Last Updated on March 25, 2020 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Support groups are a vital, indispensible part of the recovery process for many people.  It makes sense – when people support one another, everyone is collectively stronger.  Support groups bring people together and allows them to lean upon one another in a safe environment.  Since everyone is fighting a similar battle, and some participants are already well on their way to success, people can connect and learn from one another, helping all members to move forward in their fight to overcome their addictions.

However, some people in recovery are hesitant or unable to attend support groups.  In some cases, an individual may feel too much anxiety or may simply feel altogether too shy to attend and participate in even the most welcoming support group.  Others may be unable to attend group meetings due to health issues or lack of transportation, or because they live in a rural area without meetings nearby. 

For people in these situations, online support groups are becoming more and more popular.  Support groups that exist on the internet are easily accessible to anyone with a cell phone or computer with a Wi-Fi connection, and can be visited at any time from anywhere.  They are convenient and participants can experience some of the same support and camaraderie that they would find in an in person, face-to-face support group setting.

There are many benefits to online support groups, but there are some negatives and potential pitfalls to consider, too.  Read on to find out the pros and cons of this type of support, and to determine whether or not it may be right for you.

Benefits of Online Support Groups

Accessibility – Probably the best thing about online support groups is that they are highly accessible.  As mentioned above, they are a wonderful resource and opportunity for people who don’t want to attend an in-person support group or who are unable to attend for some reason.  People who don’t have the time or ability to attend another type of support group can benefit tremendously to having access to one online.

Comfort – For people who are uncomfortable attending a support group in person, due to any number of reasons, may feel more comfortable attending one online in their homes.  Even outgoing and able individuals may opt for online support groups simply because they feel they express themselves better in writing or because they believe they are more easily able to open up to people on the internet than they can in person.

Availability – Most places, there are support groups available every day of the week and at a wide variety of times of day. However, in many smaller towns and in rural areas, that is often not the case.  It may be difficult for people to find a meeting at a time they can attend in person.  Online support groups, on the other hand, are always available.  If someone works evenings or overnights, and must therefore sleep during the day to prepare, he or she may find it much easier to get support online.

Diversity – Chances are, if you attend in-person support groups in your neighborhood, you are going to be surrounded by a bunch of people who are a lot like you.  If you are seeking a more diverse group for your support, online support groups may be a good choice.  Since they can be accessed by anyone, you may find a wider mix of personalities and experiences online than you would in your local groups.

Safety & Anonymity – Although all support groups are supposed to be confidential and anonymous, that is not always the case.  In an online support group, it is much easier to hide your identity and it is far less likely that the other participants will know someone that you know in real life.  Furthermore, the other people in the group may live in another state or another country, and the likelihood of them finding you and bothering you in your regular, everyday life beyond the group is very low.

Limitations of Online Support Groups

Lack of Community – Because online support groups include people that are very distant and that are not communicating face-to-face, you may not get the same feeling of community that you will likely get in an in-person support group. 

Online Fraud & Bullying – Unfortunately, people will say things online that they never in a million years would say to someone’s face; people in online groups can be very harsh, both unintentionally and intentionally.  Furthermore, you really have no way of knowing if the people in your online support group are being honest about their addiction, their struggles, or anything.  That’s also true in a live support group, but it’s much less likely anyone is lying when they are physically attending meetings with people that they will probably see time and time again.

Larger & More Transitory Groups – Due to the fact that online support groups are online, they usually have more people in them and those people may come and go at a much higher rate than people in a live, in-person support group.  This can make confiding in others more difficult, and can make building relationships challenging.

Lack of Structure – Usually, in persons support groups have some sort of leadership in place, even if it’s just a participant who leads the groups.  Online support groups may have a leader, but it may not, and the lack of structure may make the group far less effective than a face-to-face group.

Misinformation – Due to the lack of structure in some online support groups, some incorrect information may be shared within them.  In an online support group, there may be little fact checking and accountability when it comes to medical information, and that can be frustrating or even downright dangerous.

Finding an Online Support Group for Recovery

There are a wide variety of support groups online that are available to you.  If you feel that this type of support is right for your situation, join one, connect with others, and see if it is a good fit.  If the first one you try is not a success, try another one.  A number of online support groups can be found with a simple search, but here is a list to help get you started.  This type of support may help you progress further down the path to recovery, but if it isn’t right for you, and in-person support groups were working, consider going back to the old way instead.

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