“As AA and other 12-step programs have long been aware, the power of “we” in recovery cannot be overstated. So anything that helps us to stay connected, especially in real-time (as we see with Twitter, texting, etc.) can be a powerful implement in the recovering individual’s toolbox.”
~Dr. David Sack, M.D., board-certified in addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry
This isolation contributes to the worsening of the addiction. One of the first things that a person learns in addiction recovery is to never let themselves get “too lonely” or “too bored”, because the resultant need for stimulation can be a return to old, self-destructive habits.
Luckily, suffering substance abusers often have many more sources of support than they may realize:
The Best Social Connections are the Ones That May Already Exist
“One family member addicted to alcohol and drugs means the whole family suffers.”
~National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the role played by an addicted person’s existing social circle – their family and friends – can be crucial to their successful recovery. Active family involvement during addiction treatment has a number of benefits:
- It gives the treatment staff an opportunity to see how the substance abuser and the family members interact.
- With this insight, the treatment staff can provide guidance to the family on how to avoid any enabling behaviors.
- It provides the substance abuser motivation to comply with treatment.
- The family can provide ongoing positive support for the substance abuser.
- Family members can communicate with their addicted loved one I verbalizing their concerns and feelings.
- It helps the substance abuser learn about and take responsibility for any harm their addicted behaviors may have caused – an important part of the recovery process.
- The painful burden experienced by the family – anger, confusion, resentment – can be lessened when the family receives support from other families during group sessions.
- Family members of the substance abuser can be encouraged to 12-Step fellowship support groups such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.
- Family members who have disorders of their own – addiction, depression, PTSD, etc. – can be encouraged to seek professional help so they will be able to interact with the recovering substance abuser in a healthy manner.
- The substance abuser can put into real-world practice what they have recently learned in treatment.
Fellowship with Peers Aids Addiction Recovery
There is no medication, no counselor, or no physician that can guide an addict or an alcoholic to long-lasting, successful sobriety as another person who has dealt and is dealing with the same cravings, dysfunctional thoughts, and life issues. Peer support and fellowship – whether through Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or counselor-led therapy groups – provides a newly-sober and still-fragile substance abuser with a sense of belonging and community.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, when peer support is used in conjunction with traditional addiction treatment, the result is improved outcomes in:
- housing stability
- medication adherence
- treatment engagement
- reduction in the need for acute care or hospitalization
- overall quality of life
The Increasing Role of Social Media in Successful Addiction Recovery
In 2015, The National Institutes of Health awarded $1.7 million to the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute to determine if social media can help change the behavior of substance abusers.
Numerous studies have indicated that social interaction with others can influence other “unwanted” behaviors and emotions, such as depression, obesity, alcohol consumption, and smoking.
To put it another way, someone’s “social network” helps determine their actions.
This theory was explored in greater depth in the book Social Physics: How Good Ideas Are Spread – the Lessons from a New Science, by Dr. Alex Pentland of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 2011, Forbes named Dr. Pentland one of the “Top Seven Most Powerful Data Scientists” in the world.
This influence may extend to a recovery setting:
- First, studies investigating how positive behaviors spread socially have demonstrated that when people were randomly assigned partners engaging in healthy, productive activities, their own behavior was affected – even when the two partners had no other connection in common nor any interaction out in the “real world“.
- Second, while fellowship and support are crucial parts of successful 12-Step programs, so is anonymity.
These two facts strongly suggest that an individual’s behaviors can be positively affected by the behavior of others, even when they don’t actually know the other parties.
In the study, the founder of the International Quit and Recover Registry, Professor Warren Bickel, suggests grouping study according to their chosen drug. He theorizes that such grouping will “generate commonalities to enhance communication, connectedness, and support.”
The study is a logical extension of the theories of Dr. Damon Centola, first made public in a 2010 article in Science. Dr. Centola’s work has shown that people using social networks will increasingly engage in positive, healthy behaviors if they receive multiple notifications informing them that others in their networks were already doing so.
The unique semi-anonymous-yet-supportive environments of social networks creates a landscape where frequent positive messages can lead people to adopt positive behaviors of their own.
If the study’s hypothesis is proven, then this could point to larger encouraging implications:
- Substance abusers will be given another tool that can be used to manage their disease of addiction
- There would be a significant improvement in successful outcomes
- There would be a reduction in long-term treatment costs
For professionals in the addiction recovery field, this proof could be especially useful, because the results may one day highlight how addicts and alcoholics shift from active substance abuse to first-stage recovery to the practice of healthy behaviors. With this knowledge, new and more efficient treatment protocols could be put into practice.
Social interaction in any form – family and friends, fellowship support groups, or social media – is not intended to take the place of traditional, evidence-based addiction treatment by licensed professionals. But, when used in conjunction with established scientific methods, it can be another weapon in the fight against substance abuse.