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Investigating Patterns of Participation in an Online Support Group for Problem Drinking: a Social Network Analysis



This study contributes to emerging literature on online health networks by modeling communication patterns between members of a moderated online support group for problem drinking. Using social network analysis, we described members’ patterns of joint participation in threads, parsing out the role of site moderators, and explored differences in member characteristics by network position.


Posts made to the online support group of Alcohol Help Centre during 2013 were structured as a two-mode network of members (n = 205) connected via threads (n = 506). Metrics included degree centrality, clique membership, and tie strength.


The network consisted of one component and no cliques of members, although most made few posts and a small number communicated only with the site’s moderators. Highly active members were older and tended to have started posting prior to 2013. The distribution of members across threads varied from threads containing posts by one member to others that connected multiple members. Moderators accounted for sizable proportions of the connectivity between both members and threads.


After 5 years of operation, the AHC online support group appears to be fairly cohesive and stable, in the sense that there were no isolated subnetworks comprised of specific types of members or devoted to specific topics. Participation and connectedness at the member-level was varied, however, and tended to be low on average. The moderators were among the most central in the network, although there were also members who emerged as central and dedicated contributors to the online discussions across topics. Study findings highlight a number of areas for consideration by online support group developers and managers.

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Correspondence to Karen Urbanoski.

Ethics declarations


This study did not receive dedicated funding. KU is supported by a Canada Research Chair in Substance Use, Addictions and Health Services Research from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

Conflict of Interest

TvM is the CEO and Founder of Evolution Health Systems Inc., the owner of Alcohol Help Center as well as other eHealth and mHealth platforms. KU and JC declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Subjects consented to their data being used for research purposes by endorsing a checkbox in the online platform.

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Urbanoski, K., van Mierlo, T. & Cunningham, J. Investigating Patterns of Participation in an Online Support Group for Problem Drinking: a Social Network Analysis. Int.J. Behav. Med. 24, 703–712 (2017).

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  • Social network analysis
  • Online support groups
  • Alcohol
  • Internet-based interventions