Valley Dwellers Dabble in Teetotaling with Sober-Curiosity Trend

Leah LeMoineJanuary 6, 2022
Share This
Valley dwellers test the waters of teetotaling with the national trend of “sober-curiosity.”

Valley dwellers test the waters of teetotaling with the national trend of “sober-curiosity.”

On Good Morning America in March 2020, Food Network star Ina Garten shook up a comically huge Cosmo for one – a symbol of convivial escape during the early dark days of the pandemic. While many followed her boozy lead during quarantine – according to Nielsen, that same month saw a 55 percent increase in the sale of alcoholic beverages compared to the previous year – a growing number of people started going the other way.

“By about June of the pandemic [in] 2020, I reevaluated my relationship with alcohol and determined it needed to come out altogether,” says Phoenix social worker Brad Bridwell. His domestic partner, social worker Tamara Wright, soon followed. “I’m more of a sober-curious person,” she says. “I haven’t completely cut it out. This week, I had half of a margarita. But I just started being really aware of why I’m ordering a drink.” 

According to a 2021 Nielsen survey, nearly 50 percent of U.S. adults (66 percent of millennials) are trying to limit alcohol consumption through stints of sobriety like Dry January or Sober October, 100-day challenges or weekend-only drinking. The term “sober-curious” has gained popularity because it’s malleable, with more room for gray than the black-and-white absolutes of addiction and recovery.

“I didn’t want to call myself sober, because I feel like that takes away from other people’s journeys that are so much harder,” says Scottsdale’s Lauren Steckbeck, who works in accounting and distribution. After her drinking low point – “I could drink two bottles of wine by myself… I didn’t even realize what a hangover felt like anymore, because I just felt like it all the time” – she did a 100-day sobriety challenge. “I had never felt so great in my life. I lost 35 pounds like practically overnight… My skin looks better. I can sleep better… I am out of the haze and back to myself.”

In January 2021, Bridwell and Wright turned their sobriety journeys into a side gig with The Nixer, their nonalcoholic pop-up bar inspired by “NA” bars in Los Angeles, Denver and New York. “We show that a social environment can exist without alcohol, and you can still drink yummy, complex, non-sugar-bomb beverages,” Wright says. “We’re not sober evangelists,” Bridwell continues. “We’re just looking to create a world that’s a little bit more inclusive and less reliant on alcohol as being the primary social elixir.”


For more than 50 years, PHOENIX magazine's experienced writers, editors, and designers have captured all sides of the Valley with award-winning and insightful writing, and groundbreaking report and design. Our expository features, narratives, profiles, and investigative features keep our 385,000 readers in touch with the Valley's latest trends, events, personalities and places.