For Sober October, a Reminder That Recovery Isn’t a Solo Act (Guest Column)

Scott Strode is the founder and executive director of The Phoenix. Colette Weintraub is the head of Stand Together Music. 

If there’s anything National Recovery Month and Sober October remind us, it’s that recovery isn’t a solo gig. It’s more like being part of a massive band, playing the same tune of resilience and strength. It’s also about listening to what your audience wants.

The conversation around alcohol use and addiction is changing. A recent article pointed out a growing trend: Gen Z is drinking less. For both those in recovery as well as those who are sober-curious or choosing to abstain for whatever reason, a growing chorus of people is expressing interest in having options that encourage them to be part of the larger community rather than cutting them off from it.

Even the music industry, long known for “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,” is beginning to embrace the sober community and support a culture inclusive of wellness. One year ago, we launched the 1 Million Strong initiative alongside Stand Together Foundation, setting up sober-supportive spaces with elevated mocktails and a welcoming community right in the heart of the festival action at major events such as the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Stagecoach, Bourbon & Beyond, and more.

This ran counter to previous approaches to recovery at music events — ones that mirrored the stigma and separation frequently seen throughout society. People in need of help would be sent to an info booth away from the main event, away from the fun, and away from any sense of community. While these approaches were helpful in providing crisis care, we were thrilled to offer a community-based approach that emphasizes empowerment, fulfillment, and connection without stigmatizing those in recovery.

We’ve seen an enthusiastic reception and support from the music industry, but here’s the kicker: this isn’t an issue that only affects the music industry. In 2023, 46.3 million Americans ages 12 and older had a substance-use disorder. It’s time for all industries to reimagine their environments as ones in which folks can be sober and enjoy life in community with others.

Take the hospitality sector, for instance. We’re not asking bars, hotels, and restaurants to dump the booze. Instead, business owners can tap into a growing market — getting creative with those mocktails and non-alcoholic brews and being more intentional when it comes to sober inclusivity. Let’s create spaces where sobriety isn’t the exception, it’s a choice respected just as much as any other.

Then there’s the corporate world. Businesses have the opportunity to move beyond basic wellness programs and instead strive to foster a truly supportive environment where mental health and recovery aren’t just HR checkboxes. One excellent example of this is Live Nation’s employee-led partnership with 1 Million Strong that rolled it out to approximately 40,000 employees as part of their Sober Nation initiative. As part of the partnership, mocktails are available at all company-sponsored happy hours and events, as well as at Live Nation venues. The Phoenix, a sober active community that provides free, active, and meaningful programming such as rock climbing, CrossFit, yoga, music and social events, is available to all Live Nation employees, providing additional opportunities for them to come together as a community and support one another.

And sports, where post-victory champagne showers are the norm, could play a part in shifting the narrative, as well. Let’s have stadiums add a selection of mocktails to their menus and encourage athletes to talk about their experiences with substance use and positive experiences with recovery. The tough talk of the locker room could give way to an atmosphere of understanding, empathy and vulnerable conversations.

This isn’t about creating a sober America. It’s about creating opportunities for every person to live their best life. In an environment where there are more options for more people to enjoy themselves, live their best and healthiest lives, and connect with others, we can foster a greater sense of community. In this kind of environment, people are more likely to show up as the best version of themselves, which is a win-win for individuals and society.

The music industry has truly begun to embrace this. The enthusiastic response we’ve received is proof of that. Now, we’re counting on other industries to join the band.

The recovery narrative is getting a much-needed upgrade. What was once a hushed-up tale of struggle is becoming a loud and proud story of community, strength, and thriving. It’s about not just surviving, but truly living.

This fall, as we celebrate recovery, let’s pledge to keep the beat going. Let’s work together to create a world where being sober doesn’t mean being sidelined. After all, life’s a party, and everyone deserves an invite. Everyone has a role to play – what can you do? Here’s to a more inclusive, understanding, and celebratory future. Let’s crank up the volume on this new tune for recovery.

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