Digital recovery networks: Characterizing user participation, engagement, and outcomes of a novel recovery social network smartphone application

Robert D. Ashford, Salvatore Giorgi, Beau Mann, Chris Pesce, Lon Sherritt, Lyle Ungar, Brenda Curtis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Recovery support services, including in vivo (i.e., face to face) peer-based supports and social networks, are associated with positive effects on substance use disorder recovery outcomes. The translation of in vivo supports to digital platforms is a recent development that is mostly unexamined. The types of users and their engagement patterns of digital recovery support services (D-RSS), and the utility of objective and self-report data in predicting future recovery outcomes require further study to move the recovery support field forward. Methods: De-identified individual user data from Sober Grid, a recovery social network site (R-SNS) smartphone application, for the years 2015–2018 was analyzed to identify the demographics, engagement patterns, and recovery outcomes of active users. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) tests were used to examine between generational group differences on activity variables and recovery outcomes. Logistic and linear regressions were used to identify significant predictors of sobriety length and relapse among users. Results: The most active tercile of users (n = 1273; mAge = 39 years; 62% male) had average sobriety lengths of 195.5 days and had experienced 4.4 relapses on average since sign-up. Users have over 33,000 unilateral and nearly 14,000 bilateral connections. Users generated over 120,000 unique posts, 507,000 comments, 1617,000 likes, 12,900 check-ins, and 593,000 chats during the period of analysis. Recovery outcomes did not vary between generations, though user activity was significantly different between Generations (Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers), with baby boomers and generation X having higher levels of engagement and connection among all activity markers. Logistic regression results revealed gender (female) was associated with a lower likelihood of reporting loneliness or sexual feelings as an emotional trigger. Linear regressions revealed generation, number of unilateral connections, and number of check-ins was associated with sobriety length, while generation and number of check-ins was associated with number of relapses. Conclusions: Active users of Sober Grid engage in several platform features that provide objective data that can supplement self-report data for analysis of recovery outcomes. Most commonly uses features are those similar to features readily available in open-ecosystem social network sites (e.g., Facebook). Prediction model results suggest that demographic factors (e.g., age, gender) and activity factors (e.g., number of check-ins) may be useful in deploying just-in-time interventions to prevent relapse or offer additional social support. Further empirical examination is needed to identify the utility of such interventions, as well as the mechanisms of support that accompany feature use or engagement with the D-RSS.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-55
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Substance Abuse Treatment
StatePublished - Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Addiction
  • Digital recovery supports
  • Recovery supports
  • Social networks
  • Substance use disorder
  • mHealth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Phychiatric Mental Health
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Digital recovery networks: Characterizing user participation, engagement, and outcomes of a novel recovery social network smartphone application'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this