Many Americans Seeking Substance Abuse Help Online

America's opioid epidemic, fueled by fentanyl, oxycodone, heroin, and other drugs, is getting worse. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in December show overdose deaths, from all drugs including opioids, increased 21 percent over the previous year to 63,600 in 2016, a new record. Additionally, the rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (other than methadone) doubled from 3.1 per 100,000 to 6.2 per 100,000 over the same time period.

While the epidemic grows, traditional recovery options are slow to keep pace. Political promises and chastising doctors for overprescribing opioids have done little to expand the services available for the hardest hit populations. Local resources, like beds in treatment centers and counseling services, are stretched thin, and labyrinthine, bureaucratic social nets widen the cracks through which many fall.

Online communities can offer a significant way for people struggling with their own personal addiction to explore recovery. Constant access to support, the ease of internet anonymity, and the free price tag make these communities seem like an enticing one-stop shop for people battling opioid addiction. While online communities previously existed for those with opioid addiction, the epidemic has led to a dramatic rise in membership and the formulation of new groups.

On Facebook, opioid recovery groups exist for mothers, veterans, almost every state in America, those treating their addiction with medication, and many more. Additionally, there are social networks solely dedicated to helping people get clean. All of these communities offer help in different forms like threaded discussions, one-on-one direct messaging, resource databases, and virtual meetings. Constant access to support, the ease of internet anonymity, and the free price tag make these communities seem like an enticing one-stop shop for people battling opioid addiction.

But online communities aren’t a perfect solution. Unfortunately, the internet is filled with bad information and opinionated people. Medical professionals point to a lack of evidence-based information as the biggest problem, a danger even, for these communities.

"Often incorrect or potentially dangerous information [is] presented as fact,” Dr. Christina Brezing, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center, said in an email. “Anecdotal/personal experiences don't necessarily align with large-scale studies/evidence-based treatment but can be presented in very salient ways that can deter people from treatment.” These "salient ways" can be especially convincing when they come from actors in the community with clout based on their activity or length of recovery.

"Going online and having these discussions, you might think that this is all you need to do for your recovery, and that's problematic," Dr. Paolo Mannelli, a psychiatrist at Duke Health said. "It can lead to one person who has a lot of influence over other people." Internet communities certainly have their limitations and drawbacks, but many people prefer them after having a difficult time finding reliable in-person help.

  • 5 Commentsby Likes|Date
  • Online is the first place people go for just about everything these days, so this all makes sense. Heck, this forum is a perfect example of people getting help online, isn't it? Are online communities perfect? No. But they can provide crucial support to people who need it, and that's a wonderful thing.
  • If you're not yet ready to share your own story, it can be comforting/helpful to read strangers' recovery stories online.
    Having a support system to help you through any kind of recovery is important, but we aren't all ready to share with our nearest and dearest, in fact for some people that is the hardest part of dealing with an addiction, the feeling that we are letting people down.
    There are a number of blogs written by people in all stages of addiction and recovery online, where you can follow their progress without having to disclose your own, and get tips from others 'like you' that may just prove invaluable.

  • @eliew & @DeanD I agree to both your points! I think some may need professional help with their addiction (and yes opiate detoxing can be dangerous) however I really don’t think I could go to treatment or NA meetings for my recovery. This forum has really helped me even when I hit a few bumps along the way. It is important everyone stay present and aware of what is going on with them physically, physiologically, emotionally l, mentally... and do what is best for their individual experience. I hope those I give advice to don’t take it 100% to be accurate for them as it is based on my own knowledge and experience.
    I am so grateful for this forum!
  • @blueorchid So glad you are finding help here, Yes everyone's different, and we probably all need to be more mindful, especially those of us with addictions!
    I think any kind of support and advice is a good thing, as long as it doesn't take the place of medical professionals when they are really needed.
  • @eliew... Your point about medical professionals is an excellent one. Online help should never take the place of professional, face-to-face help if that's what is really needed.
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