afraid to be yourself,” he said.

Vasinda hopes more dialogue around sobriety will encourage employers, businesses, and communities as a whole to more openly consider those who are in recovery.

According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, some of the best practices to navigate sobriety during the holiday season include having a plan for social events, inviting a sober friend to join you at events, and bringing your own non-alcohol drinks. You can read more here.