Newswise — Online resources for supporting recovery from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) are promising but underused, a new study suggests. The expansion of digital recovery supports, such as video meetings, discussion forums, and social networking sites, could potentially help address a substantial unmet need for services. In 2020, fewer than one in ten Americans with current or recent substance use disorder received any form of treatment. Women are less likely to access treatment than men, research shows. Online services may make recovery support more accessible, eliminating certain barriers associated with traditional treatment (e.g., transportation and cost) and reducing others (e.g., stigma). Research is sparse, however, and the factors influencing the use and effects of digital services are not well understood. For the study in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers explored how people in recovery from AUD use online supports and whether that use is linked to gender or outcomes.

Investigators worked with data from 1,500 US adults who identified as being in recovery from AUD. The data came from a national survey conducted in fall 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a period of heightened stressors and potentially diminished support resources. Researchers used statistical analysis to explore associations between participants’ reported use of online recovery supports and a range of additional factors: the impact of the pandemic on their consumption of alcohol or drugs, their perceived quality of life, the severity of their AUD, time in recovery, use of treatment services, social support, and demographics.

About 15% of participants reported ever using online services. The low usage may reflect, in part, the age of participants, which skewed older. Younger adults were more likely to report current use of online recovery supports, as well as those with a college education, employment, and relatively high incomes. The most frequently used type of digital support was social networking sites not focused on recovery (e.g., Facebook). Men were more likely than women to have attended online group meetings and used informational websites about treatment. Participants with more severe lifetime AUD, or who’d received treatment for alcohol problems, or had less than five years in recovery were also more likely to have used online resources. Among women (though not men), a greater number of AUD symptoms was associated with more use of online services. The use of digital supports was low during 2020, especially for women. This may be associated with pandemic stressors and/or increased childcare responsibilities. For women, current use of online recovery services was linked to being unemployed and having children living at home. For men, current use was more likely among those who were unmarried or in early recovery. The study found no association between women’s use of online resources and outcomes, though men reporting unstable recovery and lower quality of life were more likely to have used online supports.

The lower use of digital supports among people who hadn’t accessed alcohol treatment may signal a lack of awareness of these resources in the broader community. The researchers highlighted a need for studies conducted over time, clarifying which factors drive which outcomes. They called for investigation into the comparative effectiveness of online services, barriers to use, and whether digital tools should be tailored to address gender-specific factors. They emphasized the need for equitable access to technology. The relatively small sample of women using online services may have limited the study findings.

Online support for recovery from alcohol use disorders: Investigating gender differences in lifetime and current use. P. Gilbert, E. Saathoff, A. Russell, G. Brown. (pp xxx)


Journal Link: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research