Dr. Andrew Huberman says “alcohol” like he hates the taste of the word. The syllables shiver around his mouth like wet shoes in a dryer.
The Stanford neuroscientist assures, over and over again during the course of his two-hour podcast on the effects of alcohol on the body and brain, that he does not hate alcohol itself. Though alcohol is a favorite topic of his to tweet about, Huberman takes great pains to maintain scientific detachment, reporting on peer-reviewed studies and keeping their conclusions in square focus. In fact, the only opinion he expresses throughout the episode, released in August 2022 as part of his incandescently popular Huberman Lab podcast, is regret.
“I feel guilty about telling you this,” Huberman says. “Probably the best amount of alcohol to drink would be zero glasses per week, or ounces per week.”
The episode is filled with shocking, peer-reviewed arguments as to why alcohol, despite its social function, is a toxin that people should avoid. Huberman structures his podcasts as stylish lectures, complete with a bibliography. In this episode, he points to how alcohol decreases cortical thickness, “destroys good, healthy” gut microbiota, affects DNA methylation, increases estrogen levels, and may even cause cancer, leading him to the ultimate hypothesis that there is no healthy amount of alcohol consumption.
Huberman speaks in a subdued Californian register, going deep on topics related to health, human behavior, mental well-being, and biology. He has a boxer’s physique and a skateboarder’s affability, like a mix between Joe Rogan and Henry Rollins. Like the former, his podcast is ascendantly popular.
Since launching in December 2020, Huberman Lab has rocketed to the upper echelons of the podcast charts, now ranking No. 7 on Apple Podcasts and No. 4 on Spotify in the United States and No. 1 in the health and fitness category across both platforms. The YouTube video of his alcohol episode, the 84th in the podcast, has been watched nearly 4 million times as of this writing, and the windfall has carried the scientist — and his scholastic aversion to alcohol — to new corners of the internet. He’s fully out into the mainstream, capitalizing on the nascent sobriety trend, and droves of drinkers are hearing his words about the toxicity of alcohol.
And it’s resonating. But who is this camera-ready brain scientist selling sobriety as the key to unlocking human potential?
A Punk With a Ph.D.
If there is a word that Huberman says lovingly, with almost benediction, it’s “optimize.”
Huberman grew up a skater punk in Palo Alto, Calif., just as the Bay Area city was transitioning into the epicenter of the American tech industry. Huberman — who declined several requests to be interviewed for this story — has said his early childhood was loving and did not include any drugs or alcohol in the home. It wasn’t until his parents divorced and he started running around Northern California with skateboarders that he saw people regularly getting f*cked up. Though he has claimed that alcohol was “never [his] thing” and that drinking only made him tired, he had other vices. He started skipping school to travel to skate and, in ninth grade, ended up getting institutionalized for a month at an adolescent psychiatry facility.
Huberman never planned on going to college, but he ended up following an ex-girlfriend to University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1993. There, he fell in love with science, and though his romance wouldn’t last, he would devote the rest of his life to studying how people can fine-tune their brains to live the most optimized life possible.
Huberman graduated from U.C. Berkeley with master’s in neurobiology and behavior in 2000 before finishing his doctorate at U.C. Davis four years later. After a five-year postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University, he became an assistant professor at U.C. San Diego, where he was awarded a McKnight scholarship as an outstanding young scientist. At the same time, he was freelancing for Thrasher and Slap Magazine.
In 2016, he became a full-time professor at Stanford, where he now leads a lab focused on neurobiology and ophthalmology. In his career, Huberman has published 79 papers, garnering nearly 10,000 citations, and has served on the editorial boards of journals such as Current Biology and the Journal of Comparative Neurology. His work on stress and perception earned him consulting gigs with professional athletes and the United States military, but it wasn’t until 2020 that he started doing guest appearances on podcasts. That year, he made over 50 appearances on high-volume shows like My First Million, The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast, and The Joe Rogan Experience.
During the pandemic, Huberman invested in raising his profile. He hired former DC Shoes and “Transworld Skateboarding” photographer Mike Blabac to help him develop a sleek, serious aesthetic that amplified his already cool demeanor. He bought 26 of the same black shirts and started popping up on male-centered podcasts talking about how everything from mood disorders to physical ailments could be treated with simple, daily practices and eliminating dysregulation. Listeners began to see him as a “badass muscular neuroscientist” whose brainhacking tips could help improve facial structure, prolong sex, and quit cocaine.
In mere months, the neuroscientist went from a relative unknown to the Bill Nye of grindset masculinity. Huberman Lab was a top 10 podcast within the year it launched. In 2021, he parlayed his media exposure into a media company of his own, Scicomm Media, which focuses on helping other scientists achieve the level of fame. As it stands now, Huberman has over 3 million followers on YouTube and Instagram, where new videos score hundreds of thousands of views with each new episode and are frequently remixed into countless motivational compilations alongside testimonials from people like Daniel Ratcliffe, Keith Urban, and Ben Affleck.
“I suppose I lucked out in that I don’t really like the taste of alcohol, and it just puts me to sleep,” Huberman says in one frequently replayed clip. “But I know that people do enjoy it, and I do want to point out that there is zero evidence that … having one drink or two drinks every now and again … is not going to cause major health concerns or major health issues.”
Silicon Valley Sobriety
Los Angeles designer and musician Iphigenia Douleur fell asleep one night listening to YouTube videos about overcoming trauma, and when she woke up, Andrew Huberman was on her phone. She’d been served lots of similar content she didn’t trust, such as Jordan Peterson’s podcast, but Huberman seemed thorough. Structured. His science wasn’t intimidating.
