Support groups may give you the help you need to recover from alcoholism. They allow you to learn and draw strength from people who have experienced similar problems. Thanks to the internet, you can benefit from support groups without having to attend face-to-face meetings.
There are different types of online support groups you can join. Some of them are therapist-led and other are self-directed. Normally, members will communicate using chat groups, discussion boards, instant messaging, mailing lists, or Facebook. You can choose to join a group focused specifically on alcohol dependency or a group that is open to people with any addiction. Online support groups may be synchronous (members have scheduled meetings) or asynchronous (members can post any time they want). The former type requires greater commitment just like traditional face-to-face meetings. The latter type will be perfect for people whose lifestyle prevents them from attending regular meetings or need support between meetings. Some groups set up an initiation process whereby you need to be approved by a moderator, and others are open to anyone.
You are free to try different types of online support groups, as the format will have an impact on therapy’s effectiveness. It is easy, as usually there is no subscription fee and online groups require less commitment than face-to-face ones.
Benefits of Online Support Groups
- Members can log in any time they need help. For instance, every time you feel a strong urge to drink, you may turn to community members for immediate support. This would be impossible with traditional face-to-face meetings. 24/7 support is especially crucial in the first most fragile phase of alcohol withdrawal.
- Online communities are more diverse, which gives you an insight into the struggles of people from different backgrounds. At the same time, the differences such as age, ethnic background, or gender are not obvious unless disclosed, which contributes to an egalitarian atmosphere.
- Many barriers, both physical and psychological, are removed with online communication. There are no commuting cost and geographic barriers. People suffering from social anxiety, with disabilities, autism, or speech and hearing difficulties can participate in online meetings with more ease.
- Online meetings protect anonymity, which may facilitate discussions on sensitive or embarrassing issues. Such an atmosphere encourages honesty and intimacy.
- Sometimes random occurrences such as illness or emergencies can prevent you from participating in face-to-face group meetings. In such cases, you can draw support from online groups.
- Members of online groups may share their art with a lesser feeling of self-consciousness or embarrassment. For many, sharing their artistic output with others is therapeutic.
- Writing about your thoughts and feelings can be cathartic and aid your recovery process.
- It’s possible to overcome many of the limitations of online support groups, such as lack of bodily cues, with the use of a video camera and audio equipment. At the same time, geographic barriers and transportation inconveniences are not a factor that could prevent anyone from participating.
Limitations of Online Support Groups
- Sadly, members of online support groups might be abused by fraudsters, cyber bullies, or people who seek attention and compassion by exaggerating and lying. As bodily cues are absent from conversations, it may be more difficult to spot a lie.
- Professor John Suler of Rider University in New Jersey discovered that in online support groups you are likely to receive misinformation on health issues, as few such groups are moderated by mental health professionals. The advice given in online support groups may be harmful on occasions, even if given with good intentions.
- A sense of community is stronger in face-to-face groups, as membership in online support groups is more fluid. As a consequence, you may fail to forge meaningful relationships and lack a sense of stability, which aids recovery.
- Online groups may exclude the disadvantaged, privileging those with access to a computer and an internet connection. Although many can gain access to a computer in public libraries, this scenario assumes that the person is aware that online support is available.
- As online support groups normally have more members, reading every message from every member may be more time-consuming than attending face-to-face meetings.
- Much communication is lost without bodily cues such as tone of voice, facial expression, and eye contact. Emoticons and other forms of expressing emotions online can counter it to a certain extent, but not entirely.
- Online groups can be addictive, especially if you substitute your real life with an online one. You may find that you neglect your responsibilities, family, and friends.
- Different members of the group may be in different stages of recovery, making it difficult to structure meetings.
- The quality of online support groups differs, and many times there is no professional supervision.
As you can see, online support groups have both advantages and disadvantages. Deciding what form of group therapy you prefer – face-to-face or online – should be your personal choice. Some people reap the most benefits by combining both approaches.