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Staff photo by Tim Barber / Linden Marno-Ferree serves Jessica White a "mocktail," named The Genesis Thursday at Mad Priest Coffee + Cocktails on Cherry Street.

Perhaps it was only a matter of time before our increasingly health-conscious society started to consider why it's normal to pass on dairy or gluten at backyard barbecues, but rejecting booze prompts a dozen questions. Enter the rise of the "sober curious" or "sober sometimes" movement.

From 2016 to this year, alcohol-free mixed drinks grew 35% as a beverage type on the menus of bars and restaurants, according to global market research firm Mintel. And a host of sources from NPR to Lonely Planet report the growth of an entirely new kind of bar dedicated to these "mocktails" — bars that don't serve any alcohol at all.

Jessica White has been sober for over a year. When she recently moved to Chattanooga, she was surprised to find a lack of sober groups in the area.

In June, she started a local meetup for other sober curious women that now has 24 members. You don't have to pledge to be sober 100% of the time or identify as an addict or problem drinker to join in; you just have to have an interest in sobriety or cutting down on your drinking. The group is meant to be an alcohol- and judgment-free zone and a place to meet like-minded folks, discuss favorite mocktails and coffee shops, and just be social without the social lubricant of alcohol.

Alcohol-free bevvies to try

» Zero-proof Ritual Gin, which mimics the taste and burn of the real thing

» Curious No. 1 premixed Negroni mocktail

» Chateau de Fleur non-alcoholic champagne, for toasts and diehard mimosa fans

» Fever Tree Ginger Beer, fermented like regular beer but without hops or gluten

Quitting alcohol for even 24-48 hours benefits your body. Learn more at chatterchattanooga.com.

"I wanted to meet new people, and help people as well," says White.

Like many who are sober curious, she doesn't identify as an addict. But she always knew she had a problem with alcohol. She didn't drink every day, she says, but when she did, she always took it further than she wanted to.

"Drinking started to wear on me. I just got to the point where I was miserable in every aspect: my job, the place I was at, my relationship. I kind of had to get away from all that and isolate for a little bit," says White, who went to live with her parents for six months before moving to Chattanooga. "I turned 30 in September and I wanted to go into my 30s with a clear head."

Chattanooga is her first sober home, and not being part of the bar scene for the first time in her life was an adjustment. One downside of being sober is the feeling of isolation that's common when you back away from situations where there's pressure to drink, she says.

White finds support on Instagram, where she follows accounts of people who are living the sober life. "That's honestly helped a lot. It's one good thing about social media," she says.

So far, her meetups have been small, drawing a few people at a time. That doesn't bother her, because it keeps things intimate and makes one-on-one conversations possible. But she hopes interest will grow, and wants people to know they're welcome even if they just want to get sober for a week or a month. The people she's met so far span the gamut from those who simply prefer a healthy lifestyle to those recovering from a lifestyle of excess.

Realizing that you can still be social and have fun while sober is a huge part of giving up alcohol, says White. Luckily, Chattanooga provides abundant opportunities to get outside and be active, which she says has been really important for her sobriety.

White and sober friends she's met feel there's a place — and a need — in the city for more sober events, and maybe even a sober club like those found in bigger cities like Nashville and Atlanta.

Are you sober curious? Check out White's group at meetup.com, or just try rejecting alcohol next time it's available. Even if you don't end up joining the movement, you are sure to enjoy a hangover-free day.

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