The Dark Side Of Sobriety Becoming Trendy

By Victoria Kim 06/24/19

While sobriety going mainstream has had a positive impact, there are some who have looked to take advantage of the "sober curious" movement. 

woman scheming about sober trends

By this point in time, many of us have become exhausted by the phrase “sober curious.” In a few short years, the movement to normalize and encourage people to consider a sober lifestyle has exploded.

Overall, many see it as a positive shift in our culture of glorified drug and alcohol use and triumphant stories of sloppy intoxication. However, a dark side has inevitably emerged—as people grab the opportunity to make money off of people in need. This is where the movement—which does not distinguish between people in recovery and people who choose to experiment with a sober lifestyle—gets messy.

“I’m all down with the new sobriety/sober movement but please let’s not forget among the mocktails, the trendiness and the tees with cutesy slogans that for many of us, sobriety wasn’t a health trend, lifestyle choice or a socio-political statement but a matter of life and death,” The Fix contributor and author Amy Dresner said in a Twitter post. In response, recovery mentor, peer support specialist, and fellow author Sean Paul Mahoney said, “If another person says ‘sober curious’ to me I’m gonna punch them in the neck.”

The positive impact of this trend is obvious. As Dr. Paul Earley, an addiction medicine physician, told Vox, “If you have younger people who are trying sobriety before the illness has taken hold, we might prevent some people who are on their way toward alcoholism." Young people who may not be keen on trying out a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous have another option in seeking out sober communities. These communities, led by social media "influencers," are doing their part to glamorize the sober lifestyle—for once. 

“It’s almost rebellious in a sense because of how glorified alcohol and drugs have been for so long,” said Austin Cooper, whose @SoberRevolution Instagram account has a following of nearly 60,000.

On the other hand, Vox reports, there are certain things that people who ally with this movement should be aware of.

“We need to be really careful about who we trust and we need to make sure that people are licensed or certified in some fashion to ensure that we’re getting the proper treatment,” Kati Morton, a licensed marriage and family therapist, told Vox.

Morton emphasized that for people who are in need of actual recovery, relying on “sober influencers” won’t be enough to address deep-seated issues—they need counselors, not coaches.

Vox writer Molly McHugh also noted that not all sober influencers are to be trusted. “There have been numerous instances of Instagram coaches failing to deliver on their promises,” wrote McHugh.

Cooper says there is a lot of money to be made through “body brokering”—recruiting people as clients for treatment programs—and it is a big problem in the social media sober influencer community as well.

Also beware of influencers who charge big bucks for the promise of recovery, McHugh writes. “I’m really hesitant to support any of that,” says Morton. “They’re not trained and they don’t understand the nuances. They don’t know what questions to ask.”

At the end of the day, McHugh concludes that the growing curiosity around sobriety is a good thing overall.

“I still see people saying everybody who doesn’t do 12 steps is going to die. And it’s just not true,” Cooper said. “I haven’t been to a 12-step meeting in five out of my six years of sobriety. There’s not one way for everybody, so I think it’s great when people can be an influencer and be able to provide resources for all walks of life.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr