Face-to-Face Support Still Proves Best Method When Dealing With Addiction


Online support groups put help at your fingertips when you struggle with addiction or other problems, but research presented at a recent American Psychological Association conference says that face-to-face meetings are more effective than getting help on the Internet.

Personal Interaction is Better for Sobriety

The researchers looked at the difference between in-person and online support because Internet support groups are rising in popularity. “One of the most hotly debated media issues today is whether our rapidly increasing use of social networking might be supplanting face-to-face-interactions and, if so, what the social consequences might prove for us as a culture,” the study’s first author, Donald S. Grant, PhD, of Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, explained. “Our study focused on better understanding the strengths and weaknesses of online versus face-to-face sobriety support.”

In the study, which focused on 196 adults who used both online support and face-to-face groups to help maintain their sobriety, those who physically attended meetings reported greater success in that goal. They also said they preferred the in-person meetings, but the study showed that their attendance dropped when they used online resources more often.

Is Dishonesty the Difference?

Grant said the lower success rate for online help could be due, at least in part, to a tendency to be more honest in face-to-face meetings. Study participants admitted that they were more likely to be dishonest when they were behind a keyboard as compared to sitting in a room with others. Since honesty is a major principle in recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, that tendency toward dishonesty online could make it harder to stay sober.

The researchers also discovered that people are more likely to be drunk or high when attending an in-person meeting than when reaching out for help in an online forum. While this finding surprised them, they told the APA conference attendees that it had no effect on the study results.

Online Support Will Stay Popular

Grant predicted that, even though online support can’t currently match face-to-face meetings in effectiveness, the number of people seeking help for addictions via Internet groups will continue to climb.

“With more and more people engaging in online sobriety support, the recovering community and professionals alike wonder what impact these modern platforms could have on both the future of Alcoholics Anonymous and its membership,” he said. “When comparing the short amount of time online sobriety support has even been accessible to the number of those participants currently engaging with it, the likelihood that its popularity will only grow seems probable.”

If you worry that you or someone you know could have a substance abuse problem, you’ll find more information in this WebPsychology article. Alcoholics Anonymous has information about in-person and online meetings on its website.