by Storm King
Interpersonal Computing and Technology: An Electronic Journal for the 21st Century
    ISSN: 1064-4326 July, 1994 Volume 2, Number 3, pp. 47-56
     Storm King graduated from the University of Hawaii, Hilo in 1994 and is currently enrolled at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto, CA.  His interest in this subject is both personal and professional.  As a Chemical Dependency counselor, now seeking a Ph. D. in Clinical Psychology, he plans to use electronic support groups in the treatment of addiction.
    This article discusses the use of Electronic Support Groups (ESGs) for use by recovering drug addicts.  ESGs are a type of virtual community where people can log on and exchange information.  People can log on to various Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) and post messages in public forums, engage in private chat, and email exchange.  The use of ESGs for recovering addicts is a new phenomenon and little is known of the therapeutic value it really has.

    Advantages this method has is numerous.  It has 24 hour availability, selective participation in discussions, and the option for immediate or delayed response.  The well known AA meetings might allow a person to share only once or not at all.  In an ESG, one can choose to participate as much as desired.  Also, writing out thoughts has a different effect than speaking it to a group.  When writing, one can go through thoughts slower and more thoroughly.  What is written can be edited more carefully and delivered more effectively.

    Because this is a fairly new phenomenon study is needed to determine the therapeutic value.  A study was conducted by a survey questionnaire.  The survey was posted in ESGs on Prodigy and also the usenet group alt.recovery.  The study hoped to answer the following questions: To what extent do addicts using ESGs feel it helps them to remain drug free?  Does long term participation in ESGs result in a significant improvement in an addicts program of recovery? What is the nature of the benefit, if any, that participants feel they receive?

    The response they received showed that there was a positive correlation between the amount of hours/week used and reported improvement.  Also, there was a positive correlation between the total months used and reported improvement.  This positive correlation may indicate that ESGs could be a beneficial resource to recovering drug addicts.  It could mean that regular and frequent contact improved their ability to remain drug free.  It is also important to note that almost all respondents indicated that they used the ESG to supplement their regular visits to AA or NA.

    The results of this study raised new questions such as: Could drug treatment facilities recommend using ESGs to introduce shy clients to others in recovery?  Could ESGs help people to overcome fears of speaking to large groups at traditional treatments such as AA.

    I personally believe that ESGs are a brilliant way to aid recovering addicts.  I have no experience with drugs, but I am familiar with BBSs and I am aware of the benefits of talking with others online.  I was once a member of a virtual community.  It was not intended to be a support group, but many people used it as one.  I came across many people suffering from various problems.  A girl with scoliosis who needed surgery, a person wanting to commit suicide, a person with cancer, a student in trouble with the law who was about to drop out of school.  All these people were very thankful for the people they chatted with online.  They said that it helped them to talk openly with people.  The anonymity helped them to relax and share their experiences.

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