Tik Tok and Substance Abuse Recovery

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Popular hashtags like #walkingsober, #sober, #mentalhealthawareness, #werecover, and #soberlife have taken to the airwaves of TikTok en mass, and in the process are destigmatizing addiction and celebrating recovery.


Individuals have been sharing their stories of recovery, celebrating milestones, and supporting others on the path to addiction recovery through Tik Tok.

What is Tik Tok?

Originally launched under the name Musical.ly in 2014, TikTok is the latest social media platform to take the world by storm. To put it simply, it’s kind of like Twitter but for video. Whereas Twitter lets users share text-based 280-character posts, TikTok lets them share videos up to 10 minutes long. Users are also able to go “live” and talk to other followers. This is how a community grows on TikTok.

Many individuals assume the popular social media app TikTok is only used to post and view dancing videos, however, evidence shows that individuals in mental health and substance abuse communities can find support through this app.

Looking at the research

An article published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence explores substance use recovery-focused videos on TikTok. After searching 20 keywords associated with substance use disorders, results from this study showed that the most common theme was the journey and transformation from having a substance use disorder to entering into recovery. Another common theme was sharing recovery milestones within the addiction and recovery community.

There are over 20 million Americans who struggle with a substance use disorder and although there are many successful treatment options available, very few of these individuals receive any form of formalized substance abuse treatment. Treatment often involves evidence-based behavioral therapy approaches with or without medication; however, recovery support services, although not considered formalized treatment, can have a positive impact on an individual’s recovery journey, especially if they are enrolled in an addiction treatment program.

The upsides and downsides of social media for addiction recovery

These recovery support services, also known as continuing care or alumni services, are community-based services that are nonclinical, flexible, and often led by peers within the addiction recovery community. These services can be in-person or digital. Social media, including Tik Tok, has the potential to inspire hope in individuals who are struggling with a substance use disorder. Individuals can watch Tik Tok videos of honest recovery journeys that show milestones, setbacks, messages of hope, hardships, and the honest stories of others who are in substance abuse recovery.

The increase in social media has contributed to the virtual spread of many health-related behaviors that are associated with addiction, eating disorders, and mental health; both positively and negatively. On one hand, social media can be a trigger for poor body image, low self-esteem, and the desire to misuse drugs but on the other hand, social media can be a way to connect with and support others who are struggling with addiction and mental health.

A word about substance use disorders

Substance use disorder is the formal medical term for addiction. It is defined as the compulsive misuse of a substance despite the harmful consequences to the individual’s health, finances, and relationships. The first time an individual misuses drugs or alcohol is often a personal choice, but after a while, drug misuse rewires the brain making it particularly difficult to cut down or stop using due to intense urges and cravings. Therefore, a substance use disorder or addiction is not a choice but rather a medical disorder.

Substance use disorder symptoms

  • Drug-seeking, securing, and using behaviors that develop into a priority
  • Continuing using drugs despite harmful consequences
  • Uncontrollable use (having trouble reducing or stopping use)
  • Neglecting social and work obligations because of drug use
  • Brain changes in areas that are critical for judgment, decision-making, learning, memory, and behavior control

Tik Tok should not replace formal addiction treatment

Although Tik Tok has become a major player in the addiction community, it should not be substituted for formal addiction treatment. Substance use disorders are treatable, and recovery is often a lifelong journey as cravings and urges tend to pop up when least expected. Treatment varies from inpatient to outpatient support depending on the severity of the substance use disorder, the specific abused substance, and the presence of co-occurring mental health disorders. Each treatment level of care offers many options. Treatment options include detoxification, family-based interventions, medication-assisted treatment, peer support or recovery service groups, and many psychotherapy approaches such as cognitive behavior therapy. The purpose of substance use disorder treatment is for the individual to stop using drugs for the long term and to contribute to society, in the family, and at work.

Akua on TikTok

If you are unsure where to start but are interested in joining the TikTok community, all are welcome to join Akua every Wednesday at 5pm (PST) for Wellness Wednesdays.

About AKUA Mind and Body

AKUA Mind and Body is a full-service treatment center that provides residential treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and virtual treatment to both men and women struggling with a substance use disorder, dependency, a mental health disorder, or both (co-occurring disorder). AKUA Mind and Body provides compassionate, evidence-based treatment to all individuals and families. We combine evidence-based medications and psychotherapy approaches with holistic therapies such as meditation, yoga, and equine therapy, as we believe in treating the mind, body, and spirit.

Our clinical staff and ancillary treatment teams take great pride in the care that we provide to our clients and their families. From intake to discharge, we believe in treating the client as an individual and not just treating the disorder. As a result, we provide individualized treatment plans for every client. We offer our treatment services across many locations in California, including Orange County, Newport Beach, San Diego, and Sacramento.

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