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Author: Shernide Delva

If you are at all interested in social media platforms, you probably know all about Reddit. It’s a website that often gains media attention for posting obscene, disgusting and offensive content. Reddit has garnered tons of attention in recent years as many celebrities participate in “AMAs” (for “Ask Me Anything”) that allow users to ask them tons of questions in one setting.

However, now Reddit is gaining attention for another purpose: pro-social engagement. Amidst Reddit’s crudity and sexism, there are actually compassionate worlds, or subreddits, that are dedicated to drug and alcohol problems. But do they work, or do they cause more harm than good?

To answer those questions, one would have to explore these popular self-help networks, which is exactly what Zachary Siegel, who recently wrote an article on Reddit, did.

Some examples of subreddits that focus on alcohol/drug addiction recovery are:

  • r/OpiatesRecovery (OR)
  • r/StopDrinking (SD),
  • r/RedditorsInRecovery (RIR)

Siegel found Reddit to be chock-full of words and memes and very uneasy on the eyes. However, these boards seem to have good intentions.  They give advice; they congratulate others and share both good and bad stories in recovery from addiction.

Of course, all this is similar to 12-step fellowships.  However, the familiarity of being at home while receiving support can be useful for many in recovery.  For some, especially those in active addiction, it can be a more approachable way to seek support. For the most part, the groups seem to have a relaxed atmosphere, however, they  do have rules. The posting of outside links is strictly forbidden as these subgroups want to only be driven by user support.

One Redditor, who goes by BigndFan, was quoted as saying:

“Anonymity over the Internet allows people the freedom to share without shame.” Big feels a sense of community when reading the writing of his peers, and while he does go to AA meeting, he still enjoys spending a good amount of time on the Stop Drinking subgroups.

So do online groups like this work?

The concept of sharing stories is known, in a clinical sense, as narrative medicine. Narrative medicine recognizes the meaningfulness and value of other people’s narratives. Dr. Rita Charon is the director of narrative medicine at Columbia University in New York.  She was quoted as saying:

“In the most general way, what we refer to as narrative medicine is a practice, a very heightened awareness of how stories work. Not a breezy awareness, it’s very disciplined.”

In her classes, Dr. Charon guides her students in narrative medicine. In these classes, Dr. Charon shifts the gaze from medicine and moves it toward meaning and storytelling. Students In the past, Dr. Sharon has said that narrative medicine is useful in jails, prisons, psychiatric hospitals and homes for those who suffer from dementia.

When it comes to Reddit, Dr. Charron said both AA and Reddit have different healing benefits:

“The absolute biggest difference between Reddit and AA, is that Reddit is written. The writing, the activity of writing, of making something with words, has the healing benefit,” Charron said.

Many choose to go to subreddits because they do not like the support groups available in the area.  In some forums, users benefit from the kindness of others.  In r/OpiatesRecovery, which has over 5000 subscribers, one user sends packages of naloxone, the overdose antidote for opiates, to those with limited access.

Overall, the climate of recovery is changing to focus more on treatment. Just the other week, President Obama proposed $1 billion to expand medication-assisted treatment that would make methadone and Suboxone more available. These medicines can be useful in reducing overdoses.  Still, the model of recovery remains controversial, some focusing more on abstinence rather than harm reduction.

In conclusion, when it comes to Reddit, there are thousands who subscribe to these groups. Whether it is late at night or early in the day, posts are being created nonstop, 24/7. While these numbers cannot compare to the 1.2 million members who attend Alcoholic Anonymous meets, it is hard to deny the support these online groups provide. Most of all, it seems that these groups can be beneficial and not harmful to those who use them as one of the many components of a treatment program.

Recovery, like the rest of the world, is beginning to merge with online culture. Whether this is helpful in recovery or not can only be answered on an individual basis. Still, having the support of others is a known successful strategy to overcome addiction. If you need support for your addiction, seek help today. It is never too late to reach out for assistance. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

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