Recovering Alcoholics Turn to an Unlikely Source for Comfort

Tens of thousands who struggle with drinking are turning to the Internet as a source of inspiration, a listening ear and a form of accountability in their fight against alcoholism. Reddit, a popular Internet forum, hosts r/StopDrinking and is positively affecting the lives of hundreds each day.

“I tried everything,” one member of the board told The Washington Post. “The support I saw in [StopDrinking] on day one felt like nothing I had experienced in hundreds of AA or SMART meetings.”

As an online forum, Reddit allows its users to semi-anonymously post their stories, questions, concerns, and words of encouragement to other participants in the thread. Reddit is free to join, and those who choose not to share personal stories or information are encouraged to read if they need extra motivation.

Why Are Users Going Online?

Reddit fills a gap that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) leaves open — meeting over the Internet. Via its website, AA features articles and literature about staying anonymous online but provides no official forum or place for members to connect online. Reddit is taking the principles put forth by AA and moving them into the digital space.

Statistics show 53.2 percent of Internet users are between the ages of 15 and 34. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism classifies young adults as the largest demographic for alcohol addiction and lists their average age as 24 years old. A 2014 survey showed the average AA member is 50 years old, and 49 percent of AA’s total members fall between the ages of 41 and 60. This means there is almost an entire generation gap between the ages of members in AA and the growing population of alcoholics.

What Makes Reddit Different From AA?

While r/StopDrinking and AA have the same principles, some believe AA’s emphasis on religion and preaching becomes more of a focus than the addiction. This is different on Reddit where the conversation is dictated by the users themselves and the amount of support is given voluntarily.

A guiding principle of the Reddit thread is not to give advice, but rather to “Speak From The I,” which means each person speaks from personal experience. The idea is that no individual can tell others how to live their lives, but, by sharing what worked in their own lives, someone can offer insight into a strategy another person could use.

StopDrinking also uses digital badges. Posters earn badges for every day they have been sober. Users display these as a both a badge of honor and a sign of struggle. Congratulations are heard all around for each day members stay sober, yet at the same time sympathies and encouragement are given to users whose badges reset to zero.

Why Does r/StopDrinking Work?

StopDrinking combines the benefits of a peer counseling program with that which is familiar to the younger generation. Readers of the forum receive the same support, advice and access to help they would from traditional AA meetings and sponsors but in a format that speaks better to their age group. Ease of access plays a big role as well. AA meetings may be held every day, but only during specific times and at specific places. Reddit can be accessed at a user’s home, work, or on the go with their smartphones.

The Future of Support Groups

Membership to AA peaked in 2001 at 2.2 million members and currently sits at 5 percent below previous years’ numbers. Reddit boasts 36 million accounts and sees as many as 234 million unique visitors in one month. There will always be a place for face-to-face meetings and local support groups, but as the millennial generation grows up, they take their methods of communication with them, so don’t expect the online support group to go away any time soon.

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