Alcohol is the most widely used substance in the United States, and it’s often misused. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.5 million U.S. people ages 12 and older live with an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

But people recovering from AUD don’t have to do it alone.

Today, there’s a vast amount of help available online. Similar to in-person meetings, online sobriety groups create a nurturing environment to provide support and coping mechanisms.

A 2020 study found that support groups have long lasting positive effects and may even exceed results seen in cognitive behavioral therapy.

Read more to see whether an online sobriety support group is right for you.

When it comes to sobriety, it often takes a village.

A 2006 study found that people who obtained outside help during recovery were more likely to remain sober and reach a 3-year remission without relapse. Sobriety support groups can offer accountability, support, self-efficacy tools, and mentorship to people with an AUD.

A 2019 study interviewed 17 participants to weigh the benefits of online mental health forums. Participants testified about the sense of belonging and practical advice they’d discovered in online forums. They considered the online communities to be free of stigma and a home for finding social interaction they lacked elsewhere in life.

Much like mental health forums, online sobriety support groups supply accessible and stigma-free aid. People can find comfort knowing they’re partaking in programs developed by experts and surrounded by people who have lived in their shoes.

While the 12-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous is an effective and well-known format, some online sobriety groups have different structures that may cater to different types of people.

Some groups may be specialized for a certain gender, ethnicity, religion, or age. Variety allows people to find a community they feel most comfortable in.

Traditionally, support groups have a leader who helps guide the group through opening comments and programming. Members can opt to speak about their experience or choose not to share, depending on their comfort level. Everything discussed in a support group is kept confidential.

Showing up to a support group, whether online or in person, is a big step to long-term recovery. If you have a mild or moderate AUD, a support group can supply you with self-efficacy tools as well as a sponsor or mentor.

Support groups can provide a steady structure. They can also be beneficial for preventing relapse in people with AUD who have completed an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program.

If you have a severe AUD, a rehabilitation center can provide around-the-clock care and medical attention. Once you’re on the path to recovery, an online support group can help you garner a support system.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of an AUD, it’s important to speak with a healthcare professional.

People with AUD may find themselves:

  • drinking alone
  • becoming defensive or violent when asked about their drinking
  • neglecting personal hygiene
  • building a high tolerance, leading them to drink more to feel the effects
  • not eating or having a poor diet
  • missing important engagements like work or school due to drinking
  • creating reasons and excuses to drink
  • continuing drinking even after legal, social, or economic problems develop
  • stopping important recreational, social, or occupational activities in favor of alcohol use
  • using alcohol in physically dangerous situations, such as driving
  • continuing to drink despite the presence of psychological or physical symptoms that may arise

Some people may experience physical symptoms of AUD, like:

  • alcohol cravings
  • withdrawal symptoms like shaking, nausea, and vomiting when sober
  • tremors the day after drinking
  • lapses in memory, also known as a blackout, when drinking
  • severe illnesses like alcoholic ketoacidosis or cirrhosis

If you’re wondering whether you have AUD, looking at the symptoms can help lead you to answers. When visiting your doctor, they may choose to do a physical exam and psychological evaluation before diagnosing AUD.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests taking an Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test and answering these questions:

  • How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?
  • How many standard drinks containing alcohol do you have on a typical day when drinking?
  • How often do you have six or more drinks on one occasion?
  • During the past year, how often have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?
  • During the past year, how often have you failed to do what was normally expected of you because of drinking?
  • During the past year, how often have you needed a drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?
  • During the past year, how often have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?
  • During the past year, how often have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?
  • Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking?
  • Has a relative or friend, doctor, or other healthcare professional been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?

There’s also an interactive online version of this test.

While speaking with a healthcare professional or taking an online assessment can be useful, you don’t need an official diagnosis of AUD to begin attending a support group.

To select online sobriety groups, we searched for established programs that serve different communities, and looked into comparative studies on online alcohol support programs.

Aside from 12-step programs, we sought to provide various online options that cater to different learning styles. The variety of online sobriety support groups available provides a tailored approach rather than a one-size-fits-all model.

Best for spirituality

Alcoholics Anonymous

Price: Free

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been a mainstay among many people recovering from AUD.

