A curious and sober movement is building online, targeting alcohol consumption in the “gray zone”

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During lockdowns, millions of Americans marked the end of the day with cocktails. Now, as daily routines resume, some are trying online alcohol recovery programs to reduce alcohol use or quit altogether.

So-called sober curious, or gray area, drinkers suspect they are drinking too much but say the term “alcoholic” does not accurately describe them. A multitude of for-profit programs, many of which were founded by authors of popular sobriety books and aimed at gray-zone drinkers, have sprung up to offer support and strategies for quitting alcohol, whether either temporarily or permanently.

Nicola Peachey, 46, says she tried one of those programs, a 30-day non-alcoholic challenge called the Alcohol Experiment, in July after wine became a coping mechanism during the pandemic.

“Alcohol has become my new best friend,” said the Perth, Australia resident, who spent periods of confinement with her husband, their two teenage boys and a Brazilian exchange student. Diet and nutrition coach Ms Peachey said she had not been drinking since joining the program, even on a recent vacation.

According to a survey by Rand Corp. among 1,540 adults, the number of days Americans drank increased by 14% in a one-month period in spring 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. In a survey of the American Psychological Association in February 3,013 adults, 23% reported drinking more to cope with stress during the pandemic.

Sobriety trend

The new programs are part of a larger trend towards sobriety, led by writers of alcohol recovery memoirs, social media influencers and leaders of sober online communities. Many see abstinence as a healthy lifestyle choice and reject what they describe as the societal adoption of alcohol.

“For too long, alcohol has been considered necessary for fun,” said Ruby Warrington, author of the 2018 book “Sober Curious,” a term that has become synonymous with the decision to examine alcohol consumption. in gray areas by questioning personal impulses and cultural expectations to drink. The negative side effects of alcohol, which increase the risk of diseases such as depression and cancer, outweigh the benefits for many, she said.

Alcoholics Anonymous, the 86-year-old organization behind the 12-step program, offers free peer support groups, as do other nonprofits. The new services typically charge users from $ 14 to $ 197 per month, depending on the degree of coaching involved.

Like Alcoholics Anonymous, the new services embrace sobriety. But while an AA publication argues that it is ultimately futile for heavy drinkers to attempt “moderate and social drinking,” some new services believe that a little alcohol may be acceptable.

Turkey not cold enough

“Some people can choose moderation,” said Annie Grace, founder of This Naked Mind LLC, which offers a variety of recovery programs, including the one Ms. Peachey took. Ms. Grace warns that the effort required to regulate what, when and where to drink can lead to mental fatigue that makes it difficult to stay within limits.

An AA spokesperson said in a statement that the organization had no comment “on other methods of getting sober.” There are a lot of different options.

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John Kelly, an addiction professor at Harvard Medical School, said his research on AA shows strong evidence that the program works by building motivation, coping skills and self-confidence, and by helping people to meet sober friends.

Although there is little statistical evidence on the new services, Professor Kelly said: “Covid has opened our eyes to the fact that online platforms have shown that they can be of real benefit to people…. help people get their feet wet and find a good fit. “

The price of support

Ms. Grace’s company charges $ 47 for a live version of the 30-day alcohol experiment. Sessions draw up to 3,000 attendees and include a private Facebook group and a daily live online meeting hosted by trainers trained by Ms. Grace, whose book “This Naked Mind” chronicles her recovery from a bottle of wine out of habit. evening. (A version without the live meeting is free.)

Participants receive daily emails containing videos featuring Ms. Grace and others, including authors and psychologists, discussing the effect of alcohol on the brain, how to deal with cravings for smoking and triggers for alcohol consumption, among other topics.

A screenshot from the This Naked Mind app showing the first day of the alcohol experiment, with founder Annie Grace and Scott Pinyard, the company’s head coach.


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The naked mind

Naked Mind’s more intensive programs cost up to $ 197 per month, depending on the level of coaching chosen by the participant.

More than 280,000 people have completed the alcohol experiment since the company started offering it in 2017, Grace said. About 80,000 of them have registered since January 1.

Ms Peachey said she never considered Alcoholics Anonymous in part because she didn’t believe the label applied to her. “For me, the term ‘alcoholic’ implies something serious, like losing your job and losing your family. It was not my path, ”she said.

The number of users of Tempest, a program launched in 2014 by Holly Whitaker, author of “Quit Like A Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol,” has quintupled since 2020, according to the company. Memberships start at $ 41 per month and include live workshops, a private online community, and around 50 weekly support group meetings.

Target customers

The companies say women, whose frequency of binge drinking rose sharply in 2020, according to Rand, make up the majority of customers. Over 80% of Tempest members and over 60% of This Naked Mind attendees are women, according to the companies. Alcohol consumption among women has been increasing for years, according to a study cited by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Laura McKowen, author of the 2020 book We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life, launched Luckiest Club, which offers 28 weekly online support groups, in May 2020 and charges $ 14 per month. Ms McKowen said many members have joined in the fight against alcohol use in the event of a pandemic.

Others who became sober during the lockdown are seeking support in staying sober as restaurants and bars reopen.

Colby Wallace, a New York City resident, said his alcohol consumption increased after March 2020, when his job as a third-grade teacher moved online and his roommates left town.

“I was alone in a dark apartment teaching at a distance,” he recalls. His early morning commute had brought his drinking under control, he said, but blockages have removed that structure.

After passing out on May 4, 2020, Mr Wallace said he became sober and has remained so since. He attributes the “accountability” provided by Luckiest Club meetings, where members can share their progress. “I wanted so much to show up to meetings and type in my number of (dry) days,” he said.

Write to Anne Tergesen at [email protected]

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