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Sober Social Networks Spark Connections, Minus the Booze

While swiping on Tinder doesn't require alcohol, meeting up with a date often does, leaving those who want to socialize while sober in the lurch.

While swiping on Tinder or "liking" an event on Facebook doesn't require alcohol, meeting up afterward often does, leaving those who want to socialize sober in the lurch. A new generation of apps like Sober Grid, Clean Fun Network and Sober seeks to change that.

"When you're on Facebook, you're surrounded by friends, family and coworkers," Sober Grid co-founder Nick Krasucki told NBC News. "It's not exactly a place where you can be open about your sobriety and recovery and the struggles that go along with that."

Sober Grid

Sober Grid, which officially launched in July, doesn't require users to share their names or show their faces in photos. It's meant to be a place, Krasucki said, where "you can let your hair down and be yourself."

Most of these apps have a fun, welcoming vibe — they are a place to meet people, not be lectured about the dangers of addiction.

It's something Jimmy Hamm wishes he had back in 1998, when he was trying to give up alcohol while living in New York City. One of the biggest obstacles to getting sober, he said, is the idea that someone's social life will come to an end.

"I'm in my late twenties and thinking, 'My life is going to be over,'" Hamm told NBC News. "This is how it's going to be — sitting in church basements, listening to people talk about trying to stay sober."

It all sounded too boring for Hamm. He spent the next nine years struggling with drugs and alcohol. It wasn't until 2007 that he got sober; two years later, he began organizing trips to Montauk for people in sober communities.

This year, he launched the Clean Fun Network, a place where sober people can connect, make plans to meet, and sign up for trips to places like Costa Rica and Yellowstone.

Hamm stressed that CFN — as the company abbreviates it — isn't just for people in recovery.

"It's for everybody," Hamm said. "This isn't a place for you to get sober or go through the 12 steps. It's just a place to have some good, clean fun."

Right now, it's available as a Web app, but Hamm told NBC News it was launching for iOS and Android in the coming weeks, with dating-specific features on the way.

When it comes to romance, Sober is the most obvious of the three apps. It has the same basic idea as Tinder (swipe left to reject a profile, swipe right to accept), but with a few features aimed specifically at those in recovery, like the ability to connect to the nearest detox center or the app's own help line.

People can certainly find love on Sober Grid. But the founders specifically de-emphasized that aspect of the app in order to make it more inclusive.

"I'm in a relationship," Beau Mann, the other co-founder of Sober Grid, told NBC News. "If it was positioned as a dating app, I would be reluctant to use it."

By default, Sober Grid sorts profiles by distance to the user, which is useful for finding people to hang out with in real life. But it also lets users browse through other cities.

That feature helps people connect with strangers, regardless of where they live, and help them if they are having a hard time staying sober. When users click on the "Burning Desire" button on the bottom of the app, their profile turns red, letting everyone know they need moral support.

Related: Americans Are Drinking More — A Lot More

Mario Diurno, who is organizing the upcoming UNITE to Face Addiction rally in Washington, first used Sober Grid in hopes of finding a date. Now he mostly uses it to find friends and keep himself strong after 10 years of being in recovery.

Sometimes when he is traveling, he will just sign on to lend an ear or advice to someone who needs it — even if he knows they will never meet face-to-face.

"If I see someone struggling, I like to reach out," Diurno said. "That's how I stay sober, too. It helps me think about somebody other than myself, plus I get to help another person. We both benefit."

After a month, Sober Grid has around 30,000 downloads and users in 40 countries, with a strong presence in cities like Los Angeles, London and Boston.

There are still plenty of intensive programs, like Moderation Management and Alcoholics Anonymous, for people who want to kick an alcohol or drug addiction. These new apps are meant as a supplement, a way for people to strengthen their social lives without having to step into a bar.

"If I would have had an outlet like this back in 1998, I think things would have been very different," Hamm, the Clean Fun Network co-founder, said of his nearly decade struggle to get sober. "But it is what it is — I'm not looking back, I'm looking forward."