Sally completed her PhD at the University of Sheffield Information School in 2021. For this, she researched 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. She is now hoping to do further research into the Sober Curious / Positive Sobriety movement. Previously, 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 from UCL, and then moved back to the University of Sheffield to undertake the PhD.
Information journeys through online alcohol support groups
This paper will describe information journeys taken by users of five very different non-12-step alcohol online support groups (AOSGs), focusing on aspects held in common as these may be transferable to other addiction support groups. It will explore how users find the groups and use them over time to search for or share information, including through story, role modelling and disagreements. Differences from the use of information by 12-step group participants (e.g., in Alcoholics Anonymous) will be discussed.
The paper draws on data obtained from a 2-arm qualitative study involving thematic and template analysis of a) 1500 forum postings from three very different non-12-step AOSGs, and b) 25 interviews with users of five such groups.
The research will give an overview of the journeys taken online by those seeking information to help them with problem drinking. It will illustrate how many still have to rely on luck to obtain the information and support they need. Fluidity will be shown to be a key characteristic of these journeys as users roam between sources and ‘berrypick’ information from them, which they then merge into unique representations of problem drinking.
The research will improve understanding of where, and how, those concerned about their drinking look for information to help them, and how they form ideas about the issue. It has implications for anyone interested in providing information and support to problem drinkers or designing interventions that may be affected by user beliefs.