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Is Online Support Enough for Addiction Recovery?

woman online therapy

Can you really recover from addiction with just online support? For better or worse, today’s instant-information technology has changed the world we live in. Approximately 80% of internet users have looked up health-related topics online.

How useful is the Internet when you need specialized professional help for a substance abuse disorder? Make no mistake—online addiction recovery counseling is not without some benefit. However, is it really as effective as in-person residential rehab or intensive outpatient programs? Let’s take a closer look at online support for addiction recovery.

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What Is Online Addiction Recovery?

Online addiction treatment is a newer form of outpatient drug rehab that promises access to services anywhere there is a computer, tablet, or smartphone and an internet connection. Clients can connect to their addiction counselors and to other people in their recovery peer group via Skype or other similar webcam video conferencing applications.

Each client is able to see and hear their counselor as well as the other group members. As a result, this allows participants to enjoy the benefits of a group therapy session, such as sharing, learning from others, and discussion of common issues.

Is Online Addiction Rehab Really Treatment?

Yes. Just as is the case with traditional outpatient rehab, the counselors offering services through online addiction recovery programs should be certified/licensed in their state. Most online rehab programs also accept private insurance.

Online Addiction Recovery Pro #1: Help is Convenient

For some struggling alcoholics and addicted individuals—especially those also dealing with co-occurring social anxiety—having to leave home to go to receive treatment can be an extremely daunting proposition. In some cases, it can even be a deal-breaker, because the fear of interacting with new people can be stronger than the desire to get clean and sober.

Others may face transportation problems that make regular attendance within a traditional outpatient program impossible. Therefore, online programs are a welcome solution to either problem.

Online Addiction Recovery Pro #2: Support Is Available

In addition to structured programs, there are many, many online 12-Step fellowship communities comprised of people in various stages of recovery. Best of all, some of these online chat rooms and virtual meeting places are available 24/7. In other words, there is always someone to talk to when temptation strikes. This open availability can make some people feel more empowered about their recovery, and more likely to “attend” regularly and often.

Online Addiction Recovery Pro #3: The Possibilities are Endless

Because there’s no geography constraint, it is a lot easier to find a online program that offers services appropriate for your unique needs as an individual. There are online 12-Step fellowship meetings for every manifestation of the disease of addiction –grouped by age, gender, orientation, and drug of choice.

Online Addiction Recovery Pro #4: It’s Effective

A study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, said, “Patients who engaged most fully in the web-based program during the year following addiction treatment had significantly higher abstinence rates for alcohol/other drug use and consumed less alcohol than patients who were less engaged or not engaged in the program.”

In 2014, a web-based program was partially substituted for “standard” counseling in an addiction treatment program. After one year, the partial substitution resulted in greater rates of opioid abstinence, 48% versus 37%.

Online Addiction Recovery Pro #5: It’s Affordable

Most addiction specialists offering online services charge considerably less than traditional programs. Typically, there is a flat fee per session, with a set number of scheduled sessions. For web-based recovery programs, the total charge is usually in the hundreds of dollars, rather than in the thousands.

Online Addiction Recovery Con #1: Inferior Evaluations

A proper recommendation must be made to which services are appropriate. To do this, addiction specialists need to first evaluate the incoming client. Part of the assessment occurs through direct observation of body language, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. These clues are not as evident over an internet connection.

Online Addiction Recovery Con #2: Misdiagnosis is Possible

Since the information available to the counselor can be limited, they may not recognize any co-occurring disorders that may be present, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc. Consequently, an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment plan may be difficult to determine.

Online Addiction Recovery Con #3: Lack of Coordination

Not surprisingly, online recovery programs are not usually in the same geographic location as the client. This is important because if the client has any other concurrent treatment needs—for an emotional/psychiatric disorder, for example—knowledge of and coordination with local treatment services may be inferior.

Online Addiction Recovery Con #4: Delayed Accountability

Most web-based recovery programs do not drug test, due to the logistics involved. Those that do will send the client’s specimen to a local 3rd-party company for analysis/confirmation. Obviously, this takes time. If the client is relapsing and using drugs and/or alcohol again, then that delay while waiting for the analysis can be dangerous. In more traditional settings, drug testing can be a valuable tool that the addiction counselor can use to adjust the treatment plan as needed.

Online Addiction Recovery Con #5: Lack of Connection

Direct support from interpersonal relationships can be invaluable to a person new to recovery and regained sobriety. In fact, a strong support system is one of the pillars of successful recovery. Forming new, healthier relationships with others may be difficult to do with peers who are not nearby. The close connection necessary for strength and inspiration may not fully form with “online” peers.

What’s the Verdict on Online Addiction Recovery?

There is nothing inherently wrong with web-based recovery services if the staff is properly certified and the program that is offered is evidence-based. The concern is whether or not online addiction treatment goes far enough.

Under the right circumstances, however, web-based interventions may be a worthwhile addition to a program of recovery. When used as a partial substitute for standard counseling, clients feel empowered and become more fully engaged. As a result, they can increase their chances of successful, long-lasting recovery.