Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S. According to the most recent statistics, one in every 12 adults suffers from alcohol abuse or dependence — that’s more than 17 million people.
While programs like Alcoholics Anonymous have been the gold standard for treatment and recovery, an unlikely platform for addiction support is popping up online, in the form of a subReddit.
On the sprawling Web community Reddit, r/StopDrinking functions as a therapy platform for over 30,000 drinkers, the Washington Post reports. This method of finding social support online has proved itself bigtime among people who turn to Internet communities for fitness motivation, like trainer Kayla Itsines’s #BBG Instagram community, where women post progress photos and cheer one another on toward their weight-loss goals.
So can the same method work for treating a disorder like alcoholism? Stephen Herz, the clinical director at Florida addiction treatment facility Reawakenings Wellness Center, explains that while a “sober room” on Reddit may seem new, people have been turning to the Internet for recovery support for quite some time.
“Online, 24-hour meetings have been available for many years,” Herz tells Yahoo Health. “AA, NA, and Smart Recovery all have these available.” They can be extremely helpful, since they provide a sense of community and interaction. But Herz cautions against relying solely on online platforms and using them as a substitute for human interactions.
“The typical behavior of the addict/alcoholic is one of isolation, hiding their use from others and eventually cutting off most of their human contact,” Herz continues. “The question then becomes just how much of the much-needed human contact is available through Internet contact? It’s the face-to-face interactions that make the individual more completely whole.”
Alcoholics Anonymous, and other 12-step programs modeled after it, use a three-pronged approach: the book, the program, and fellowship. All these parts are interlaced, working together to help give drinkers a new way of living, Herz explains. “It helps to make the individual move from the self-centered, generally dishonest user to a life more conducive to becoming a well-rounded member of society. An online meeting does not fill all these needs.”
For many, support they find online should be a supplement to therapy, not a replacement. “It doesn’t get to the root of the issue,” Herz says. Confronting why you drink and getting help with whatever is pushing you to abuse alcohol is what will create lasting change.
But it’s better than nothing, especially if it encourages someone to then seek professional help. “The bottom line is that anything done by a user is better than doing nothing and ending up a grim statistic in the column headlined ‘Death caused by substance abuse,’” Herz says.
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