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Signposting for online treatment and recovery resources

Last year, Breaking Free group published research on online treatment and recovery resources for substance misuse. This work encompassed a mass online survey, followed by online interviews, to gain an understanding of the types of online resources that people were accessing. Also important was finding out more information about ‘who’ was using these resources and for what reason. The ‘who’ were divided into three groups: those in recovery or abstinent, those working towards recovery through taking action to reduce or stop using substances, and those who perceived themselves as having no difficulties with substance use, such as people working in professional roles to support those in recovery.

Overall, this research found that forums were the most highly accessed type of online resource, with motivations behind use centring around establishing and maintaining connection with others in recovery. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the group of people who identified as working towards their recovery from substance use were more likely to access therapeutic resources, which explore the underlying causes behind substance misuse and the development of the skills required to manage these difficulties. For further information on this study and its findings, please visit - https://cyberpsychology.eu/article/view/6278/5885.

Unfortunately, when I was initially planning what questions to ask in the online survey around potential resources that someone might use, it became apparent that there was no obvious directory of trusted online resources for substance misuse recovery. This finding was reinforced in the follow-up online interviews, where it was noted that there was no signposting available to direct people to appropriate online resources for their own recovery, or for family and friends. By gathering feedback on the different types of online resources accessed by people at varying stages within recovery from substance misuse, including those people who do not necessarily perceive themselves as being in recovery, this research provided a potential solution to the problem.

Following this research, we were invited to attend a ‘Learning to Live Again’ (LtLA) group meeting. This group is run by people in Leeds who are in long-term recovery, who meet regularly to support one another to maintain their own recovery from substance misuse, but also to provide peer support other people in the community who may be at an earlier stage in their own recovery journeys. I thought this would be an invaluable opportunity to test some of my research findings, and explore ways to develop a signposting document using the results from the study, and the knowledge of the LtLA group.

It was evident from the start that there were differences within the group around the levels of experience of using online treatment and recovery resources, including scepticism from some members about the value of online resources in general. However over two sessions, we were able to discuss findings from the study, using tablets to explore and compare different resources, to begin to develop criteria for a successful signposting document.

As found with the research, certain resources were said to be more useful at different stages of recovery. For example, it was discussed how ‘information’ style resources, such as NHS Choices, may be better for those who had already started their journey into recovery. It was thought by the LtLA group that if too much information is provided to people before they start their recovery journey, this may potentially be overwhelming for people and perhaps put them off attempting to begin their recovery journey. The group also thought that when people have actually entered the recovery process, that it might be an appropriate point to start to connect with others in recovery, via forums and online communities. The group further emphasised the importance of mental health resources, and information for family and friends, who may be supporting people in recovery form substance use.

Although not considered within the initial research survey, information around improving social functioning was thought to be of value, including resources such as housing information, and training or education courses. The aim of this is to help people re-engage with society, build their ‘recovery capital’, and thus strengthen their recovery. Additional considerations centred on the utility of city-specific resources, so nearby meeting or recovery events could be brought to peoples’ attention.

After meeting with the LtLA group, I was able to combine feedback from this with the results of my initial study, to develop a signposting document for online treatment and recovery resources for substance misuse. A printable version can be found here, however an online version of the signposting document will also be made available through www.result4addiction.net.

We would personally like to thank the members of the LtLA group, and Duncan Raistrick and Gillian Tober, for sharing their experiences with us, and supporting the develop this signposting document.

Written by Stephanie Dugdale