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Online Opioid Use Disorder Communities

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April 18, 2022

Table of Contents

The Importance of Community in the Fight Against Opioid Addiction

It’s often said that addiction is, in part, a disease of social isolation. And with that, community support is a critical part of the treatment process. Significant research demonstrates that social isolation and loneliness are key mediators in patients struggling with opioid addiction. Thus, evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder utilizes a biopsychosocial approach, which includes medication for opioid use disorder (buprenorphine/naloxone—AKA Suboxone) and behavioral health therapy, like counseling, support groups, and psychotherapy.

Community is vitally important in providing social connection and accountability. Within communities, patients have the opportunity to connect with others with shared experiences, learn strategies for maintaining wellness and abstinence from opioid use, and provide encouragement for group members experiencing life challenges.

In-Person vs. Online Support Communities

There are many support groups available in-person and online. Some examples include the following: 

Many of these groups have historically been offered in-person, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, group offerings have transitioned online. Here at Bicycle Health, we understand the value of community support and accountability. As part of treatment, we offer online support groups led by our Bicycle Health behavioral health staff, providing the opportunity for patients to connect with others, learn strategies for maintaining wellness, and provide encouragement for group members experiencing life challenges.

Click here to learn more about Bicycle Health’s online support groups.

In addition to the groups mentioned above, 12-step support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), are also available. However, a major caveat to 12-step programs is that they don’t consider patients taking buprenorphine/naloxone (Suboxone) or methadone to be in recovery… it doesn’t count as abstinence, or “clean time.” Patients taking medication for opioid use disorder (MOUD) who attend 12-step programs are often met with resistance, discomfort, and pressured to stop taking buprenorphine or methadone. Yet, there is no evidence that this philosophy contributes to safe and effective recovery. 

This isn’t to say that 12-step recovery programs don’t work. However, for patients with opioid addiction to truly benefit from community support programs, these programs must recognize the vitality and significance of MOUD as the safe, effective, and life-saving treatment that it is. And to be evidence-based, community support programs should not only support MOUD but, even further, advocate for patients to pursue this life-saving treatment. Checkout this blog post to learn more. 

The Benefits of Online Communities: Accessibility and Availability

There are many benefits to online support communities, including physical and emotional accessibility, as well as constant availability. This is crucial, as it’s not always easy for patients struggling with opioid addiction to build community supports. In terms of physical accessibility, many patients with chronic illness or mobility issues may have difficulty leaving their homes to attend in-person support groups, thereby preventing them from accessing this much needed community, particularly in early recovery. And further, patients in rural areas may not have access to support groups nearby. And many patients may not have access to transportation. Thus, online communities allow all patients with internet access to benefit from the shared connection, encouragement, and support that communities provide.

Additionally, patients struggling with opioid use disorder may also have co-occurring anxiety, depression, and other behavioral health disorders. Patients may feel stigmatized when seeking in-person treatment, ultimately deterring them from the benefits of recovery communities. Thus, online communities increase emotional accessibility by allowing some level of anonymity, like talking under anonymous usernames, and may also reduce the stigma associated with seeking treatment, as patients can attend online support groups more discreetly.

Lastly, online support groups provide constant availability, often with chat rooms and message boards open 24/7, allowing members to ask questions and seek support at any time. This is particularly helpful for patients in crisis, allowing them to seek community advice and support immediately, rather than possibly waiting days until the next meeting. And this constant availability increases accessibility to patients regardless of their personal or professional schedules. Many patients have jobs that don’t allow time off for health appointments or meetings, thereby forcing patients to choose between paying their bills or seeking community supports that assist them in their recovery. 

Bicycle Health: Building Safe, Online Support Communities for Patients in Recovery 

As part of treatment at Bicycle Health, we offer online Suboxone support groups led by our behavioral health staff. In this group setting, patients have the opportunity to connect with others with shared experiences, learn strategies for maintaining wellness and abstinence from opioid use, and provide encouragement for group members experiencing life challenges. We welcome participation from all Bicycle Health patients regardless of their length of time in treatment, and groups are offered at various times to accommodate patients in all time zones.

The Bicycle Health approach is innovative and unique, and it provides the community supports that are so critical in recovery. To learn more about the safety and success rates of Bicycle Health’s treatment model for opioid use disorder, call us at (844) 943-2514 or schedule an appointment here. We’d love to walk with you as you re-shape your life’s path!

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Korpai on Unsplash.

Rebekah L. Rollston, MD, MPH

Rebekah L. Rollston, MD, MPH, is a board-certified Family Medicine Physician and Head of Research at Bicycle Health. She earned her Medical Degree from East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine (in the Rural Primary Care Track) and her Master of Public Health (MPH) from The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. Dr. Rollston completed her residency at Tufts University and Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard-affiliated community healthcare system in Greater Boston, with emphases in addiction medicine and sexual & reproductive health. Her professional interests focus on social determinants of health & health equity, addiction medicine, gender-based violence, sexual & reproductive health, rural health, homelessness & supportive housing, and immigrant health. Dr. Rollston has published on these topics in The Lancet, Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, American Journal of Health Promotion, Journal of Appalachian Health, and Medical Care.

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