AA hosts free meetings for members to share their experience with addiction and to uplift each other. Members can bond over their common struggle while engaging in the 12 Steps, a spiritual foundation to develop strength and harness hope to recover.

The key principles include honesty, faith, surrender, acceptance, humility, willingness, forgiveness, maintenance, and service.

The Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous database provides more than 1,000 online meetings around the world. The AA community connects online by using chat rooms, email, message boards, phone conferencing, and video conferencing like Zoom.

The first online AA group started in 1990, trailblazing a space for remote-friendly support.

Best for pragmatic thinkers

Self-Management and Recovery Training

Price: Free

Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is an international community of mutual-support groups that cover conditions like substance use disorders, eating disorders, gambling, and more.

Unlike the 12 Steps of AA, SMART Recovery uses its Four-Point Program to help members change their behaviors. The program focuses on building and maintaining motivation, coping with urges, managing feelings and behaviors, and living a balanced life.

SMART Recovery’s free online tools include educational resources as well as a forum, live chat, and more than 40 weekly available meetings.

The program isn’t spiritual or religious, which may make it a good fit for people who don’t identify with a religion or may not want religion in their treatment plan.

The plan is intended to provide practical tools to address recovery head-on with a support system in place. It also provides scientific research on addiction and techniques to maintain sobriety.

Best for women

Women for Sobriety

Price: Free

For people looking for a women-focused program, the nonprofit Women for Sobriety (WFS) may be a good fit.

The program teaches 13 acceptance statements that encourage emotional and spiritual growth. Certified facilitators lead the online and in-person programs, which focus on positive reinforcement, cognitive strategies, relaxation techniques, and group involvement.

WFS provides a message board, online text chat, private Facebook group, and phone support. The New Life acceptance statements focus on building strength through compassion, care, self-love, and growth.

Self-acceptance is a cornerstone of the program, and the goal is to help women feel liberated and at peace.

WFS welcomes all expressions of female identity.

Best for stories and connection

Soberistas

Price: The website offers a weeklong free trial. Membership options are £19 for 3 months ($23.10 at the time of this article) and £49 for a year ($59.57 at the time of this article). Prices may vary on the euro to USD exchange rate.

Soberistas is a social network that connects people who are trying to overcome alcohol misuse or continue on the path of abstinence. The website features testimonials, stories, and webinars with members who are in recovery.

Soberistas doesn’t focus on a formal methodology like AA or SMART Recovery, but it provides multiple avenues to connect its 67,500-plus members through chat rooms, forums, and even a book club.

Forum discussion topics include tips for managing cravings, how to talk with family and friends about AUD, how to be alcohol-free at social events, and planning for meetups in cities around the world.

The Soberistas community requires paid membership, which isn’t covered by insurance.

Best to supplement with face-to-face meetings

In The Rooms

Price: Free

In The Rooms gives people in recovery a place to socialize between face-to-face meetings. The online community has since garnered more than 800,000 members.

Using live meetings and discussion groups, In The Rooms connects people around the world with others in recovery. The organization recommends using the online tools in addition to face-to-face meetings. These online tools have been a substitute for members during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In The Rooms hosts fellowships like AA, Wellbriety, Life Recovery, and several groups that are exclusive to In The Rooms.

Best for finding a sober community near you

Sober Grid

Price: Free for the online community; $99 for peer recovery coaching

Sober Grid is a free app that can connect you with sober people in your area and around the world.

Similar to popular dating apps, Sober Grid will find other sober people in your area using your GPS. The app creates an on-demand atmosphere where users can express their need for support and connect with other sober folks to help them through difficult times.

By clicking the “burning desire” button, users can signal to others on the app that they’re in need of immediate help.

Sober Grid also has certified peer recovery coaches. The coaches can help set goals, monitor your progress, share their own stories of recovery, and offer support.

While connecting with other sober users on the app is free, coaching is available for $99 a month. The membership includes unlimited chat messaging and a weekly 20-minute voice call.

Best for self-empowerment

LifeRing

Price: Free

LifeRing’s approach to sobriety is to focus on personal growth and self-reliability. Members focus on LifeRing’s three pillars: sobriety, secularity, and self-help.

LifeRing coaches its members to become their “Sober Self” and leave the behaviors of their “Addict Self” in the past. As members connect in person or online, they’re meant to live in the present moment and not ruminate on destructive histories.

