As with virtually all areas of medicine, advancements in technology have provided tremendous benefits to behavioral health treatment professionals and patients alike. The Internet, much maligned (perhaps fairly) because of its use as a tool to accommodate, perpetuate, and enable a variety of addictions, has surprisingly emerged to become one of the most useful tools available to addicts at all stages of recovery, from the pre-treatment struggle to the aftercare maintenance of a quality life.
For so many addicts, getting started in treatment is of course the hardest part. Dealing with guilt and shame and making that first outreach—whether to a family member, friend, or addiction professional—represents the longest yard. The Internet has enabled hundreds of thousands of people struggling with addictions to take the initial steps in the privacy of their home. Researching, learning, and finding a connection to treatment, reading about others with similar addictions and how they got better, and discovering the variety of treatment modalities all can occur with a few key strokes. And while there are many distractions and much misinformation on the Internet, there also is a shining portal to recovery, rendering the Internet the newest and perhaps most important tool available.
But what of aftercare, that essential post-treatment aspect of recovery where so many recovering addicts fall out of their program, lose touch with their group, or spiral back into the waiting claws of addiction? Can the Internet play a significant role as a tool to help those who have undergone treatment for addiction but are struggling through the aftercare process? I believe strongly that not only can the Internet help addicts find treatment, it also can help them stay sober post-treatment.
We started the Addicted.com Web site (http://www.addicted.com) with the goal of more effectively connecting addicts with professionals, centers, and one another. As we built the site, we tried to cover all bases regarding what would be useful to those who needed an Internet weigh station where they could anonymously ask questions of high-profile professionals; type in their zip code and find information on nearby treatment centers and professionals who address their kind of addiction; and even take self-tests and access articles at no charge. One area we knew that we needed to place an emphasis on as we developed the site was aftercare.
We have designed what we call our Online Aftercare Program, which allows recovering addicts to log on to our site and chat in real time with alumni and counselors from their previous treatment stay. This gives them instant access to help with which they are familiar—from the comfort of their home at any time. In addition, each of the professionals who contributes his/her expertise to our site is there to answer questions regarding how to overcome addiction and how to maintain sobriety.
Online forums throughout the Internet are a great place for recovering addicts to share stories about their past struggles and what they did to get and stay sober. By reading these forums, individuals going through the aftercare process are able to see that others are dealing with the same issues, and to learn what they did to overcome them.
On our site, we also implemented a Support Network, which allows users to build relationships with others dealing with the same life issues. This kind of an exercise helps recovering addicts build unique relationships so that they don't feel alone. It lets them know that there are people out there—everywhere—who understand what it is like to be an addict, to become sober, and to have urges to use again.
Online group meetings
We feel that the Internet's potential for helping in the aftercare process is so dramatic that at Addicted.com we are working on expanding and customizing our aftercare offerings for treatment centers and groups around the country with whom we work and partner. This will allow support and discussion groups that were built during treatment to continue meeting after members' residential program is complete—even if there is great geographical separation among members.
Online meetings can help with consistency and stability after a treatment program has ended and the recovering individual is on his/her own. Our vision is to have these private meetings fully customized for each treatment center or group that wants to build one, while maintaining each online group's privacy from outside visitors.
The programs that are offered on Addicted.com and other Internet sites are just a beginning. The Internet is an extraordinarily powerful communication tool that, when used properly, can be an essential component to a successful recovery for many addicts. We hope it will be embraced and encouraged by those of you who are helping these people get better.
John S. Shegerian is Founder and Chairman of Addicted.com (
http://www.addicted.com), an Internet-based information resource for addicts and their loved ones. He has developed several socially meaningful start-up ventures that have grown into successful business enterprises. These entities include student loan counseling service FinancialAid.com; Homeboy Industries, which seeks to redirect gang-involved youths; and electronics and computer recycling business Electronic Recyclers, Inc. His e-mail address is