When it comes to kicking a drug or alcohol addiction, attending face-to-face meetings may be more effective than online support groups, new research shows.
Despite the growing popularity of online support groups such as those on Facebook and other social media platforms, the study found that people who went to more meetings were more likely to stay clean and sober.
The researchers attributed the lower success rate of online support programs to people being more apt to lie online than in person. Honesty is considered a foundational aspect of 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, the American Psychological Association (APA) noted in a news release.
The study’s authors, who are from Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif., presented their findings during the APA’s annual convention in August 2015. Their research focused on whether spending more time on social media and less time on personal interactions would affect efforts to curb substance abuse.
The study group comprised 141 women and 55 men who said they attend face-to-face meetings and online support groups for help with substance dependency issues. Although participants’ ages ranged from 18 to older than 60, most were in their 40s or 50s.
Nearly all participants said they had been in recovery for at least a year.
While in-person meetings were preferred overall, there was a “moderate decrease” in attendance at those meetings as use of online groups increased, the researchers noted.
“For the sobriety-minded, it would seem that the ability to seek support at anytime, anywhere is not just a good thing, but could even prove life-saving,” the authors wrote in their presentation, Using Social Media for Sobriety Recovery? Preferences, Beliefs, Behaviors, and Surprises from Users of Online and Social Media Sobriety Support.
However, they noted the “importance of close fellowshipping” in successful sobriety efforts.
Still, online options are expected to grow as more social media-savvy young adults seek out recovery programs. According to Pew Research Center, of the 84% of American adults who use the Internet, more than half of them are active on at least two social media sites, with Facebook the dominant network.
Online support programs could be seen as a viable option for introverted, isolated people struggling with addictions who otherwise would not seek out help in a public setting.