Online Support Groups vs. In-Person Meetings: Which One Is Better?

August 31, 2015

There is a plethora of online support groups that offer people in recovery the opportunity to reach out — any time of the day or night — and connect with others who are similarly seeking stability in their lives without drugs and alcohol.

There are undoubtedly many benefits to online support groups (e.g., you may be able to connect with others 24 hours a day, they are usually free, and they offer outpatient support for people with busy schedules), but when it comes to the big picture in recovery and which is more helpful in terms of ongoing support, researchers reported at the American Psychological Association annual meeting that face-to-face meetings are more effective.

Practicing Honesty

Why? Honesty, according to HealthDay. Participants in the study stated that they were more inclined to be honest when sharing with people at in-person meetings in comparison to when they shared online.

Many people who regularly abuse drugs and alcohol or who are living in addiction struggle with honesty. Lying can make it easier to maintain their addiction, avoid arguments and consequences associated with use of their drug of choice, and avoid facing the changes that occur due to substance abuse. It can take some time to learn how to avoid the impulse to lie — even in situations where lying wouldn’t improve the situation and the truth is perfectly acceptable.

Honesty is a skilled that is often relearned during the treatment and recovery process and, according to the study, it may be more effectively learned via in-person group meetings rather than in online support groups. Increased honesty may be part of the reason why study participants who engaged in more face-to-face support groups were more likely to stay sober in relation to those who more frequently engaged in web-based support groups.

The Role of Social Media

Social media and networking sites have completely changed the landscape of communication and relationships in the last couple of decades. Use of sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat have the potential to augment positive social interactions, but depending upon them entirely for healthy relationships is not advised or even possible.

Donald Grant of Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California, is a study author. In a news release, he said: “One of the most hotly debated media issues today is whether our rapidly increasing use of social networking might be supplanting face-to-face-interactions and, if so, what the social consequences might prove for us as a culture.”

Given the long history of availability of 12-Step meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous and other in-person support group meetings and how relatively recently people in recovery have had access to online recovery options, the long-term results of online services are as yet unknown.

Says Grant: “With more and more people engaging in online sobriety support, the recovering community and professionals alike wonder what impact these modern platforms could have on both the future of Alcoholics Anonymous and its membership. When comparing the short amount of time online sobriety support has even been accessible to the number of those participants currently engaging with it, the likelihood that its popularity will only grow seems probable.”

A Combination of Resources

When people leave an inpatient treatment program or end a partial hospitalization or intensive outpatient treatment program, they are encouraged to focus heavily on remaining as actively engaged in their recovery as possible. This often means taking part in a range of different outpatient addiction treatment services. Using a variety of options — including online resources as long as there are numerous in-person options incorporated into the weekly treatment plan as well — can offer a range of benefits including:

  • Helping to maintain interest in recovery with different services ranging from traditional to holistic
  • Increasing individuals’ support networks as they explore different treatment options and meet more people
  • Decreasing the amount of “down time”in early recovery that can contribute to an increased risk for relapse
  • Increasing the number of coping skills available as individuals navigate how to create a new life without drugs and alcohol

Personalized Treatment Plan in Recovery

After the initial phase of intensive treatment, individuals can create their own unique combination of treatment services that appeals to their interests and treatment goals for recovery. Some options include:

  • Seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist or other personal therapist
  • Continuing to manage any co-occurring mental health symptoms with the recommended therapeutic and pharmacological treatment resources
  • Working with a life coach
  • Using holistic therapies like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and others
  • Taking part in alternative therapies like nutritional therapy, expressive therapies (e.g., art therapy, dance therapy, and sports and adventure therapies)
  • Attending 12-Step meetings or other group meeting sessions
  • Taking part in educational workshops, support groups, or classes specific to areas of need in the person’s life (e.g., parenting classes, chronic medical disorder support groups, legal aid and assistance, job skills classes, etc.)

How Will You Boost Your Recovery?

If you have completed a drug rehab program or are about to transition from a treatment program into independent living in sobriety, it’s important to have an actionable plan in place that will guide you through the first few months and years as you learn how to live without turning to drugs and alcohol. What therapy sources will you use as you create a new life for yourself? What services have you found to be most helpful and why?

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