Ms Sally Sanger
Sally is a PhD student in the University of Sheffield at the Information School. She is researching online support groups for people with alcohol problems, looking specifically at groups that do not follow the 12-step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous, and the impact they can have on what people believe about Alcohol Use Disorder. Following an MA, in Librarianship at Sheffield University, she worked in the field of patient information, mainly in the NHS. This included running the Leicestershire Health Information Network for 10 years, a support network for those providing information to the public on health. She also worked for 2 years for Macmillan Cancer Support, supporting and developing information services in a large geographical patch. In 2015 she obtained an MSc in Health Informatics in the Life Sciences department of UCL, and then moved back to the Information School of Sheffield University to undertake her current research.
How do the discussion forums of alcohol online support groups affect user understanding of what it means to be a problem drinker?
Aims This paper will present results from a study of the impact of non-12-step alcohol online support groups (AOSGs) on users’ representations of problem drinking. Much research has shown that what a person believes about an illness or problem is vitally important as it will affect whether they even recognise it as an issue and how they believe it should be dealt with. But where do these beliefs come from and do AOSGs play a role in informing people about, or changing their interpretations of, AUD? Does it matter which of the many possible interpretations of AUD a group endorses? Is this an important factor to consider when matching patients to groups?
Methods The research was a qualitative two-arm study involving analysis of forum postings from three very different non-12-step AOSGs and 25 interviews with users of five such groups. Data was analysed using thematic and template analysis.
Results The results indicate that these groups can have important, far-reaching effects on some aspects of individuals’ beliefs about AUD, for example, their definition of a problem drinker and their views on management. However, in the majority of the examples analysed, there were no ‘requirements of belief’, no insistence on following the group’s own philosophy about problem drinking in order to participate and benefit. This was felt to contrast strongly with 12-step groups.
Conclusions The research is significant as it explores non-12-step groups which are under-researched and provides a rare insight into the views of some users of these groups.