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14 Reasons why online addiction programs work

When it comes to figuring out if online programs work, I think I have a unique and fair perspective on it. On the one hand, I still don’t have a personal Facebook account and was the last of my friends to get a smartphone. I constantly question whether technology is replacing human connection. On the other hand, I built the world’s leading online addiction recovery program after initial skepticism and careful research that showed me the power of online healthcare.

This first review is part of a 3-part series about online addiction programs: 

  1. 14 Reasons why online addiction programs work
  2. Who is an online addiction program good for?
  3. Technology can either replace relationships, or unlock them

Here we’ll review reasons why online programs can work extremely well depending on your needs. Before jumping in, let’s look at the alternative…



While people discuss going away to rehab as the ideal treatment option (if cost and logistics weren’t a factor), that’s not at all a given. Consider a few quick points about rehabs:

  • Most rehabs offer just one hour of individual counseling per week
  • Only 1 in 15 people who enter rehab are sober after a year (according to peer reviewed research, not a facility’s own unvalidated claim)
  • Almost all traditional recovery programs expect that you speak in group settings and admit your failures, which can be shaming and incredibly scary
  • Cost is in the the range of $15,000 to 90,000
  • Dropout rates are very high
  • There are few regulations, and many ‘counselors’ have no formal training
  • Most have no curriculum beyond initiating the 12-step approach
  • The vast majority of rehabs do not use evidence-based care (and even use care shown not to work)
  • It’s unrealistic for most people to pause life and go away for 30-90 days

Don’t get me wrong, some programs are amazing and I enjoy interacting with many of them. But of the 14,000+ available treatment facilities, the research is clear that most will not get you where you want.



As we review the most notable reasons that online addiction recovery programs are effective, first ask yourself:

  • Why am I considering an online program?
  • What’s getting in the way of doing something about my addiction?

Odds are, you’ll notice that you’re a normal person who is encountering a real life barrier. About 90% of people who want help never access treatment because of common issues like: shame, logistics, cost, not wanting to completely abstain from alcohol or drugs, and low motivation.



1. Online care is proven, not experimental.

The benefit is not theoretical, it’s already proven (and if there weren’t evidence for online programs I wouldn’t be doing what I do). Research shows online mental health and addiction care is on par with or better than face-to-face care. Dozens of studies have debunked the old industry belief that addiction can only be treated through intensive in-person programs.

2. It is private, judgment-free, and anonymous.

When we’re exposed to more and more shameful experiences before we’ve had a chance to address that shame, it can make things even worse. We truly heal when we address our weaknesses safely. Research shows that the more comfortable and free of judgment you feel, the more you can overcome and grow. Think of being online like your chance to check yourself out in the mirror before you go out 😉

3. Being online doesn’t replace people… in fact, the opposite.

I often hear from people concerned because they know healing requires changes and support from real life connections. Absolutely! But you have to set yourself up for success, not drama. Don’t rely on a chaotic back and forth relationship to heal you. Instead, safely learn about yourself and your tendencies so you can connect with the people you care about in more constructive and meaningful ways.

4. The right amount of guidance.

Studies show too much hand-holding and sheltering can be a setup for failure, and too little will leave you lost. We change the most when we’re in the sweet spot, which for some people is online.

5. The right mindset.

It’s not natural to go through a deeply emotional process on command (at a certain time or place, or with a specific person). Doing lessons where and when you want allows you to be in the right mindset to challenge yourself deeply.

6. The latest proven techniques.

Facilities have industry challenges of finding counselors with adequate training and experience, providing ongoing training to stay up to date, dealing with staff turnover, etc. Being online makes it easy to stay current with the latest strategies and therapeutic techniques based on more recent research.

7. Freedom to revisit lessons.

A well-known problem in learning is that most lessons don’t stick. Research shows we retain a tiny fraction of anything we learn in grade school or even college (just think about how much of your high school History class you remember). Online lessons can easily be revisited to reinforce, practice, and maximize your efforts. That’s more in line with current understandings from educational studies.

8. Easily involve the people you choose.

It’s difficult to coordinate times for family members or partners to come to live treatment regularly, or at all. Online programs eliminate logistical problems, and more importantly the frustration that comes with miscommunication. You get to include and empower the people you want by sharing certain lessons or even going through the experience together.

9. Life uninterrupted.

Whether you have work obligations, family responsibilities, a lack of trust, or plain old low motivation, it’s usually impractical to go away for 30 days – or even several appointments a week. The most obvious benefit of being online is that you don’t have to deal with time and distance issues. Doing a legitimate program on your own couch or on the can is pretty cool.

10. Start changing regardless of abstinence.

In the case of IV heroin, it’s clear you should have a goal to abstain. In the case of a food or sex addiction, abstinence is not even theoretically desired. Traditionally, treatments expect that you enter treatment already in abstinence or they kick you out. That’s like a personal trainer demanding you start out strong and dedicated. If you could already achieve your goal before starting, then what’s the ‘expert’ doing? An online program is completely inclusive and allows you to start working on yourself wherever you are in your journey, no matter what your end goal is.

11. Vacations don’t last. Internal transformation does.

A common notion is that you have to be removed from your regular life in order to change. This flies in the face of behavioral change research that tells us the opposite. It’s also one of the reasons so many people have a fairly easy time getting sober while away, only to relapse immediately after returning home. Change who you are, not where you are. When you methodically practice and achieve your goals in your everyday environment, you can adapt in realistic ways that last (and trust that those changes are real).

12. Maximize other treatment if you have any.

Even though online recovery programs have been proven effective on their own, they can easily augment other traditional treatments. It’s already common for providers to suggest books, apps, and TED talks. Online programs can be added to other forms of treatment to help fill in the gaps and enhance what you’re working on. You can also use an online program before or after other treatment to get the most out of them.

13. Take the amount of time needed.

Research shows it takes at least 3 months to rewire the brain enough to make behavioral change. So if you gain a bunch of insights quickly, your neurons simply can’t keep up (just like if you go to the gym, your body needs a day or two to let that muscle build). Traditional programs aren’t usually designed to match this fact, so insights are piled on faster than you can incorporate into life. Online lessons give you the ability to pace your challenges to allow your growth.

14. Cost.

If a program is too expensive to go to, then it doesn’t matter how effective it is. Online
programs are still costly to run, but much less so than brick and mortar ones. Why
pay for a facility’s beautiful property, lodging, utilities, and meals if you don’t have to? Those savings get passed on to you.



Some people benefit from all 14 of these reasons, and for others it’s just one. But if that one reason is the difference between continuing a life of addiction and taking a step towards progress, it’s enough.

That’s certainly been gratifying for me since creating Self Recovery. I get to talk to all kinds of people who changed their lives in ways they would never have if it weren’t online. Some of them are busy single moms who couldn’t leave their children, some are professionals who wanted privacy and couldn’t take time off work, and others simply enjoyed doing something extremely effective on their own time.

Daniel Hochman, MD

Daniel Hochman, MD

I have always been curious about what actually causes human suffering to progress or continue. As a nationally respected leader in the addiction field, I created Self Recovery to bring the best available approaches to addiction to anyone online. The program draws on my medical training as a physician, my psychological expertise as a psychiatrist, and research from thousands of studies to provide a holistic approach to addiction care that can help you.

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