Despite their growing number, online support groups such as those on Facebook are not as effective as the face-to-face counselling in curbing substance use among the youth, a new study has found.
"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," said first author Donald S. Grant from Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara.
"Our study focused on better understanding the strengths and weaknesses of online versus face-to-face sobriety support," Grant explained.
Using Facebook and other online social media platforms, Grant and co-author Karen Dill-Shackleford recruited 196 adults (141 female, 55 male) who reported using both in-person and online sobriety support systems.
Participants were primarily Caucasian (86 percent) and ranged in age from 18 to over 60 years of age. Over 90 percent of the participants reported having been in recovery for more than a year.
While the results showed that participants in general continued to prefer fact-to-face meetings, there was an increase in online use that corresponded with a moderate decrease in meeting attendance.
Individuals who attended more meetings had greater success in achieving and maintaining sobriety, the research found.
One finding that may help explain the lower success rate of online support programmes was that participants reported they were less likely to be dishonest in meetings than online, according to Grant.
Grant called the research important because although the data do not indicate a significant shift from meetings to online support groups yet, they do suggest that a move in that direction is happening and it is important to understand what that can mean for outcomes of individuals seeking help.
"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," Grant concluded.
The findings were presented at the ongoing American Psychological Association's 123rd Annual Convention in Toronto.