Engagement with face-to-face therapy is something that’s been strongly encouraged for centuries, but with the growing popularity of online service providers, it’s important to understand the benefits and differences between online and face-to-face interaction. The presence of online communities related to addiction care has the potential for great impact in helping people enter recovery, or even start the recovery process through online tools, but there are a number of drawbacks to consider.
Online communities like www.reddit.com/r/addiction, our own online resources such as blogs and contact portals, and other sites and programs all have a common goal—to help people understand their addiction so they will seek help. Unfortunately, the use of social media and online content can also have a severe negative impact on mental health. In the now infamous case study, the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which prominently featured suicide, was shown to increase ideation of suicide after its airing. While online support communities can be critical to help people consider entering recovery care, they also pose the same risk—contaminating ideas spreading negative ideation and triggering cravings and reoccurrence. Unfortunately, the unregulated manner of these discussions means any input from any user can completely shift whether the rhetoric is helpful or harmful. Fortunately, according to an article by Liu et al. (When support is needed: Social support solicitation and provision in an online alcohol use disorder forum), “nearly 20%” of Americans used online tools like these for health-related support from their peers. Among these, the study found that the social support groups offered significant health benefits, especially to those who had otherwise small or unsupportive social circles. Following the growing trend of social support, direct online recovery is starting to gain traction as well.
Online recovery care
Online recovery care is a direct service that is still in it’s infancy as a healthcare service in the US. It can vary in practice, but typically involves online support groups, chat rooms, discussions, and scheduled web conferences. In specific forms, this could include web therapy sessions with a licensed therapist. While these online recovery tools are essential for rural communities, or areas where the distance between patient and doctor can be vast, it’s also being used as an alternative to visiting a therapist face-to-face (F2F), even in urban settings. One study Using Social Media for Recovery Recovery? Preferences, Beliefs, Behaviors, and Surprises from Users of Online and Social Media Recovery Support (Grant, Donald S., & Dill-Shackerford, Karen E.) found that patients preferred F2F therapy over internet recovery. Surprisingly, the study also found a greater number of patients to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol in F2F groups rather than online groups. Despite this, F2F treatment still shows better numbers for recovery and abstinence.
Rather than an end-all program for addiction recovery, online recovery may act as a tool to help patients warm up to the processes and expectations of recovery. Excessive reliance on online recovery can factor in to many of the typical issues that fuel addiction. The instant gratification of online posts and responses is directly targeted towards our dopamine systems, giving biological premise to tech and social media addiction. In concordance, sleep hygiene is also closely related to technology usage, with blue LED lights from computer monitors directly impacting our natural Circadian Rhythms.
Overall, online recovery should be handled in the same manner as any other medical advancement—carefully monitored with an optimism for what it can bring to the field of mental and behavioral health. If it can be utilized as a tool to provide indirect, or motivational support, to those suffering with addiction, then it can service as a valuable asset. Likewise, the potential for online recovery to lead to a scheduled, F2F therapy session offers promise for these tools.