The widespread use of social media has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, allowed us to become more connected than we ever have been. On the other hand, its use has been linked to social anxiety, depression, and even addictive behavior.
It seems ironic, then, that there is some evidence that points to social media as a valuable tool to help people recovering from substance use disorders.
To be clear, there is no evidence that social media is a sufficient substitute for face-to-face support group meetups. However, in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic causing more and more people to stay at home, online support groups have become the only option available for many recovering individuals in North Texas.
Rehabilitation centers in Dallas and other parts of the United States have also reported disruptions in drug rehab treatment, including for support groups, which is no doubt at least partly responsible for the rise in relapses and substance use disorders in the pandemic.
But even before the pandemic, there had already been mounting anecdotal evidence of the benefits social media platforms might have for recovering individuals. Below are some of the more widely-reported perks of seeking help online.
1. It can be easier to find your peers
In North Texas, we’re fortunate enough to have a wide selection of rehab centers and support groups related to just about every substance use disorder. There are also drug treatment center directories that specialize in connecting people with the very specific resources they need to deal with a recovery issue.
However, not everyone is so fortunate. In some areas, the nearest support group that truly understands your issue might be an hour’s drive away, sometimes more. Because regular follow-ups are so important for a sustainable long-term recovery, this distance may make it more difficult for many individuals to stay clean.
Of course, distance isn’t an issue with online support groups on platforms such as Facebook and Reddit, where there are virtual support groups composed of folks who have direct experience with very specific recovery problems. For people who have few choices for support groups in their hometown, these virtual groups can be a critical source of information and reassurance.
2. It may be easier to open up online
Many platforms allow a measure of anonymity, which may make it easier for folks recovering from substance misuse to share their stories without fear of judgment. Research suggests that anonymity may improve the accuracy of self-reported surveys, and the same principles likely apply when sharing stories about one’s recovery.
3. Peers are readily available
Unlike traditional support groups that have a set schedule, there’s always at least a few people in a virtual group who are ready to respond to any issue a recovering individual has. This can be vital when someone encounters a trigger that makes them crave drugs.
4. Some people find it easier to express themselves through writing
One problem with traditional support groups is that they all require fair moderation to be effective. Without it, the most extroverted or articulate people will tend to dominate the discussion, often to the detriment of everyone else. While this issue is not completely absent from virtual groups, people who find they are better able to express themselves through writing may find them to be a good option.
5. Recovering individuals may benefit from the accountability
Goal-sharing is a hotly-debated topic. While there’s evidence that sharing your goals can help keep you accountable, it isn’t so cut and dried. How effective this is can depend on the person you’re sharing your goals with, as well as the type of accountability involved. There is even research that counter-intuitively says that shared goals are less likely to be achieved.
In any case, if you’ve found that sharing your goals has helped you achieve them in the past, it might be worth your while to do the same in an online group.
Like everything else about rehab and recovery, the effectiveness of social media in the healing process likely depends on the individual. Some people may find that social media’s addictive nature might make things worse, and others might find that it brings up too many emotional triggers.
However, for some people, it might be worth a shot, especially if they’re already spending a lot of time on social media. As with any supplemental or alternative therapy, it’s best to first discuss virtual support groups with a psychiatrist or counselor.