Addiction recovery is a long, challenging process. Alongside withdrawal from the substance itself, addicts are confronted by the hurdles of everyday life which can hamper their progress. One of the key technological tools that addicts have begun to use over the last couple of decades to make their experience a little less turbulent is social media.
This technology has become accessible to most of us, even those of us on lower budgets. Not to mention that social media is an increasingly important aspect of our lives in general. It offers us insights into other cultures; it has also opened up resources and contacts that were certainly more difficult to connect to. However, it’s also renowned for its negative aspects; an outlet for trolls, and rife with interactions that can be detrimental to our mental health.
So what happens when addiction recovery and social media meet? In what ways can our connected society be a positive influence upon those struggling to readjust to their new addiction-free lives? What is the potential for it to do more harm than good?
It’s Always There
Social media is a constant presence in our lives. Like many other aspects of our digital landscape, it is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When recovering substance users come out of rehab, they often find that they are not supported by the same expertise and resources that they had full access to while they were in an institution or program. Unfettered access to accounts that provide advice and support, or following hashtags such as #recovery and #alcoholicsanonymous can be a vital tool.
Indeed, social media can help to open resources to those who may otherwise be financially unable to get help. Medicare does cover certain types of mental health services, and outpatient services are only available with Medicare B. However, there are still deductibles for these services, and as it covers 20% of session costs, there could still be significant out of pocket expenses. In this instance, sources of social media guidance link to activities and local groups, and referrals to sources of funding help to take some of the pressure off.
That said, the constant nature of social media can feel as relentless as it is accessible. One of the prevalent dangers during recovery is exchanging one addiction for another, as this suggests that the patient is substituting addictions rather than addressing the core emotional or psychological issues causal to their addictive behavior. The availability and prevalence of social media can make it a target for this kind of compulsion, and the rising issue of social media addiction has become a concern for many in our digital landscape.
It Connects Us with Others
One of the most important roles that social media plays is its ability to make the world feel much smaller. Rather than disparate individuals across nations, we have been pulled closer into online communities. Wherever we are, at whatever time we need it, we can make connections with others who share similar interests, experiences, and struggles.
This is important to note because many of those in recovery find the process to be isolating. Particularly at a time in which COVID-19 is forcing many of us to stay indoors, distance from loved ones, and limit our access to services, the isolation can be more pronounced. As detailed in the linked resource, coming out of rehab into a world that is closed and socially distant can be a scary experience. This can make social media an important lifeline in its ability to bring us into contact with our loved ones and those who are sharing experiences.
On the other hand, we have to acknowledge that the way many of us use social media can make these connections difficult or unhelpful for those in recovery. We post images of parties, people out having a good time, and — often — drinking alcohol. This can be dangerous for those undergoing the early stages of alcohol detox, particularly those undertaking their treatment at home without the restrictions of a facility. Detox can already be an extremely challenging time, with various unpleasant symptoms; seeing others enjoying substances without restraint, or even glamorizing the consumption of substances could be an unhealthy influence at this time of fragility, or even act as a triggering mechanism.
It’s a Distraction
Recovery can be a stressful time. While there’s a lot of hard work to be done, it’s also important for those struggling with addiction to be kind to themselves, and take time to pursue things they enjoy. Social media can be excellent in this regard; it’s an almost endless source of entertainment, from memes to catching up with the latest projects from our favorite musicians, artists, and public figures.
It can also be a useful creative outlet. Starting a blog, which can easily include other media such as videos, artwork, or music can be a positive way to direct energy, or process traumatic experiences during this difficult period. These projects don’t necessarily have to be on the subject of recovery, either, although some find this process to be cathartic. The work can then be shared on social media for feedback, support, or even to help others.
However, we know that not all content posted by other creators, celebrities, and entertainers can have a positive effect. Recovery often occurs immediately following some of the lowest points of our lives, and addicts can still be harboring magnified low self-esteem, guilt, or a reduced sense of worth. Seeing curated posts of others who appear to have their lives together — however exaggerated this might be on social media — can lead even the most robust of us to go down that hole of unhealthy comparison. This could cause a further descent into low self-image, causing additional hurdles and depression during the recovery process.
Going through recovery is tough, especially in the age of COVID-19, but the technology of our current digital age can make things more manageable. Social media can act as a focal point for resources, connect us to family and support groups, and provide entertaining distractions or creative outlets. However, those going through recovery also need to be cognizant of the risks engaging can present, and safeguard against them.