While nothing can quite replace the kind of community that comes with face to face contact, engaging with an online recovery community can be an exceptional resource for sustaining sobriety.
A study published by the Journal of Substance Abuse Recovery found that online recovery communities achieved positive benefits overall. Participating in an online recovery community does not necessitate eliminating other communities like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. Rather an online community can act as a complimentary resource for moments when a meeting is not available. Support communities not only benefit those suffering with substance abuse, but also the families and friends of people with substance use disorders.
Advantages of Online Support
Like more traditional communities, online support groups benefit individuals in recovery in a number of ways:
- Helps to restore damaged relationships
- Encourages sharing of open and honest communication
- Supports and helps to share methods of healthy living
- Shares stories of success
- Encourages practices of self-discovery
- Provides tools to develop self-insight
- Allows participants a way to see their stories through another’s eyes
- Provides opportunities for further engagement in community building activities
- Reminds individuals in recovery that they are not alone
- Helps to build strength through sharing experience of trauma and victory
Digital Communities Offer Convenience
Depending on where you live, access to traditional support groups can be challenging or unavailable due to:
- Travel restrictions, like not having a vehicle or a valid license
- Time restrictions, such as only being held during times when you are at work
- Possibility of running into old friends or acquaintances that could pose a potential threat to your sobriety
Having an online recovery community means that you have control of when and where meetings occur. Just knowing that you have support available could block a potential relapse.
Digital Communities Aid in Overcoming Language or Cultural Barriers
For those people who live in or have just moved to another country or a place where the predominant language is different from their own, an online community allows them to find a community that fits their language profile.
Another issue that goes along with language is potential cultural barriers. A common factor among people who suffer from substance abuse has to do with a feeling of not fitting in or being an outsider. Many traditional support groups have a religious basis that can make people of a different faith uncomfortable. Being a member of a minority group may also increase feelings of discomfort for some. Having an online community allows you to find groups you feel are more suitable without worrying about the fear of judgement from others.
Digital Communities Offer Anonymity
It’s a small world. Going to a meeting puts you in the public eye. Worrying that you may run into someone you know may keep you from getting the support that could help you. Online communities allow you the option of creating a profile, which means that you can participate without disclosing your identity.
On the flipside of this, it’s important to remember that whatever you put online, especially on forums like Facebook, is permanent and open to the public. So, while it may seem like you are staying anonymous because you are not in direct contact with anyone, whatever you post on the internet can be there forever.
Digital Communities Provide Distance
Having the distance that an online community allows can sometimes be a major benefit. If you are someone that feels uncomfortable sharing personal information or feelings, being behind a screen can provide comfort. Having to admit to personal failures or exposing a family secret can feel overwhelming. A fear that could create an insurmountable barrier in a face-to-face group may be easier to deal with in an online environment.
Digital Communities Aid in Overall Empowerment
By taking control of your recovery through engaging in an online community, you are actively participating in the optimism and esteem related to your sobriety.
Digital Communities Promote Safety
While there have been huge steps made in helping to encourage compassion, empathy, and understanding with substance abuse, there are still many places where an admittance of substance abuse puts a person at risk of having to deal with adversity.
Potential Drawbacks of Online Recovery Communities
As with anything, online recovery groups may not be for everyone. For some people, online engagement can increase the feeling of loneliness or alienation from the “real world.” Nothing replaces the warmth of a real person.
Other factors to consider include:
- In many ways, openly admitting you have a substance use disorder is a huge step in recovery. Hiding behind a screen can allow you to avoid certain issues and save you from having to leap all the way into the unknown.
- The internet tends to be a place where the risk of misinformation and miscommunication runs high. Without body language and voice inflections, humor can come across as a biting comment. People can also post articles that could prove dangerous to someone in recovery, especially in the early stages. Cyberbullying is still a prevalent force as well.
How to Join an Online Recovery Community
After considering the pros and cons, you may find that an online community would benefit your recovery process. SMART Recovery offers one popular online community, but there are a number of other options available.
In sum, find what works best for you. If you feel spending more time on a computer would only create more stress, then don’t do it. For others, having an online community can act as a complimentary recovery resource.