How does engagement with online mutual aid support recovery from problematic alcohol use?

First published: 09/05/2019 | Last updated: May 20th, 2019

Aims. To explore how engagement with online mutual aid might support recovery from problematic alcohol use. Design.Qualitative in-depth interview study of a maximum variation sample. Setting and Participants. Telephone interviews with 31 UK-based users (25 women, 6 men) of Soberistas, an online group for people who are “looking for a way out of the booze trap”.  Results. Various stages of engagement with Soberistas were identified, through which participants could address their problematic drinking: 1) ‘Lurking’ tended to occur early in participants’ recovery journeys, where they were keen to maintain a degree of secrecy about their problematic alcohol use, but desired support from likeminded people. 2) Actively ‘participating’ on the site and creating accountability with other members often reflected an offline commitment to make changes in drinking behaviour. 3) ‘Leading’ was typically reserved for those securely alcohol-free and demonstrated a long-standing commitment to Soberistas; leaders often described a sense of duty to give back to newer members in early recovery and many reported an ‘authentic identity’, defined by honesty both on- and off-line. Conclusions. Online networks provide a flexible platform for users to engage and disclose information at their own pace, and selectively self-present. Participants could address their alcohol consumption in a safe environment without compromising other offline identities (e.g. a parent at home or an employee at work). Results highlight how issues of identity might be important for understanding how online mutual aid can support recovery.

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Miss Sophia Chambers