Our society has undoubtedly changed, and the most common form of communication is shifting, from face to face to “Face to Facebook.” There are many claims of what this phenomenon is doing to our society. But regardless of your stance on what technological advancement is doing to our culture, it is hard to argue that there is a difference in the way people are looking for help and support. This change is evident when one looks at support services in substance abuse rehabilitation.

More and more people look to social media when they need help. Research done by Georgia Tech and Columbia University illustrates that social media has emerged as a platform for support around recovery. Unfortunately, many people who seek online support get help from those who aren’t qualified professionals.

Online communities or “groups” have emerged that are not bound to any laws or formal regulation. There is no requirement of professional credentialing to start or manage such groups or act as a moderator. Members rely solely on the advice and support of other members. It’s fast, easy access to free “help,” and the popularity of such networks becomes evident when searching Facebook for “recovery support.”

A problem that arises is the existence of predators in online support groups. These predators are often people who are hired by rehab facilities to prowl support groups searching for prospective clients. In other words, there’s no way to prevent a rehab marketer from using these groups as a pool of desperate clients from whom they can profit. It’s surprisingly rampant.

Furthermore, those who have gone to treatment and failed often blame rehabs and advise others not to get professional help. This again is commonplace in the internet culture, asserting one’s opinion as fact and refuting those who disagree. This can make it very difficult to know which “fact” is true, let alone decide where to receive services.

Where rehabilitation differs is that it’s a professional, mainly medical service. There isn’t a proven do-it-yourself substitute, and anyone who is giving an opinion as fact and advising against consulting professional help is putting others at risk. Whether it’s regarding cancer treatment or substance misuse services, accepting advice from unaccredited sources leaves no one accountable.

Whether it be exposing yourself to false information, destructive advice or predators who may want to take advantage of you for financial or other unsavory reasons, the risks are out there with a startling absence of accountability for all involved parties. To avoid the potential risk, utilize professional services that have certification in some way. Information on accredited rehabilitation services can be found on SAMHSA and Addicted.org. Doing anything else is taking a chance with your future that may result in something you cannot recover from.

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Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with substance abuse for over 20 years.

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