Giving and receiving social support in online substance use disorder forums: How self-efficacy moderates effects on relapse

Yan Liu*, Rachel Kornfield, Bret R. Shaw, Dhavan V. Shah, Fiona McTavish, David H. Gustafson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Objective: Individuals in recovery for substance use disorders (SUDs) increasingly use online social support forums, necessitating research on how communicating through these forums can affect recovery. This study examines how giving and receiving support within an SUDs recovery forum predict substance use, and considers whether effects vary according to participants’ self-efficacy. Methods: We applied content analysis to 3440 messages that were posted by 231 participants in an online SUDs forum. Surveys assessed social support reception and substance use at three timepoints. We assessed relationships between giving and receiving support and substance use (risky drinking days, illicit drug use days), and the interactions between self-efficacy and social support in predicting substance use outcomes. Results: Receiving more emotional support was associated with reduced illicit drug use at 6 and 12 months. For those with low self-efficacy, giving more emotional support predicted less risky drinking at month 12, whereas giving more informational support predicted more risky drinking at month 12. Conclusion: These results suggest conditional benefits of exchanging support in an online SUDs forum, depending upon type of support (informational versus emotional), the participants’ role (giver or receiver), and their self-efficacy. Practice implications: We discuss implications for designing and using peer-to-peer support platforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1125-1133
Number of pages9
JournalPatient education and counseling
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Emotional support reception
  • Online support groups
  • Self-efficacy
  • Social support expression
  • Substance use disorders

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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