Originally published by 2 Minute Medicine® (view original article). Reused on AccessMedicine with permission.

1. In this study, engagement with StopDrinking (a popular mutual help group) decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

2. This may signal problematic alcohol trends in the broader population.

Evidence Rating Level: 3 (Average)

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions have had a huge psychological impact on many people. In particular, those who are recovering from alcohol or other substance use disorders found themselves unable to attend face-to-face mutual help groups (MHG), such as Alcoholics Anonymous. However, online MHGs have proliferated in recent years and may serve as a valuable resource for these people.

This study collected publicly available “StopDrinking” (an online MHG) user data from the Reddit Application Programming Interface from February 19, 2018 to April 30, 2020. The platform itself contains almost 256,000 subscribers, one of the largest online MHGs. All posts were included, with an average of 18,575 engagements per week. No qualitative information about the posts themselves were included. Models were trained on the pre-COVID data to predict user engagement, and these values were compared with actual engagement during periods of social distancing.

The data showed that contrary to expectations, engagement in the StopDrinking MHG was much lower than expected in the early weeks of social distancing. In late April, the engagement had further decreased and was similar to pre-social distancing levels. Reasons for this lack of engagement could include other life demands such as childcare or increased problematic alcohol use. However, this study was limited in its reliance on only one forum and its focus on engagement rather than the qualitative aspects of each post. Despite these limitations, this study encourages further study on the role of online MHGs in alcohol recovery and how online MHGs may be better utilized in the future.

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