“I was looking for a reason to stop drinking,” Douleur says. “I’ve been trying to get sober before in my life, but I just never had a concrete reason, especially to my peers, who were like, ‘You’re not an alcoholic, so you can keep drinking.’ I couldn’t argue with that logic.”
Since quitting alcohol, Douleur says she has much greater control of her emotions. She also follows another Huberman tenet and makes sure to get sunlight in her eyes early in the day, and the combined effect is that her “life operates so much better.”
Dmitriy Strunin, a 37-year-old professional poker player, found Huberman after a fellow poker player shared a viral clip where Huberman explains that delaying coffee drinking to 90 minutes after waking can increase caffeine uptake. Strunin was already having trouble with his sleep, and when he heard Huberman discuss how drinking can affect circadian health, he was convinced to try sobriety to fix it.
“I like the fact that [Huberman] doesn’t really push anything,” Strunin says. “That’s why a lot of people listen to him. He’s not like, ‘Do this, do that.’ He explains everything and lets you make a decision.”
Huberman is an effective podcast host. The combination of his scientific excellence — one former colleague contacted by VinePair referred to him as “an absolutely brilliant” neuroscientist — and his use of sales tactics like the tritonal close make for a seductive experience. The kind that startup junkies immediately recognize, and as such, Huberman’s growth has been partly fueled by his resonance with fellow Palo Altonians looking for a biologically defined advantage to help code the next billion-dollar app.
Take tech investor Marc Andreessen, who found replenished energy by quitting alcohol, even though he never listened to the full Huberman Lab episode; or Dan Go, a fitness guru for entrepreneurs whose zero-alcohol journey apparently resulted in better sleep, more introspection, and increased LinkedIn followers. Dozens of other founders, business leaders, and venture capitalists have blogged, tweeted, or otherwise committed their experiences to the internet, citing their sobriety as the one simple brain hack propelling their success.
Since its release nine months ago, Huberman’s lecture has seemingly helped dozens of others like Douleur and Strunin explore sobriety as a path to better wellness. And there is no apparent scientific flaw in his accounts. Though he may, at times, dip into condescension and pronounce the word “alcohol” like it’s a curse, his argument is supported with current, highly cited research. Scroll through the posts on r/stopdrinking and you’ll see more testimonials of people — from casual listeners to tech’s elite — dumping their booze and thanking Huberman for giving them the wherewithal to do so.
“I thought I was just an impulsive person,” Douleur says. “I thought I was just kind of a stupid person. Andrew giving me the permission to put my wellness first showed me that I wasn’t.”
And Now, a Word From Our Sponsor
Huberman’s podcasts tend to be sponsored by the kind of wellness-promoting supplements and doodads that entrance these same entrepreneurs — powders for supporting immune resistance, pills that promote mental sharpness, and electronics to induce deeper sleep.
Though it may not have been his target when he launched his podcast, Huberman has entered, and no doubt profited from, his association with the keynote-speaker human potential crowd. His success is partly due to his approachable breakdown of scientific concepts as well as his Palo Alto upbringing. He’s inserted himself into a network of performance-minded — and often hyper-masculine — optimization gurus like Peterson, Tim Ferriss, and polarizing MIT computer scientist Lex Fridman, whom Huberman credits with the idea for starting Huberman Lab. He has also helped David Sinclair, a Harvard University genetics professor who has drawn great scrutiny for his work on reversing aging, launch a podcast that has received equally fanatical uptake.
Huberman’s network spreads outward to include other high-powered talking heads, like Rogan, Kanye West, and Elon Musk. The rings extrapolate outward from there, into the Manosphere, a community of ideologues with a tribal focus on improving the position and influence of men in society. Huberman has never, on his podcast or others, engaged in any misogynistic behavior. But his commentary on topics like pornography, ideal face shape, and, specifically in the case of alcohol, hormone optimization are easily weaponized by Andrew Tate types as a solution for beta male subservience. From there, the sales pitch is inherent. It works just like Gary Vanyeurchuk pimping crypto plays to wannabe venture capitalists. As Ben Rich and Eva Bujalka write in their manosphere explainer in “The Conversation”:
Since its inception, the manosphere has been rife with predatory influencers seeking to profit off the anxieties unleashed by this ambiguity.
Driven by a desire to reassert a romantic masculine aesthetic ideal in a world of social media unrealities, members of the manosphere often become willing consumers of a wide variety of products and services to “solve” their problems. These range from vitamin and gym supplements to personal coaching, self-help courses, and other subscription-based services.
On a guest appearance on My First Million, Huberman is demure when talking about his financial success. He doesn’t talk numbers. But there are, as with so many things with the Huberman Lab, implications.
Huberman’s increased coziness to sponsors like ROKA and Athletic Greens has led listeners to begin questioning his credentials. Scrupulous listeners have decried Huberman’s podcasts as profit-chasing “bro science.” “I need a fucking rest from optimization,” one representative Redditor said. “F*ck all this constant hamster wheel of self-improvement.”
Huberman certainly has a financial stake in promoting sobriety. It’s a message that resonates with his most engaged fanbase, and it fits squarely in the straightedge-punk-becomes-renowned-scientist aesthetic he’s worked hard to establish, regardless of the few it may alienate. But the threads of Huberman’s life are starting to tangle. Caught up in it are dozens of people he’s helped and uplifted, being drawn into knots with some of the most troubling minds on the podcast circuit.
Alcohol is a toxin. The evidence is scientifically significant, as Huberman has said. But there is a level of toxicity beyond the biological. One that Huberman, in his finely hewn focus on growth and optimization, has not yet engaged with.