Drinking has gone digital. As the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered restaurants and bars and grounded everyone at home, Zoom happy hours have become the new venue to catch up with friends and blow off steam. And while alcohol-based sanitizers have been difficult to find during the pandemic, alcohol-based beverages are easy to come by. Liquor shops, deemed essential in most states, remained open even as most other retailers were ordered closed. Wine and whiskey ads flood social media feeds. Business for booze delivery companies and apps boom.
Digital recovery company Tempest has debuted three programs to help treat alcohol abuse
The market has been less accommodating addressing drinking’s darker side: the more than 14 million American adults with an alcohol use disorder. The coronavirus has shut treatment centers, suspended outpatient care and canceled support groups. In March, in the early days of the Covid-19 quarantines, Alcoholics Anonymous made national headlines after hackers broke in and harassed members of supposedly secure video AA support group.
Enter Holly Whitaker. The founder of recovery start-up Tempest, is rolling out tele-treatment for people currently in recovering, or thinking about starting. In June Tempest debuted three new tech products to help customers get help in their own homes, on their own time. “Covid-19 has been a double whammy,” says Whitaker, 41. “Options for people in recovery have been wiped out, and in a time when everyone is living with new stress and uncertainty.”
Launched in 2014, Tempest provides telemedicine for alcohol abuse, offering virtual support groups, online courses, sobriety workshops, content covering wellness, nutrition, meditation, as well as virtual accountability coaches. Soon it will add video therapy sessions. Basic membership with access to support groups and an online sober community costs $149 a year—the full program with rigorous courses and weekly meetings cost $850.
Tempest Founder Holly Whitaker
Whitaker says that people often abuse substances for about ten years before seeking help. She designed Tempest to offer people treatment earlier in the addiction cycle. “We’re providing treatment to folks that don’t want to make an intensive change, or are just beginning to examine their relationship with alcohol,” says Whitaker. “They are looking for community, resources and tools to start to explore more.”
Tempest, which has raised more than $14 million in funding from Maveron Captial, Slow Ventures, Female Founders Fund, and others, was born out of Whitaker’s struggles with alcohol. In 2012, she was a director of healthcare start-up OneMedical and secretly suffering from alcohol abuse and bulimia. When she sought treatment, she found few options. Recovery centers cost tens of thousands of dollars and would pull her from her career and friends. Alcoholics Anonymous was local and free, but after attending for a few months, she found the program was centered around older men and focused solely on fighting the temptation to drink.
Whitaker designed her recovery around wellness, nutrition, and reducing anxiety, depression, and the other triggers that caused her to drink too much. She launched a sobriety blog, and then her recovery company —Tempest.
Tempest, which now has 40 plus employees, initially offered an online 8-week sobriety school and after-treatment program for $647. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, users have surged 400% to 5,000 paying members. With its latest offerings, Whitaker is moving beyond virtual classes and adding elements of a social network, digital media company, and a telemedicine service all centered around a sober lifestyle. “It creates more advocacy and engagement to create healthier people at a cheaper cost,” says Whitaker. “This is where healthcare’s going—putting the power in the people’s hands to make the right choices, and the right lifestyle changes.”