Tinder for the Sober

By Beth Leipholtz 03/24/15

Sober dating? There's an app for that.

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Sober app
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I’ve always been an enthusiastic member of the Tinder bandwagon, and I’ve always been vocal about it—the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly. I even made sure to include the fact that I was sober in my bio, thinking it would keep anyone from messaging me and asking me to grab a drink. Then again, people aren’t always that smart. Or they don’t actually read bios. Or both.

I’ll admit, I was also thinking that maybe it would inspire a young, sober guy to message me. In this storyline in my mind, we would bond over common ground sobriety things, then fall in love and live happily ever after in our sober bliss. 

And this one time, it worked. Out of the bazillion people using Tinder, I found ONE other sober person (one who was open about it, at least). We went to an AA meeting on our first date, went on to have a few more dates, and texted and spoke on the phone constantly. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding such a real, honest, sober guy who was just like me. On Tinder, of all places. 

SPOILER ALERT: 

It all went south. Fast. Long story short, he went back to using, dropping me in the process, and I faced a long road of nursing a shattered heart, knowing that finding another sober person on Tinder was a long shot. I just knew I was destined to be forever alone.

Then I met my current boyfriend, and even though he isn’t sober, all is right with the world again. But, I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t crossed my mind that a Tinder for the sober community would be a brilliant idea—not necessarily for dating, just for the sake of meeting new people like myself. The problem was that I wasn’t about to launch it even though I am clearly completely capable (not!). I figured I would wait for some other mastermind to come up with the idea. 

A few months later, someone did just that. 

Now there’s a new Tinder in town—meet Sober, a Tinder-esque, location-based, social networking app targeting the sobriety community. Finally. 

Though similar to Tinder in its use of swiping right to “like” another user, the app also incorporates aspects of other social media platforms. These include a Twitter-like feature, which allows users to post short updates, as well as a Facebook-like friending and messaging feature. Users also have the choice to post their sobriety date and availability to sponsor other users. 

While the above are the more traditional features of social media, the app also includes a “Help” feature, which allows users to choose a “Doctor,” “Hospital,” “Detox,” “Rehabilitation,” “Sober Living” and “Other/Hotline.” After clicking one, the location-based algorithm then connects users with the nearest match. The hotline feature goes directly to the team at Sober.

In other words, this app goes above and beyond the simplistic idea that took shape in my brain a few months ago. So, who is the mastermind behind Sober?

A 21-year-old named Antoine Nauleau who is—you guessed it—sober. The founder and CEO began struggling with addiction in his teenage years. 

“(Getting sober) was a very difficult process, as I imagine it would be for any teenager,” Nauleau said. “It caused a repeated cycle of therapeutic boarding schools, wilderness camp, 12-step meetings and treatment, all accompanied by short stints of clean time.”

Most recently, after getting clean, Nauleau spent time reflecting on his experiences, which was when the idea of Sober began to take shape. He drew on knowledge about his own addiction and attempts at recovery while planning and developing the application. As anyone in recovery likely knows, it can be hard to keep the same friends we had while using, but it can also be hard to meet new ones. So why not embrace social media as a platform for forming relationships?

“What I had found to be the common denominator in all of this was that I was having to build my social circle every time, and that I had lost almost all my close friends or not made any lasting connections over the years,” Nauleau said. “With my background in software and tech, I started forming different ideas around how I could use it to help others in my situation, as well as myself.”

The hope is that the app will be used to create a community, somewhere to share thoughts, ideas and socialize for people of all walks of life with one common denominator—addiction and recovery. 

“I think society has come a long way in regards to addiction, but that we still have a ways to go,” Nauleau said. “Addiction isn’t going anywhere. The numbers are growing, and it’s affecting everyone from kids, to grandparents, and third world countries, to the most affluent parts of the country. We can’t just turn a blind eye to it anymore.”

As is the case in many organizations, AA and the recovery community have had to adapt to modern technological advances. There are now Facebook groups for certain area meetings, apps that assist users in finding meetings, online meetings, Twitter accounts for rehabilitation centers, and so on. 

This can create confusion for older generations, but is ideal for younger ones. We millennials love having the world at the tip of our fingers—I’ll be the first to admit that I am on my phone too much. While I fully support any app that has to do with sobriety, I also have to wonder how it will affect the sober community in the future. Could face-to-face interaction decrease? Could the value of meetings be lost? Although I doubt that will be the case, it’s hard not to think about.

Even so, the app has gained early attention and use, with mostly positive reviews, aside from small glitches, which are common in the early use of any new app.

“It's a great place to go to connect with like-minded people from around the country,” said Kelly Fitzgerald, a 29-year old Sober user from Florida. “I'm glad someone has taken advantage of the mobile app scene and put a sober twist on it. It feels good to be able to chat with other sober people in other settings besides meetings.”

Sober was launched in San Francisco, but there are plans to expand to numerous cities later this year. The app is free, but is only currently available for iPhone users and can be downloaded at http://sober.ly/app/. An Android-version is also in the works. In the meantime, Android users may be added to a waiting list by visiting http://sober.ly/waiting-list/. 

“I’m currently devoting my life to building this company and in doing so I hope to be able to offer as many services to people in sobriety as I can,” Nauleau said. “Addiction and recovery have been a huge part of my life, and I feel as if it is my responsibility to be active and a part of it, but in my own way.”

(Would you consider using a sober dating app? Why or why not?)

Beth Leipholtz is a writer from Minnesota. She is also a rugby player and a fan of anything Goldendoodle. She currently serves as the editor-in-chief for her college newspaper. Follow her on Twitter @el9292

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