Sober Influencers Take Over Instagram
Sober influencers say sobriety is cool. But where does that leave people who are struggling with addiction?
The Making of a Sober Influencer
Sobriety is having a moment, writes Vox’s Molly McHugh. So it only makes sense that we’d see a rise in sober influencers. That rise is especially evident on Instagram, de facto originator of the influencer.
Take Austin Cooper. After rehab Cooper soon decided he wanted to share about his own sobriety. So he took to Instagram and started posting powerful personal development quotes. In no time his Sober Evolution account topped 50,000 Followers.
“People would tag their friends who were also in recovery, or they would share an image and my story,” he says. “Pretty much off the bat, it exploded.”
Cooper is part of a growing legion of Instagram sober influencers. These folks replace the usual array of indulgent partying imagery with before-and-after sobriety photos, memes pointing out the amusing side of being substance-free, and sober-branded sponcon. It’s your standard social influencer fare, but with an agenda that says: The sober lifestyle is cool.
“I think ‘cool’ is a good word,” says Cooper. “It’s almost rebellious in a sense because of how glorified alcohol and drugs have been for so long.”
Want vs Need
There’s a cultural shift toward less alcohol-centric socializing, especially among millenials. Add the emergence of trendsetters who see sobriety as an asset, and this change could hugely effect the role booze plays in Americans’ social lives. The trend is also affecting drug use. No longer is it hip to be high, say this new sober crowd. And legions are starting to listen.
But there’s a marked difference between people who need to get sober and those who want to get sober. Instagram hashtags like #SoberCurious, #SoberLife, #SoberAF, #SoberSaturday, and #SoberIsSexy blur the lines between those who are actively recovering from their addictions and those who are “sober curious” and simply interested in exploring the benefits of sobriety.
“Sobriety” and “recovery” are not the same thing. The former, writes McHugh, applies only to those who have given up alcohol (and, for some, recreational drugs). The latter is for those who are actively addressing any underlying addiction issues through therapy or treatment programs.
An OG Sober Influencer
Jennifer Gimenez knows this. Why? Because she’s one of the original sober influencers. See, before there was such a thing as Instagram, there was reality television. And once the drunks on The Real World woke up, they gravitated to shows like Sober House and Celebrity Rehab.
Back in 2008, Gimenez, a model and actress with two years of sobriety at the time, was asked to be a coach on Celebrity Rehab. The following year she lived on Sober House with the likes of Andy Dick and Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler. Gimenez didn’t think she, Dr. Drew, or VH1 knew exactly what they were getting into.
“It was so raw and real,” she says.
Gimenez joined the speaking circuit following her stints on Celebrity Rehab and Sober House. And that’s how she built her brand as a sober influencer. Yes, Gimenez is much more connected to the IRL recovery community than she is the online sober-curious legion. But her Instagram account is all about sobriety, straight down to the oft-used “sober is sexy” hashtag.
Before sober was sexy for Gimenez though, writes McHugh, partying was.
“It was crazy. It was awesome. I mean, I drank and I did drugs and it was fun. And then it wasn’t.”
Before getting clean, Gimenez thought treatment was for “losers.” Even after rehab, she hid her sobriety. “I’d be like, ‘Oh, my god, I can’t tell anyone that I’m sober.'”
No more. For her. Or for the vast swath who is following in her sober footsteps.
“It’s kind of weird,” says Gimenez. “Like, the Snooki days are over. You know what I mean?”
The rise of the ‘sobriety is cool’ movement is opening up an avalanche of entrepreneurial opportunities in both wellness and treatment arenas.
Just ask Holly Whitaker. Whitaker is the founder and CEO of Hip Sobriety, a lifestyle community and alternative sober coaching program. Hip Sobriety throws around phrases such as “sober is the new black.” It even has its own online trade magazine called the Temper. And while articles on how to use astrology in recovery might have limited appeal, pieces about popular non-alcoholic drinks (mocktails) and being an ally to people with addiction can be helpful to the sober and the sober curious alike.
High sobriety has also led to an increasing succession of booze-free “bars” such as Brooklyn’s Getaway and Canticles Sober Lounge. New York also features the popular once-a-month pop-up Listen Bar, as well as Sober Curious author Ruby Warrington’s Club SÖDA event series.
Then there are the sober coaches. A sober coach can do everything from help a client avoid triggers and make positive choices (think AA sponsor, but paid) to dispensing general wellness and life advice. Many sober coaches offer their own programs, despite the fact that they’re largely unlicensed. Some also sell lifestyle products such as skin care items.
Considering the wellness movement has a market value at $4.2 trillion, it only makes sense for sober influencers to jump into this very lucrative fray.
Sober Influencers: Help or Harm?
But wellness isn’t the same as sobriety. “Sobriety is a real, difficult, lifelong choice that people with addiction make every day,” says Vox’s Nicole Fallert. And “being sober curious isn’t a recovery method.”
Sober curiosity may lead people into addiction treatment though.
“There’s a really good side to sober curiosity,” says Dr. Paul Earley, an addiction medicine physician. “It develops this notion of saying, ‘Well, might I have a problem?'”
Earley believes it’s often difficult to tell when someone is struggling with alcohol, let alone the degree of that struggle. After all, some people are genetically predisposed to alcohol dependence and addiction. Others have issues with substances and self-control. So the simple act of analyzing and questioning your drinking instead of accepting it as normal is undeniably good.
Earley also points out that reaching younger people before it’s too late would be a huge step in helping them.
“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,” he says.
Remember though, the majority of sober influencers aren’t trained addiction treatment professionals. And people who truly need substance abuse help should always turn to a reputable rehab. After all, life’s far too valuable to risk on someone’s Instagram feed.