ACM Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), 2015
Prescription drug abuse is a pressing public health issue, and people who misuse prescription drugs are turning to online forums for help. Are such forums effective? We analyze the process of opioid withdrawal, recovery and relapse on Forum77, MedHelp.org's online health forum for substance abuse recovery. Applying Prochashka's Transtheoretical Model for behavior change, we develop a taxonomy describing phases of addiction expressed by Forum77 members. We examine activity and linguistic features across the phases USING, WITHDRAWING and RECOVERING. We train statistical classifiers to identify addiction phase, relapse and whether a user was RECOVERING at the time of her last post. Applying our classifiers to 2,848 users, we find that while almost 50% relapse, the prognosis for ending in RECOVERING is favorable. Supplementing our results with users' own accounts of their experiences, we discuss Forum77's efficacy and shortcomings, and implications for future technologies.