Are we losing connection? Lived experience of online mutual aid groups during the COVID-19 pandemic

Lee, Daren and Antonino, Raffaello (2023) Are we losing connection? Lived experience of online mutual aid groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. Contemporary Drug Problems, 50 (3). pp. 328-349. ISSN 2163-1808


The current UK based study aimed to explore the experiences of individuals attending online mutual aid groups for alcohol use, while their face-to-face groups were suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic. Emerging evidence suggests that the pandemic and concomitant isolation is associated with elevated mental health problems. Furthermore, historical community-wide crises are associated with increases in alcohol consumption. Due to the paucity of qualitative research on the subjective experience of online mutual aid groups, an interpretative phenomenological analysis was undertaken to explore group members’ experiences.

A sample of six eligible members of online alcohol mutual aid groups were recruited and completed semi-structured interviews during the COVID-19 pandemic between October 2020 and February 2021. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to identify key themes and evidenced with salient quotations.

The superordinate theme developing an understanding of the differences between face-to-face and online group proceedings was identified, which is presented and unpacked with evidential quotes.

The study explicates group members’ perceived differences between online and face-to-face experiences. Some participants valued the increased control and anonymity of online groups, while others missed the profound intimate connection that face-to-face groups fostered. It is recommended that future provision is informed by service-user voice to develop an attunement with the subjectivity of mutual aid group members’ experiences.

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