Signposting Online Help for Substance Misuse

In 2016 the Breaking Free group published research about online treatment and recovery resources for substance misuse. This work encompassed an online survey, followed by online interviews, to gain an understanding of the types of resources that people were accessing and to find 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.

We found that forums were the most highly accessed type of online resource, with motivations around establishing and maintaining a connection with others in recovery. People who identified themselves 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.

It was 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 (see Source below).

Following the initial 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. LtLA agreed to test some of the research findings, and explore ways to develop a signposting document.

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.

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. LtLA took the view that if too much information is provided to people before they start their recovery journey, this may potentially be overwhelming and perhaps put them off starting their recovery journey. The group thought that the time to start to connect with others in recovery, via forums and online communities, was after starting the recovery journey. LtLA members emphasised the importance of mental health resources, and information for family and friends, who may be supporting people in recovery.

Although not considered within the initial research, information around improving social functioning was thought to be of value, including resources about housing, 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. LtLA considered the utility of city-specific resources, such as meetings or recovery events, to be important.

The final product is a signposting document for online treatment and recovery resources for substance misuse.

Breaking Free would 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.