The rules state: We support everyone’s path to recovery, including Suboxone, Subutex, Methadone, Vivitrol, cannabis and kratom. We do not allow any debate as to whether or not being on maintenance meds means you are or aren’t clean.
Four years ago, Dorothy had no support for her opioid addiction. As a mother and stepmother, she was afraid to be open about her struggle; if her children’s father or stepchildren’s mother found out, they might question her ability to be a good parent. She thought about attending recovery meetings but was worried they would shun her for being in active addiction or, some years later, for taking Suboxone, a partial opioid agonist, to manage her chronic pain. Luckily, she discovered a private Facebook group that supported people like her with opiate addiction.
For the sake of full disclosure, I’m also a member of this group. While I enjoy my social media fill of cats dressed in dinosaur costumes, babies getting slices of Kraft singles thrown at their heads, and I love dad jokes just as much as the next person, I value this group the most.
Addiction Support…on Facebook?
The group quickly became a refuge for Dorothy and me, a digital safe haven where we could share our pains and joys behind the privacy of a screen.
“I have made friends that I’m sure I’ll have for the rest of my life. I feel supported and secure here. What I love the most is how diverse we are. We run the gamut from people who are using to people who are totally abstinent and everything in between… All we ask is that people respect each other and everyone’s path to recovery,” Dorothy said.
After participating in another group where members were shamed for taking Suboxone or methadone to manage their opioid addiction, I found Dorothy and the group’s perspective on harm reduction refreshing. In order to join the group, members must agree that they will not bash medication-assisted treatment (MAT). According to the official group guideline: “We support everyone’s path to recovery, including Suboxone, Subutex, Methadone, Vivitrol, cannabis and kratom. We do not allow any debate as to whether or not being on maintenance meds means you are or aren’t clean.”
Another administrator added, “If you hate the fact there are active addicts in this group, if you don’t support MAT or [you] want to be a douche canoe to everyone you meet who doesn’t live up to your standards, LEAVE.”
After nine months of participating in this group, Dorothy became a volunteer staff member, then administrator. On an average day, she spends six hours involved in the various tasks that keep the group running. Dorothy, along with eight other administrators and nine moderators, approves each post before it hits the page, ensuring that the posts follow group guidelines. The guidelines mirror that of an in-person support group: members must maintain each other’s confidentiality and privacy, be respectful, and refrain from giving medical advice, selling or seeking drugs, asking for money, or posting links to treatment centers.
Sarah Burbank has also been a volunteer group administrator for four years and spends four to eight hours on the group each day. Sarah considers the members of the group to be family. “The group is a touchstone and an inspiration. I have watched some group members pass away and have to announce to the group a loved one or cherished member has passed away from the disease. Those are the darkest of days. But there are little milestones that we share that make it so special. Day 1! 30 days! Years clean! Getting children back and jobs and lives back. Those are the truly beautiful things that keep me here.”
Dorothy and Sarah are not alone. This particular Facebook group has blossomed to 22,000 members. Members are hungry to share their stories, to be supported, validated, and encouraged. Posts reveal a complex tapestry of emotions: of recovery, struggle, pain, joy, heartbreak, victory and defeat, often all in a single post.
Using Social Media to Forge Connections in Marginalized Groups
It may seem contradictory to turn to social media for support for addiction. According to a 2018 Fix article based on research from Penn State, social media use is correlated with increased rates of depression and loneliness. Similarly, in 2011, Researchers Daria J. Kuss and Mark D. Griffiths systematically reviewed psychological literature and found that social media can be used for connection, but also that it may negatively impact relationships, work, and academic achievement. This and other evidence suggest social media can be an addiction just like alcohol and drugs.
While it’s important to acknowledge this research and the potential negative impacts of social media, this critique fails to recognize the power of online social networks, especially for marginalized people. Toronto-based mental health professional Krystal Kavita Jagoo says, “For some, authentic human connection may only come online. Sometimes you don’t have those options in person.” Jagoo pointed out that social media or internet forums can feel safer for people of color, queer, trans, and non-binary folks, and people of differing abilities.
Jagoo continued, “If you’ve had a traumatic experience and are able to hear from others about things someone has struggled with, you don’t feel as alone. Sometimes it’s just knowing that others understand what you’re going through; they can offer strategies or things that have worked for them that you might be more inclined [to try] than a professional who doesn’t have lived experience.”
Jagoo herself has found valuable support online. “I think of how healing it has been to connect with folks of color around the world with respect to surviving oppression.” In order to maintain balance in our lives and avoid social media burnout, Jagoo recommends finding a group that is anti-oppressive, accepting, and feels rewarding. Setting and maintaining boundaries is important, as is making sure that you only check notifications when you have time and energy to engage, and unfollowing or leaving groups if they are feeling more draining than helpful.
Both Dorothy and Sarah mentioned that it is difficult to be a group administrator while balancing their work and home lives. But by far, they feel the benefits outweigh the challenges of spending hours volunteering in the group. “The online community is really important because it allows people to connect in the safety of their own homes, anonymously if they choose. It gives us the ability to reach so many more people, people that we wouldn’t have otherwise had any contact with.”