Original article published on TheFix.com
People don’t often hear the word “breathalyzer” and think of sobriety. No, that word is more closely associated with DUIs, jail and overall awfulness. But what about a breathalyzer-type device developed specifically for those who aren’t drunk—as in a tool that works for, and not against, the person struggling with alcohol? Enter Soberlink, where the breathalyzer is no longer the enemy (cue superhero soundtrack here).
How It Works
Happily for those who are invested in people staying sober, Soberlink has just received official FDA clearance for their mobile-breath sobriety technology. Officially dubbed the Soberlink Cellular Device, Soberlink is the very first alcohol monitoring system to receive FDA clearance. So what is Soberlink exactly? Deemed a “diagnostic tool for alcohol,” Soberlink uses Sober Sky cloud-based reporting software. Translation: When someone breathes into it, the action is captured and uploaded into an online system. Facial recognition software confirms the identity of the person and sends BAC results to parents, case managers, physicians, therapists, the guy two doors down the hall—you get it.
If people slip (a term the Soberlink proponents prefer because they believe it alleviates the shame or immediate sense of failure conjured by the word “relapse”), a treatment provider or sober coach can immediately help talk them through it. The idea is that with these breathalyzer tests, the person in recovery is evaluated at least two to three times a day. It’s like a punch card for a job…except that job is just not guzzling booze. Knowing their next “check-in” is only an hour away could be just the incentive someone needs to keep walking past the liquor store. And if a trace of alcohol is detected, or if the person’s anointed recovery crew is alerted that their client/loved one hasn’t completed their scheduled BAC check, they can reach out to them immediately, as opposed to hours, or even days, later. Yep, Soberlink is possibly helping to curb total benders, one breath at a time.
This newly FDA-cleared device is the same exact one used by the courts but the difference is treatment centers will have more flexibility to set up personalized aftercare programs to best set the newly sober up for success. Basically, this is some high-tech accountability we’re talking about here.
It Works Even If You Don’t Work It
Although this version of the device is intended for people who want to stay sober, it’s also useful for those who aren’t quite sold on the whole “no alcohol, ever again” concept. Certified interventionist and sober coach Michael Berba uses Soberlink in cases where the client is what he calls a “raw alcoholic,” meaning alcohol is the only substance they struggle with. Berba reports, “A significant number of my clients don’t want to be sober but in this case, even if a person is kind of forced into it, it gives that kind of measure of accountability that’s a very strong tool. The research shows, when people are [initially]not willing to stay sober, if you keep them sober for long enough, they will ultimately get sober and want to be sober. It’s just getting them through that first year to 18 months.”
Berba also points out that with Soberlink there’s no more waiting for that urine sample to return from the lab. According to him, “It gives instantaneous accountability and transparency to the families that you can’t get in traditional testing settings…in this case, with Soberlink, the results are immediate.”
The Bigger Picture
The creators of Soberlink believe strongly in getting rid of the stigma surrounding alcoholism. Treat the issue as you would any medical condition: with as many resources as possible. This is the philosophy behind monitoring blood alcohol levels the way you would blood sugar levels, and rallying support from loved ones while you do it. Soberlink hopes the device becomes a widespread, reliable tool used at treatment facilities and with addiction counselors across the country. And for those who do not attend formal inpatient or outpatient treatment, there is also the option for private individuals to order it directly from the company’s website. The accessibility of something like this is pretty incredible.
Soberlink played a crucial role in the sobriety of Maureen, a self-admitted chronic relapser: “At the end of this month, I’ll have a year-and-a-half [of sobriety],” she says. “I am 47 years old and I went to my very first treatment center at 22. I have been to over 25 places all over the country. I’ve never found success until Soberlink. The reason for that was the accountability. I’m a metrics-driven person. I love to be able to see the results. I love the fact that, God forbid I fall off the face of the earth tomorrow, somewhere in black and white, there is proof I was sober. When you’re someone like me who’s relapsed over and over, it’s hard to get people to trust you. This is my proof. I have no plans of ever getting rid of it.”