As the season progressed, those numbers dropped—just as Sam’s sobriety really kicked in. Compare that to, say, the first season of Euphoria, when Rue (played by Zendaya) mentions that after rehab, she has “no intention of staying clean,” and then spends the next two seasons proving it. The most popular episodes are typically the ones where she is suffering the most. There are endless factors that could account for the Single Drunk Female slump—not everyone watches a show all the way through, maybe some felt the quality waned (it didn’t)—but one takeaway is curiously dark: Viewers, sober or not, only like the electric drunk tales.

Finch, who based Fink on her own sobriety journey, argues the opposite. “My original pitch was about addiction as a soap, but it’s a cyclical thing. It’s really boring,” she says. “You’re just doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, whereas sobriety is where the transformation happens. You go from being a hot mess drunk girl—a child, really. I was 28, but I acted like I was 15. Without it, you’re Norman Maine in A Star Is Born, just walking into the ocean.”

Hepola agrees. “I fell for the lie that the drinking life was the more exciting life,” she says. “The truth is that it’s quite a cliché…for someone single, in their 20s in New York City, working as a writer and sinking into her own sadness and isolation.”

Finch started writing Single Drunk Female in 2012 when she was still drinking. Going to Alcoholics Anonymous and getting help allowed her to transform the character of Fink from a one note drunk to a humorous and heartfelt, fully dimensional person who works through experiences ripped from Finch’s own life. In Season 1, it’s pounding shots and dancing on a bar to Shakira, feeling like a sex goddess despite looking like the opposite. In Season 2, which is now on Hulu, it’s the emotional betrayal of reading someone else’s anonymous fourth step (the “moral inventory” step in AA’s 12-step program, where a person in recovery examines all the ways they’ve hurt themselves and others in order to take accountability).

The sober stuff is the good stuff, at any rate, though it may be the stuff no one really wants to dive into. Here’s an example: In Dwight Garner’s New York Times review of Hepola’s Blackout, he wrote, “There’s a wrinkled little part of our souls, of mine anyway, that liked our friends a bit more before they lost weight or fell in love or got straight and so damn sensible.” There is something within so many of us that prefers the fuck up, which makes a sobriety tale a hard one to crack. Those alcoholism memoirs probably wouldn’t sell if they didn’t dig deep into the ugliness of addiction, first, before their protagonists get clean. Hell, Delevingne’s sobriety story might not have gone viral if it weren’t for the paparazzi photos.

“It’s so true,” says Hepola. “I think sobriety is the richness of it, and you have to sell it in a way that doesn’t make people feel like they’re eating vegetables. As soon as you start sliding into slogans, as soon as you’re in a basement with a bunch of people, it’s every cliché. Nobody wants to go to a 12-step meeting, including people who go to 12-step meetings.”

She learned this firsthand: “I really resisted getting sober because I was basically afraid everybody was going to turn the channel. I wouldn’t be interesting at a party. People wouldn’t want to date me. I wouldn’t be fun to hang out with after work. The painful truth is that was true, for a while.”

The ways in which women addicts on television have been portrayed in recent years reflect what Hepola calls our current “therapeutic culture,” where we seek to examine trauma in order to understand self-destructive behaviors. Basically, these stories provide a neat narrative as to why and how protagonists became addicts, when the reality is much more complicated and decidedly less sexy: Genetics, culture, marketing, the woman’s environment, personality traits, and beyond can account for drug and alcohol abuse.

Like Euphoria’s Rue, Single Drunk Female’s Sam loses her father as a young person. It’s a circumstantial similarity more so than a consistency in women’s addiction (i.e., women do not pick up the bottle or pills or what have you specifically because they don’t have fathers), but it is an interesting choice. In Rue’s portrayal, her dad’s death is a catalyst—it’s easier for the viewer to blame her addiction on that grief, but it also undercuts any nuanced conversation surrounding her abuse. But Finch says she and her character would’ve been alcoholics anyway. “What came first: the addiction or the trauma?” she says. “My dad’s death definitely hastened [my alcoholism]—it gave me an excuse to drink,” much like Sam talks about in Season 1, Episode 9. “It helped me be a victim.”

I wonder, then, how Finch and Hepola view celebrities, not characters, and the ways they choose to narrativize their sobriety journeys publicly. (That is, if they do; AA and NA require anonymity, after all.) Some become forthcoming with time (like Rob Lowe), some cite wellness and motherhood as motivations (Chrissy Teigen), and others suffer private, potentially traumatic moments of addiction in the public eye that they then reveal the context of, like Delevingne.

Single Drunk Female Season 1, Episode 9 | “Don’t Be a Blame Hog” | Freeform

“One of the reasons I wrote Single Drunk Female is because of the way Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton were portrayed—drunk party girls, and that’s all they were. I wanted to show the opposite. Maybe there are some real issues, and we’re not seeing that. Cara is flipping the script a little bit,” Finch explains. “And sobriety doesn’t mean the end of the party. We can go wild. Just without alcohol.”

Hepola is a little bit more skeptical. “There’s obviously a real gain in changing the narrative. [But] it’s a really sketchy thing to go out there and announce you’re sober after only four months. That said: After six months, I wrote a story announcing I had quit drinking. I did it because I needed insurance. It smacked of overconfidence,” she says. For Delevingne, it could be crisis PR; it might also be an action meant to hold herself accountable for her own recovery. Whatever the case, her public image will evolve. As Hepola says, “Drinking is one of the things that women look to signal, like, ‘Is she cool? Can I drink with her?’”

Uprooting a belief system that’s upheld by the market and convention is hard work—especially when ceasing to drink and doing drugs means challenging that “cool girl” image. “Alcohol is one of the great leisure drugs. There’s a reason every society ends up coming up with some version of it,” says Hepola.

The path to getting past the fear of being boring, then, is recognizing a problem if it becomes one, graciously welcoming a cultural interest in sobriety, and remaining free of judgment for those struggling and those who continue to drink with no issue. Much of this is already happening: The non-alcoholic drinks market hit $11 billion in 2022; “sober bars” are cropping up with increasing regularity, after movements like Sober Curious and California Sober took off. And Gen Zers drink about 20% less alcohol than millennials did at their age, refusing to buy into “liquid courage” branding. They are taking fewer drugs. That can only be a good thing. And soon enough: the cool thing.

Maria Sherman is a music writer, culture critic, and author of “LARGER THAN LIFE: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS.” Her writing has appeared in NPR, Rolling Stone, Billboard, Elle, and many others.