Sometimes when I’m cooking I still ask my Mom questions I could easily just Google. There is something about that human interaction that makes me trust she knows better than any rando online, and it makes me feel connected to her. When I finally decided I was ready to quit drinking, I called a friend who I knew was happily sober for seven years and counting. But that wasn’t before I hit the Internet, where we pretty much turn for anything and everything in this digital age. We can order food with two clicks and find a husband with three swipes (wishful thinking alert).
The Daily Dot recently ran a story about the ever-increasing prominence of online recovery support, from Facebook groups for mothers in sobriety to actual websites devoted to facilitating virtual meetings. The well-respected recovery giant Hazelden is on board, as are organizations like Women In Sobriety, SMART Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous. But should turning to the phone or the computer be considered a foundation, or a supplement? There are arguments for both.
There is the instant gratification factor. Need a meeting? Log into In The Rooms. Want to identify with someone else who has struggled with drugs and alcohol? Hit one of the many thousands of blogs about getting sober. Want to see some “before and after” type inspiration? Search Instagram for the hash tag #soberlife. There are many resources that don’t involve even leaving the couch. There are plenty of people who only feel comfortable speaking up from the anonymous safety of a screenname. That makes total sense. There is always a place for someone to turn if they’ve got WiFi and a device on hand. Entire sober communities provide an online space for people to uplift each other and share their personal struggles, triumphs and fears. Long time addiction counselor Dr. Kat Peoples, who was interviewed for The Daily Dot piece, insists the convenience factor is the most crucial benefit. She says, “It’s instant access. You don’t have to wait to go to a meeting in two hours. If you have a need or a thought or a craving you can post that and get some immediate support.”
There is the potential risk of never really having to be fully accountable. We’ve become a culture of flaking. Not showing up to an online meeting is even easier than bailing on an in-person SMART Recovery group or 12-step meeting. Also, how connected can one really feel to people they’ve never met in person? I think these resources are ideal for someone struggling with substance abuse but not quite ready to ask for help IRL (that’s “in real life,” if you’re not up on proper 2016 lingo), or for someone who’s already sought help in real life and needs additional support when they travel or can’t get to a meeting at home for whatever reason.
And then there’s service. Helping others is an integral part of 12-step programs but is just beneficial as a general rule for anyone who tends to live in their head all the time. It doesn’t matter if someone is anti-AA; it’s difficult to disagree that volunteer work and helping others nourishes the soul. I tend to constantly reside in the landmine that is my brain and all the realities it’s created—sometimes positive, mostly negative—but when I am helping someone else with their problems, mine feel insignificant or even nonexistent. Could creating a blog, a motivational Instagram account or fabulous website (ahem) be considered being of service to your fellow man or woman? Of course. But it doesn’t replace action that requires a physical, as opposed to virtual, presence.
The Not So Ugly
Despite some of my grievances listed above, I do believe overall that digital interaction is a really positive change of pace in addiction treatment. As I’ve written about before, selfies might indeed be keeping people sober. And there is no doubt all this public recovery is helping to reduce the negative stigma around alcoholism and addiction. I don’t know if I’m quite ready to hear, “Oh, you want to quit drinking? There’s an app for that” but if it works, by all means, work it.