Could Social Media Help Recovering Drug Addicts? By Sarah Clothier

One year ago my friend Lucy had knee surgery to alleviate her chronic pain. After finishing her oxycodone prescription, an opioid drug prescribed to treat severe pain, she felt different. In fact, she often said she missed the feelings of euphoria, relaxation, and reduced anxiety caused by oxycodone. After a night out, someone offered her something comparable to oxycodone— heroin. Months later, Lucy’s life revolved around obtaining and using heroin. Her addiction quickly spiraled out of control as she lost many friendships and her job due to absences and poor performance. Her savings quickly dwindled, and she quickly realized she could not continue this life-threatening habit. What if I told you that, in combination with behavioral therapy, social media helped Lucy overcome her drug addiction?

Recent research by Marco Venniro and colleagues has provided insight to a new approach that may help those struggling with drug addiction. After researchers administered drugs to rats for up to 50 days, rats were presented with a choice of self-administering one of two rewards by pressing a lever: drugs (methamphetamine and heroin) or social interaction with another rat. Interestingly, almost every rat chose social interaction and abstained from drug use regardless of factors such as sex, type of drug, and drug dose (Venniro et al., 2018). Even highly addicted rats voluntarily abstained from drug self-administration, thus demonstrating the power of social reward. Furthermore, access to social interaction prevented methamphetamine cravings and relapse. Drug self-administration resumed, however, when social reward was either delayed or punished with electrical shocks (Venniro et al., 2018). These findings powerfully underscore the importance of immediate and positive social interaction in preventing the reestablishment of drug use.

While many behavioral therapies integrate social support into their treatment models by prompting individuals suffering from addiction to lean on close family and friends, often times this social support is not immediately accessible to addicts, as they may live alone or have few loved ones living nearby. However, social media platforms enable instantaneous interaction with others, regardless of distance. As addiction expert Dr. Berman said, “Social media can help recovering addicts reconnect with old friends, lean on loved ones, and contact a doctor or addiction specialist during times of severe distress”*.

Social media fosters immediate support for those struggling with addiction

Many addiction websites emphasize the benefits of chatrooms and forums for addicts, as they provide an opportunity to receive mutual support from those going through similar experiences. Instead of turning to drugs, addicts can turn to the immediately available support offered through social media ("Using Social Media To Boost Your Recovery From Drugs and Alcohol"). Most social media sites are free, easily accessible, and sometimes anonymous, and thus can benefit a wide range of addicts regardless of their background. Therefore, socially-based behavioral therapies should emphasize the benefits of immediate social support in preventing recovering addicts from using drugs during periods of intense cravings or extreme hopelessness. Indeed, Lucy sought help from a behavioral therapist who recommended she use social media to reconnect with old high school friends and join an online support forum. With the guidance of an online community, Lucy was able to regain control of her life and is now six months clean.

1. Venniro, M., Zhang, M., Caprioli, D., Hoots, J., Golden, S., Heins, C., . . . Shaham, Y. (2018). Volitional social interaction prevents drug addiction in rat models. Nature Neuroscience, 21, 1520-1529.

2. Using Social Media To Boost Your Recovery From Drugs And Alcohol. Retrieved from https://www.drugrehab.org/using-social-media-to-boost-your-recovery-from-drugs-and-alcohol/

Picture 1: https://casapalmera.com/blog/what-causes-drug-addiction/

Picture 2: https://www.ridgefieldrecovery.com/blog/drug-addiction-perceived-as-major-community-problem/

Picture 3: https://celiaccommunity.org/2015/celiac-gluten-research-icds-2/

Picture 4: http://strokeconnection.strokeassociation.org/Winter-2015/Social-and-Emotional-Support-Keys-to-Recovery/New-Online-Support-Network/

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