Can Social Media Really Help Treat Addiction?

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Young adults who incorporate social media in their attempt to quit smoking are twice as successful as those only rely on more traditional methods, according to new research which may have implications for treatment for addiction of all forms.

The study, published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, compared the success of the Canadian social media-based campaign Break It Off against Smokers’ Helpline, a telephone hotline for young adults quitting smoking.

The researchers found 32 percent of smokers who used Break It Off apps and web tools had successfully quit smoking after three months, compared to just 14 percent of their peers who relied on the telephone-based service.

“These finding suggest that the creators of public health campaigns need to evaluate how they use social media channels and social networks to improve health, especially with regards to younger demographics,” said Bruce Baskerville, a senior scientist at the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at Waterloo, who led the study.

Research from Canada has shown that young adults between the ages of 19 and 29 have the highest rates of smoking, but few use traditional cessation services such as helplines. On the other hand, this demographic makes up the largest demographic of social media users, with 91 percent reporting using Facebook and one-third actively participating in microblogging sites such as Twitter.

“Traditional cessation services can have limited reach and this reduced visibility lessens their impact in a digital era,” said Baskerville. “Because they are such heavy users of social media, these platforms provide an alternative and successful way of reaching smokers who are less likely to relate to other cessation programs.”

The research shows great potential for helping young adults free themselves of addiction, and it may even be effective in helping treat other addictions such as drug or alcohol problems.

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