Launched in 2015, Sober Grid has proven itself to be a revolutionary new app that provides recovering addicts around the world with 24/7 peer support. Available both for IOS and Android, the app was founded by Beau Mann, a Boston-based entrepreneur and former addict himself, in a partnership with Dr. Brenda Curtis at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, and The National Institute of Health (NIH). Calling itself a “social network for the sober”, perhaps one of Sober Grid’s greatest features is a program able to predict if a subscriber will relapse. And when it comes to addressing the opioid epidemic, one of the worst national crises in recent years, such a feature might just be what can make strong progress in winning the battle against mass-scale addiction.
Every year, around 78.5 billion dollars is used to address concerns related to mass opioid addiction, with over 115 of the users’ lives ended annually by overdose. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimated that opioid misuse by prescription is approximately 21 to 29 percent, with four to six percent of the addicts moving to heroin. In light of the existing statistics, and with funding from the NIH and NIDA, Drs. Brenda Curtis, Lyle Ungar, and Andrew Schwartz moved to create a new statistic focusing on the language used by clients in outpatient substance abuse recovery centers.
Collecting the language data on the clients’ social media with treatment information, the goal was to see if analyzing the way each patient spoke could be an indicator of treatment dropout and relapse.
In a conversation with the Scope Weekly, Dr. Curtis said, “We have been conducting studies on predicting relapse, excessive alcohol consumption, and treatment dropout for over 5 years. However, we hadn’t planned on developing our own social media site.” The analysis ultimately expanded in scope when Curtis was approached by Mann, who suggested the new statistical project merge with an idea he had for an app called Sober Grid.
Speaking to The Scope Weekly by phone, Mann recounted the moment that sparked the idea.
I was at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, when I got inspired by the idea of Untappd, which is a networking device where people share their favorite kinds of beer. I remember thinking to myself, ‘what if such a networking device existed that could help people with addiction?
For Curtis, joining Sober Grid was an opportunity to both continue her research on a grand scale, and to help popularize the issue. “I became involved with Sober Grid because I believed their platform would be an ideal place to confirm our preliminary findings, and a great place to develop interventions,” she said. Mann and Curtis have been working together on the app since 2016, with Curtis stating that her involvement enables her team access to a larger data population to test out their language models.
For Mann, Curtis’ involvement has enhanced Sober Grid enough so it is now at the forefront of the mobile support community for recovering addicts, supporting victims of the Opioid epidemic being a key goal. “The long-term vision is for it to grow to where it can support millions of users,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to save as many lives as we can.” That goal may be becoming a reality. Sober Grid’s user base doubled over the last year, its total presently over 107,000 subscribers. Besides its relapse predictor, the app features a GPS locator allowing users to find peers in nearby neighborhoods, or around their locations.
All this, Mann says, is what would have been extremely helpful when he was battling addiction himself, as a young adult. “I’ve always relied on support groups in order to achieve sobriety,” he said. “If this had existed during that time, it would have been much easier.”
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