Members are there to support one another, but LifeRing trusts each person to develop their own path to recovery. By developing self-determination and trusting your Sober Self, says LifeRing, you can determine your future and how to get to your goal.

LifeRing members have access to face-to-face meetings, online meetings, an educational toolkit, email groups, one-on-one sobriety “ePals,” a 24-hour chat room, and forums.

Best for Buddhist practices

Recovery Dharma

Price: Free

Recovery Dharma is a nonprofit organization that uses Buddhist practices to support people on their path to recovery. The peer-led groups use meditation, personal inquiry, and community to help equip members in recovery.

The online meetings — hosted on Zoom — are available in:

  • Australia
  • Central Europe
  • Japan
  • Nepal
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Specific groups are available for members who are women, nonbinary, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), or LGBTQIA+. Additional meetings are led by Recovery Dharma Online, a peer-led effort concerted by members of the Recovery Dharma group.

Best for the sober curious

Daybreak

Price: $12.99 Australian dollars ($9.49 USD) a month; prices may vary due to changing exchange rates

Perhaps you don’t have AUD, but you’ve experienced one too many unpleasant hangovers. If you’re beginning to wonder what your life would look like without alcohol, you might be “sober curious.”

More than a buzzword, the sober curious movement is gaining traction. People are starting to rethink their relationship with alcohol, whether using it in moderation or opting to abandon it entirely.

The decision to change your relationship with alcohol can be due to your physical health, mental well-being, or overall lifestyle. No matter the decision, you don’t have to put a stringent label on your situation.

Daybreak, an Australian-based company, created an app to help you set a goal for your relationship with alcohol and provide resources on quitting or reducing your intake.

After completing an in-app questionnaire, you can participate in community conversations, track your long- and short-term goals, and receive expert support.

Does insurance cover online support groups?

The cost of alcohol recovery programs can create a barrier for some people to access support. While some insurance providers have limitations on covering rehabilitation centers, most support groups are completely free.

For people in need of a rehab program, many insurance plans have provisions that allow certain addiction treatments to be covered.

Insurance companies may provide full or partial coverage for inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, and other additional treatment services, depending on the company and plan.

How much do sobriety support groups typically cost?

Many sobriety support groups are completely free.

Is it better to go to an in-person sobriety group?

In a study presented at the 2015 American Psychological Association Annual Convention, researchers surveyed people who use both in-person and online support groups.

The on-demand draw of online sobriety groups definitely makes it an attractive resource, and many study participants supplemented their in-person meetings with online support groups. Still, study participants felt that face-to-face meetings were more effective in maintaining sobriety.

Researchers found that study participants were less likely to lie about their sobriety — a habit that could hinder their overall recovery — in face-to-face settings. Since data is limited and online recovery support groups are in their infancy, researchers say “it would make sense that those with longer-term sobriety would be more accustomed to their traditional F2F [face-to-face] support systems.”

Only time will tell the future impact, but the study suggests that online sobriety groups will play a significant role in our shifting digital culture.

What’s the difference between an online vs. in-person sobriety support group?

Online support groups can provide ease and accessibility for people unable to leave their homes or fit a meeting into a hectic schedule.

If transportation is a barrier, the simplicity of logging online can help eliminate an obstacle that would otherwise keep you from seeking help.

Online groups also provide a sense of anonymity, which might be beneficial for those who have anxiety about going to an in-person meeting.

While online groups offer comfort from behind a screen, in-person meetings can provide valuable relationship building and support.

Recognizing alcohol misuse is the first step on the road to recovery. Whether you’re starting your sobriety journey or looking to maintain your long-term recovery, online support groups can provide a safe and helpful environment.

While research on the benefits of online support programs for substance use disorders is limited, online communities are becoming a prominent fixture in mental healthcare.

If you or a loved one is dealing with substance misuse and want help, reach out to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 24-hour National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) for treatment referral and information.


Jillian Goltzman is a freelance journalist covering culture, social impact, wellness, and lifestyle. She’s been published in various outlets, including Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and Fodor’s Travel Guide. Outside of writing, Jillian is a public speaker who loves discussing the power of social media — something she spends too much time on. She enjoys reading, her houseplants, and cuddling with her corgi. Find her work on her website, blog, Twitter, and Instagram.