Sort-of Sober Isn’t Sober

The validity of exclusivity in sober communities

Dana Leigh Lyons
11 min readFeb 25, 2024

Note: This is a lightly edited version of an essay that originally appeared in my Substack newsletter: Sober Soulful. Find me there for weekly posts and two new series — one on early sobriety and one on financial sobriety. (I only stop by Medium once or twice a month.)

A few weeks ago, I came across an essay by someone who identifies as “sort-of sober” and “sober with an asterisk.” The author, who drinks on occasion, expressed her loneliness within sober communities and her desire to belong. She suggested that sober communities might be “gatekeeping” because they don’t feel welcoming to her experience. (1)

More recently, the author shared that she’d begun rethinking her use of the word “sober*,” in part because of a critical comment left on that essay. I know I’ve changed my mind after writing things and have deep admiration for her willingness to reexamine her language. Wow, do I wish that was the norm!

And, I feel lingering discomfort around an issue that goes beyond that particular essay. As more information about the negative effects of alcohol enters the mainstream, as mocktails find their way onto more drink menus, and as more folks identify as “sober curious,” a pattern is emerging. This isn’t the first or second or even tenth time I’ve read content that blurred the line between people who choose to be sober-ish and people for whom sobriety is life-saving.