Researchers surveyed 141 women and 55 men, aged 18 to over 60, who used both types of support groups. More than 90 percent of the participants had been in recovery for more than a year.
People who attended more face-to-face meetings had greater success in achieving and maintaining sobriety than those who used online support groups more often, the findings showed.
One factor that may explain that difference is that participants said they were less likely to be dishonest in face-to-face meetings than online. A commitment to honesty is a major part of 12-step substance abuse recovery programs, so being dishonest could jeopardize recovery, the researchers said.
The study was presented Thursday at the American Psychological Association (APA) annual meeting in Toronto. Research presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
“One of the most hotly debated media issues today is whether our rapidly increasing use of social networking might be supplanting face-to-face-interactions and, if so, what the social consequences might prove for us as a culture,” study first author Donald Grant, of Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif., said in an APA news release.
“Our study focused on better understanding the strengths and weaknesses of online versus face-to-face sobriety support,” he added.
While the findings do not show a significant shift from in-person to online support groups, they do suggest there is a move in that direction.
“With more and more people engaging in online sobriety support, the recovering community and professionals alike wonder what impact these modern platforms could have on both the future of Alcoholics Anonymous and its membership,” Grant said.
“When comparing the short amount of time online sobriety support has even been accessible to the number of those participants currently engaging with it, the likelihood that its popularity will only grow seems probable,” he concluded.