Online communities can help support you through hard times

In Australia, high-risk drinking and alcohol use disorders are considered a concerning public health issue. People are just not getting the help and support they need.

It can be hard to admit having an unhealthy relationship with alcohol to ourselves, let alone to our social groups who may have a strong focus on drinking every time they get together. People need a space where a community can help them change and provide support and guidance when their partners, friends or families might not be able to.

Closing the gap

Through our research and experience with Hello Sunday Morning over the last eight years, we have found a significant gap exists in alcohol treatment. Currently, 40 million people globally and 360,000 Australians who want alcohol treatment fall outside the capacity of the health system.

People who are drinking at risky levels are not seeking the help they need; this is due to a number of things, such as:

Long waiting lists and limited services
Stigmatisation in our culture
Low motivation
High cost of treatment

Why are online communities helpful?

Our latest research shows getting involved in an online forum can support long-term behaviour change in individuals wishing to change the way they drink. This is because it is rare and extremely hard for someone who is looking at quitting or cutting back their alcohol consumption to go through it alone.

The journey of change is challenging and for most people, it is not as easy as just ‘not drinking’. People have relapses and setbacks, lose motivation or use alcohol to cope with something difficult that arises – the list goes on. It is vital to have at least one person who you can turn to for non-judgemental support when you need it and this is exactly what online forums can provide.

They can also hold a safe space which is anonymous (if you don’t want to announce to the world that you’re no longer drinking), accessible (you can chat to people going through a similar change at anytime), and are more affordable treatment options.

Community and connection – a basic human need

Engagement with the online community and peer support is a key ingredient in the successful behaviour change of Hello Sunday Morning and Daybreak members.

Peer-to-peer communities (people posting to a group of people in the same online space) are described as one of the most ‘transformational features of the internet’.

These online spaces allow people with multiple barriers (living in a remote areas, difficult working hours etc) to connect and create supportive communities. Many people who have difficult relationships with alcohol are often also feeling isolated in their lives – being able to create meaningful connections with people who are working towards the same goals as them can be incredibly powerful. Peer support can often be just as effective, or more so, than professional support, as it provides a social outlet as well as a space to grow therapeutically.

Sharing where you’re at

Narrative expression, or being able to post and write how you’re feeling or whether you need help, has demonstrated psychological benefits for people because it allows reflection, connection, and meaning-making.

One of the key processes in narrating our experiences is ‘externalising’, which is the process of getting thoughts out and into words, and finding ways of communicating how we’re feeling; this can be hugely important in bringing us to a sense of clarity and understanding.

When we looked at analytics of blog posts on our Hello Sunday Morning legacy platform, we saw that members typically begin with descriptions of their drinking practices. Often, this changes over time to reflect their efforts and their aspirations, turning in a more positive direction.

Being part of a supportive web-based community, as well as having the opportunity to reflect on past experiences, may help give people the resources needed to create lasting behaviour change.

People helping people

We also found online community members shifted from being self-focused to reflecting on the role of alcohol in society and developing a desire to support others.

This makes a lot of sense – part of the recovery process can be going from a person who does not have much knowledge or experience, to someone who has a lot of knowledge that they can use to support others.

Within the Daybreak community, we have members who have been active for several months, and who have moved from ‘newbies’ to more established and recognised people in the community. Just like in a sporting team, workplace or small town, the longer we stay in the group the stronger our connections become. Over time, we tend to shift our focus from ourselves and our own needs, and start to consider the needs of the community and its members.

Well, of course this makes sense. But I tend to be a non-joiner and rather private. And I am a very successful professional. My drinking is actually the only thing I have come up against I haven’t been able to solve. I have always been willing and able to help others, but I am terrible at being helped. I now drink at a level that is uncomfortable for me. I drink every day, even though I don’t want to. Damned hard position for me!

I would like some help from this community. I am struggling now right with drinking. I am back on it, and don’t want to be. How can I get help from this community?

I need support to stop drinking today & forever

Hello and many thanks for your emails and blogs – I find them inspiring. I previously used the online forum (I think it was called Hello Sunday Morning?) to get support in managing my alcohol use and I found it really helpful. However the Daybreak app doesn’t work as well for me. I did trial it a few months ago. I don’t enjoy using an app on my phone because the writing is so small and I find it tedious to type out messages using the phone itself. I preferred the computer based online support community because I could type at my desktop computer using a normal keyboard. So that’s my input for what it’s worth. Thanks again for all that you do 🙂

In Would to chat to people who have a problem like myself. I hate to admit it but I have gone way over the top,with binge drinking.

I am 59 and have been unemployed for a little over a year. My family moved away and my mother is in the advanced stages of dementia. I don’t seem to be able to go without a drink for more than a day. I’m very isolated right now. I don’t want this to be my future.

I would love to hear more about this. I quit drinking in 1977, was sober for 34 years and started drinking again a few years ago. I have been in and out of a variety of treatments, have tried AA…have stopped twice for over 30 days…but always the demon seems to win. I want to quit for many reasons, but keep running into situations and certain times of days when my mind does a “switch” and all of the reasons for me to not drink seem to disappear and all I can think of is getting a drink. I hate being controlled and would love to hear how others overcome these tricky mind-switch times. I want myself back. Thanks for being here ~

I have tried complete sobriety and for nine months every aspect of my life was better, but I missed the social drinking and enjoying cocktails for special occasions. The thought that I could learn to drink responsibly and socially is very promising. I’m not sure I am 100% convinced but if this allows me to reflect and uncover patterns and how I abuse alcohol then it could be healthy and at least that way.

I have spun out of control, drinking every day. The DWI i got last weekend should be enough but i am still drinking.

I was a member of HSM in 2013 and found it so helpful…finally I have been alcohol free now for just over 2 and a half years. My adult daughter is delighted and says she would like to read my blogs, however because HSM as it was no longer exists I don’t know if I can find them. I was wondering if you could help me please.

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