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Can Social Media Help You Kick the Habit?

Social Media Street SignFacebook and Twitter plus Instagram and a few other sites have become a ubiquitous part of our American culture. From tweens to seniors, business professionals, parents, athletes, and artists all regularly take to social media, often multiple times per day, to update their status and share information with everyone in their networks. An excellent tool to connect with others, social media can be a useful means of finding support in recovery – as long as you sidestep the potential pitfalls.

Accountability

When you post a picture of yourself holding a nonalcoholic beer at a sporting event or celebrate a sober birthday on social media, you are advertising the fact that you are clean and sober. But there’s so much more you can do to demonstrate your commitment to your sobriety:
  • “Friend” or follow people who are in recovery and respond encouragingly to their posts
  • Join groups that are dedicated to recovery
  • Create and/or attend events, spreading the word through social media
  • Post when you are feeling encouraged and when you’re feeling challenged
When you announce to the world via social media that you are committing to sobriety, everywhere you go, you are accountable for your actions. Though it won’t stop you from relapsing, it may make you think twice about drinking or getting high when you know that so many people are supporting you in your recovery.

#14Days on the Wagon Challenge

Remember the #14Days on the Wagon Challenge that came along last October? For those who were ready to take on the challenge, the idea was to stop using all “non-medically necessary substances” and alcohol for a period of two weeks. During that time, participants were encouraged to tweet and Facebook about their progress, sign up for alerts on tips and information about addiction and recovery, and follow others on social media who were also taking part. People who updated their status or tweeted using the hash tag #14Days were part of the experience. It was designed to unite people in a better understanding of drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, and to help to connect people with treatment if they wanted to get clean and sober during that time but found that they couldn’t do it alone – and it worked. The social media push was almost exclusively the driving factor behind this movement. It helped to raise awareness about the almost 23 million Americans in need of addiction treatment and helped some who might not otherwise have realized that they had a problem to begin to see the possibility that they were part of that number.

Potential Pitfalls

If you were on social media prior to getting clean and sober, then it’s likely that many of your friends and followers on social media are still actively in their addictions. If you decide not to stop following or “unfriend” those who are still active in addiction, you will be inundated with their updates – often following them while they are using and potentially glorifying the life of addiction and substance abuse. For some, this can be triggering, especially if you feel disconnected in your own recovery or if you are missing the people the people you used to get high and drink with. Additionally, a number of studies support the idea that heavy social media activity is correlated with symptoms of depression. For some, the small window into all the highlights and exciting things happening to others can make one feel less exciting, less productive, and less successful by comparison. Depression and constantly comparing one’s own progress with others can be triggers for relapse. Lastly, it’s not uncommon to have to come face to face with your own past and poor choices via social media. When you’re already struggling or having a hard day, it may not be the best time to see a #TBT photo of yourself vomiting in a gutter or passed out with a needle in your arm – but you can’t control what other people post.

Navigating the Ups and Downs

Like everything in life, social media may be utilized to support you in recovery, but it could contribute to relapse if you’re already having a hard time. The stronger you are in your life, the less likely it is that being caught off guard by an unexpected picture of yourself or someone else getting high will throw you. Emphasizing active, in-person treatment can help you to keep social media in perspective, taking the benefits without being thrown off track. Here are a few more tips to help you get the most out of social media:
  • Limit your time on social media sites. Spending all day online or constantly checking your social media apps on your phone is distracting to your ability to fully engage with the people who are right in front of you. Focus on your in-person life and you will limit the power of social media.
 
  • Don’t sign up for alerts. Having your phone go off every time someone responds to your post or tags you can be intrusive. Instead, choose to check it once per day for a finite period and leave it at that.
 
  • Be respectful. If you have something nice or encouraging to say about someone else’s post, do so, but if you don’t, refrain from making comments. No one is going to change their view of the world because you argued with them on social media even if you are absolutely in the right, and the argument could put you in an unnecessarily stressful space if you engage.
 
  • Follow the rules. Don’t try to “friend” people you don’t know, post lewd or lascivious pictures, endlessly try to sell or market to people in your network, or break any of the other rules that are in place on social media sites. Instead, focus on supporting your friends, getting support when you need it, and connecting with others in recovery.
Studies are in the works to find out more about the impact of social media on recovery. Has use of social media helped you or hindered you in your ability to stay sober?

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