Addiction Recovery and Facebook – Can Social Media Help People Make a Change?

Posted on January 13th, 2015

Addiction Recovery and Facebook – Can Social Media Help People Make a Change?Fueled by the abuse of prescription opioids, the heroin epidemic is leading to increasing numbers of overdose deaths. Ohio has been particularly hard hit, with fatal drug overdoses the leading cause of accidental death in 2007, and increasing by 60 percent between 2011 and 2012. Ex-resident Stephanie Stark, writing in The Atlantic, argues that Perry, Ohio, is a microcosm of the epidemic and notes the changes in the use of social media – specifically Facebook – that accompany addiction and recovery. She’s noticed more and more sobriety and recovery-related posts in recent years, and writes about the influences, both positive and negative, social media can have in recovery.

Perry, Ohio, and Addiction

The small town of Perry has a higher median income than Ohio overall, but for young adults the opportunities are limited. Aside from technical positions at the town’s nuclear power plant, those without a degree are left to travel to neighboring towns to work in retail or service, and anyone with a degree typically leaves town for good. Stephanie left for college, but those who stayed increasingly turned to heroin to cope with their situation.

Stephanie notes that, as addiction took hold with many of her hometown friends, they turned their backs on Facebook just like they turned away from friends and family. Richard Foster, an executive at a Pennsylvania-based rehab center, points out that addicts often turn away from friends, family and Facebook alike for fear of negative feedback. They’re still in denial, in a way. It’s only when they’re in recovery that the posts start to crop up, when people are rightfully proud of the progress they’ve made.

Stephanie saw this same pattern unfold with her friends. She tells stories of everyone from class clowns to the smart kids eventually disappearing into heroin addiction and only becoming visible on Facebook again as they started to recover. She writes, “In contrast to the usual slew of carefully choreographed photos of graduations, vacations and weddings, the raw honesty of these posts is striking.” Statuses celebrating sober milestones are met with countless “Likes,” even from people whom the individual hasn’t known since childhood. Sad stories of death are met with heartfelt warnings to those still struggling with addiction. She calls the posts “stark reminders” of the problem ravaging her hometown.

Source of Hope or Undermining Understanding of Addiction?

There are many benefits of social media use in addiction recovery. Most obviously, the overwhelmingly positive response from friends and family shows how people really do care about you and hope you get better. Hand-in-hand with this, posting on social media about sobriety milestones, or even acknowledging that you’re in the process of getting better, helps keep you accountable for maintaining your sobriety. Foster, the rehab-center executive, points out that the protection of the screen helps people feel more comfortable admitting their problems.

It isn’t all positives, though. A friend of Stephanie’s points out how the Facebook posts don’t convey the harsh reality of addiction, and may undermine true understanding of the disease. The posts may be uplifting, but being too honest would undoubtedly scare people away. As her friend says, “You can’t tell people, ‘I’m so sick, I’m dying, please give me money so I don’t have to go … rob somebody.’ ”

Seeing others progress with their lives – buying houses with their inflated salaries from their great jobs and still having money left over to go out and have fantastic experiences – can also be disheartening for those whose lives aren’t going as well. Additionally, deaths from substance abuse can serve as a warning, but they also may lead addicts to believe there’s no way out and they’re doomed to the same fate.

However, social media seems to be a good thing overall. Even Stephanie’s friend, who is skeptical of the benefits of Facebook use for those in recovery, concedes that seeing people posting sobriety milestones gives her hope. “You’ve seen that person down at their worst, and then [when] you see them looking happy, it’s like, ‘I can do this too.’ ”

Social media can have its downsides in recovery, but overall the positives appear to outweigh the negatives. When you get right down to it, digital or not, it’s a way to communicate with people and reach out for support. Posting on your sobriety milestone will remind you that people really do care and want to help you however they can. Not only that, but there could be somebody lurking on your friends list who’s having a similar problem, who feels as though there’s no way out, but then your post pops up on the news feed and gives that person the push he or she needs. Not only does it give you a source of accountability and support, it might give somebody else in need that final bit of motivation to make a positive change. Perhaps it doesn’t accurately convey the realities of addiction and recovery, but as a source of support and hope, social media sites like Facebook are definitely useful tools in recovery.

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