• Study: In-Person Support Groups Still Work Best for Recovery
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    Study: In-Person Support Groups Still Work Best for Recovery

    US News recently reported findings for a study on face-to-face support group attendance versus online support group attendance for those recovering from addictions.

    In a survey involving 55 men and 141 women between 18 and 60 years old, the survey found that those who maintained longer-term and higher qualities of sobriety preferred face-to-face meetings of their specific support groups. Of those involved in the survey, over 90 percent had achieved over one year of recovery.

    Increasing Success in the Treatment Community

    The study was conducted to find out whether the popularity of social media and recovery resources that are available online would impact the traditional aspects of face-to-face meetings.

    Reasons for preferring attendance in support groups vary. A frequent response in the survey was the recovering addicts’ tendency to be more honest when sharing in face-to-face meetings. This is a vital part of the recovery process, since addicts become dishonest during their addiction and must learn to reestablish an honest lifestyle in order to remain abstinent.

    Studying the pros and cons of online support groups and traditional, face-to-face meetings can allow the treatment community to focus their protocols to include those aspects most viable and pertinent to each client.

    Some shift in attendance toward online meetings of support groups was recognized in the study, but significant changes were not noted.

    Face-to-Face Support Groups: Pros and Cons

    • For those who live in remote conditions or where weather precludes travel during some times of the year, online support groups can be a lifeline of support they cannot access through standard channels.
    • The benefits of face-to-face meetings is to connect and bond with others who may become healing partners in their recovery. This link can be life-saving when addicts need help. A virtual or online connection may not replace the feeling of belonging and camaraderie that is a vital link in group meetings.
    • Meetings can be attended around the clock online for those whose lives are upset or when a situation occurs to trigger their desire for drinking or using.
    • Online meetings can be a slippery slope for those who are addicted to using a computer or who tend to isolate from other members of their support network. This is a dangerous tendency addicts have to separate themselves from others, a leading cause of relapse.
    • Addicts tend to avoid close connection with others, in order to convince themselves they are “unique” and different from the rest of humanity. This is another reason for their isolating tendencies. Connecting with others of like nature is important throughout the course of their recovery. Therefore, it may not be in their best interests to do online meetings only. No sense of connection or responsibility to the group can be formed in online support meetings.
    • Service is a big part of recovery. There is little or no opportunity for recovering addicts to be of real service to others in online meetings. No chairs to set up, no coffee to make, no snacks to bring, no responsibility to the group in things like literature ordering, collecting donations, or other service is done in online groups. The necessary component of service is considered to be one of three parts that complete the recovery model; Fellowship, Unity and Service. None of these is quite the same online.
    • Sponsorship is a vital part of recovery also. Online sponsorship distances the two people involved. It can be a challenge to really connect with someone online.
    • A strong consideration in today’s world is the high cost of travel. When a person must travel long distances to attend face-to-face meetings, they may not be able to live as they need to financially. Online meetings are a way to preserve gasoline use and vehicle use as well.
    • Many addicts do not have the ability to drive, and some may not have transportation available to them in early recovery. While it is a great thing to ask for and receive help in getting to meetings and such; as well as providing a source of service for those who help the addict with transportation, online meetings may make it possible for the recovering person to attend more groups than he or she normally would.
    • Again, these same arguments may be made for those who cannot afford a computer or online services.

    In looking at these issues, we can begin to talk about overcoming obstacles for those in early addiction recovery and to provide service to them through both means. The advent of computer technology and its huge impact on our social structure and environment does not seem to have permanently altered or threatened the traditional attendance at meetings of support groups.

    However, with a blending of the assets of both and the working out of those problems with both, it is hoped that the computer will continue to become a vital and beneficial tool in overcoming addiction and finding roads to recovery that did not exist before.


    Kelly McClanahan has an MSW in clinical social work and a CATC IV in addictions counseling. She teaches meditation and mindfulness, specializing in addiction and trauma. She also leads workshops and seminars on treatment of addictive disorders and stress reduction.

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