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Sober memes are thriving in addiction and sobriety communities

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“It’s funny how drinking 8 cups of water a day seems impossible but 7 beers and 5 shots in two hours goes down like a fat kid on a seesaw,” reads a screenshot of a tweet pictured on Instagram.

Out of context, the post just sounds like a crude punchline to justify binge drinking. But on the Fat Jewish‘s page, which is 10.4-million followers strong, it struck a relatable note for many, earning more than 400,000 likes.

Memes thrive across social media for their ability to recast less-than-ideal everyday behaviors into funny and relatable nuggets that can be shared with friends in two clicks.

Pages that aggregate memes hit the sweet spot for followers who want to laugh and commiserate about struggles with food, love, money, and substance abuse without getting too serious.

But intense obsessions with food, alcohol, and drugs pose a serious threat to social media users dealing with alcoholism and other addictions. Not only do they sometimes glorify substance abuse, but they can serve as triggers for addicts.

Accounts that recycle material that makes light of obsessing over food, alcohol, and romantic partners creates a dangerous echo chamber that can encourage unhealthy behavior, says Alexa Cook, the therapist behind @sobergrind, a meme page that plays on the funny side of the often unflattering reality behind getting sober.

“[Mainstream meme pages are] not helping people, they’re keeping people sick,” Cook said. “They’re fun and funny and even I share them with my friends, but we need something different, in my opinion. Our culture needs to be healthy.”

Cook’s page is one part of the online community of sober social media users and has drawn an audience of more than 30,000 followers with a more lighthearted and realistic touch than the serious and personal posts found under the hashtag #soberlife.

The account came from Cook’s own experience with sobriety and grew as she posted what she found funny.

“One of my friends started a meme account and it’s always inspiring shit and I was like I don’t need inspiring s—,” Cook said. “I don’t need your f—— positive energy, I’m feeling my emotions and humor is a huge coping tool I use.”

In the comments on her page, users leave gleeful emojis and tag their friends. In real life, mental illness and addiction can be difficult or embarrassing to discuss, and memes have been credited with bringing conversations about mental health into young peoples’ reach.

To those who haven’t entered recovery or committed to sobriety, Cook’s page might seem niche, but widespread rates of alcoholism and addiction mean huge adult populations could relate.

As many as 12.7% of American adults currently suffer from alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism, and 29%, or 73 million, will meet the criteria for such a disorder at some point.

Some who have committed to sobriety through recovery programs take their lifestyle public online, posting to hashtags including #sober#sobriety#soberliving#12steps, #alcoholicsanonymous, and #soberlife.

In addition to earnestly celebrating the milestones along with one’s recovery, Cook says the intersection of humor and reality can break through in the toxic cycle of addiction and the rollercoaster of recovery and she often gets overwhelmingly positive feedback from her followers who thank her for posting and share their own stories with her.

“Humor works for people,” Cook said. “When you’re stuck in your head, we want to break that pattern as soon as possible…’I’m hopeless, I can’t,’ we want to shake that s— off and humor’s a good way to not take ourselves so seriously, at least for me.”

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