ADDICTION
October 9, 2013

Quitters on Twitter, Facebook

Misery really does love company. Joining “quit” groups can build the sense of community that helps conquer bad habits.

Social media, like Facebook and Twitter are often criticized for encouraging more disconnection among people, tethering them to their desks or handhelds when they could be getting out and having real, rather than virtual, human interactions. Sometimes, though, a virtual connection is all that it takes.

Social networks can actually be good at helping people kick their addictions, according to a new study. In this circumstance, people battling similar issues are able to come together from all over and find a (virtual) community of support and camaraderie. And this can give those people that extra motivation they need to kick their bad habits.

Online support communities are a lot easier and more convenient — not to mention sometimes much cheaper — than some offline and in-person programs that help people quit.

The new study used online questionnaires to determine whether there was a link between how often a person frequented online social media groups designed to support healthy behaviors or help people quit smoking and the person's success at actually quitting.

The researchers found that the more a person used these sites, the greater sense of community they reported feeling. They were also much more likely to quit smoking and to say they found it easier to quit.

The sites also helped people ride out the rough times. Stress is often what triggers relapse for addictive behaviors. People who used the social media groups actively were less likely to falter during difficult times — for instance, when they were sad, stressed out, or consuming alcohol, which, no surprise, is often associated with smoking.

The authors point out that online support communities are a lot easier and more convenient — not to mention sometimes much cheaper — than some offline and in-person programs that help people quit.

Past studies have looked at social media and addiction cessation, but mainly in the context of trying to improve enrollment or engagement. This is the first study to assess the connection between social media use, subjective feelings of support, and success in quitting.

“This study helps further the notion that social networking sites and other forms of social media can help people to improve their health conditions,” study author Joe Phua said in a statement. “These can be used as a standalone way to improve chronic health conditions, or as part of a holistic treatment plan that includes both professional offline help and online social media sites.”

A combination of at-home and in-person methods is usually the best bet — but if you don’t have convenient access to a local group, joining a “quitters” Facebook group may just help you quit for good.

The study was carried out by a team at the University of Georgia and published in the Journal of Communication.

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