Can Online Recovery Replace Real Life Addiction Treatment?

Can Online Recovery Replace Real Life Addiction Treatment?

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The First Step Is Admitting You Have a Problem (On The Internet?)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.

Immediate Relief

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.”

Potential Pitfalls

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.

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  1. I believe that online recovery resources are a great tool for the toolbox, as mentioned by another reader here. I utilize sites like this one for thought provoking and often times funny, mood lightening articles about recovery. I’ve also logged into a lot of meetings on intherooms.com and shared or done service in some. I can see how a person might rely entirely on their online “community” in recovery but personally I also need some of the face to face interaction and/or service opportunities in my local AA meetings. Awhile back I noticed I was opting to attend online meetings more often than getting in the car and heading to a F2F meet and while there is no right or wrong, I also know that personally I get easily distracted while sitting in an online meet from the comfort of my living room/laptop/patio etc. All of a sudden something might come to mind unrelated to recovery and I’d open a new window on my PC and spin off in another direction entirely unrelated to recovery (“squirrel” syndrome) . In theory, when I did or do this, I intend to take a quick look at something on whatever website I open up and come back to the online meet, but frequently 20 min would blow by and the online meet just turned into white noise in the background. Bottom line, I wasn’t tuned in at all to the discussion in the end and end up feeling guilty about it. When I attend a meet in person I am generally present and more or less focused on the discussion (not always but more often than not and I try to leave my phone in my pocket, God forbid, for an entire hour). However, the recovery community is VERY fortunate to have sites like this one and ITR.com avail as resources. I know that some people who regularly attend AA meetings on ITR.com live in very rural areas (and some foreign countries) in which the closest F2F AA meeting is a hundred miles away and/or non-existent. Also some of the members of the online recovery community are physically incapacitated and/or facing some other disability that makes regular attendance at F2F meetings very difficult to impossible. Thankfully online tools are available for those who choose or need them to help stay clean and sober.

  2. I order a lot of online recovery take-out. Self medicating. It’s all about me. I want what I want when I want it. I haven’t seen the belt to my robe in months but who cares what I look like sitting at my laptop…Should I shave today? My mother always said I look so much better when I shave but she’s dead and I’m not going to put in any face time anywhere except the cat food dish so, I’m not going to shave, or get dressed. I’m reaching out, looking for emotional security. I don’t really care enough about myself to take care of myself in real time. A dreamers delight.

    I’ll do everything from right here online, pay a few bills, check in with friends, get my daily recovery and turn it into an infomercial for others to ponder and comment on. I’m in control of my life today. Kinda like when I was sitting at the bar, my drunken mind drifting in a red tide of my own philosophical understanding. Justification, the juke box, the bar, the men’s room, a cheeseburger. I’m here sending my vibe out there, waiting for a ping.
    Doesn’t anybody want some? Anybody? I am here!

    I’ll justify about anything, make plans for the best of times so I don’t have to do anything right now. I’ll shower and head out tonight but right now I’m in touch with my feelings and, I don’t feel like getting wet.

    The only real problem I see in myself with online recovery is accountability. I can be unaccountable as if still hiding deep in the fellowship of delusion, the bar room. The people forest, where at some point hopefully, I am drunk enough on myself and alcohol to become Robin Hood.

  3. I tend to use online resources as tools in my toolbox. The 12 step literature can feel a little dated and instagram, youtube and podcasts are great resources for making recovery more relevant and accessible. It’s also provided me with a great sober environment. If I see a meme on my instagram or put on a podcast while I’m doing housework, read an article or two on here when I have a spare minute, it all keeps me connected to my recovery.

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About Author

Mary Patterson Broome is the Editor-in-Chief of RehabReviews.com and After Party Magazine and has also written for Women's Health Magazine Online, AOL and WE TV. She has been performing stand-up comedy at clubs, colleges, casinos and festivals across the country and internationally for over a decade. Originally from southern Alabama, she now calls Los Angeles home.