Informal Coping Strategies Among People Who Use Opioids During COVID-19: Thematic Analysis of Reddit Forums

Josh Arshonsky, Noa Krawczyk, Amanda M. Bunting, David Frank, Samuel R. Friedman, Marie A. Bragg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how people seeking to reduce opioid use access treatment services and navigate efforts to abstain from using opioids. Social distancing policies have drastically reduced access to many forms of social support, but they may have also upended some perceived barriers to reducing or abstaining from opioid use. Objective: This qualitative study aims to identify informal coping strategies for reducing and abstaining from opioid use among Reddit users who have posted in opioid-related subreddits at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: We extracted data from 2 major opioid-related subreddits. Thematic data analysis was used to evaluate subreddit posts dated from March 5 to May 13, 2020, that referenced COVID-19 and opioid use, resulting in a final sample of 300 posts that were coded and analyzed. Results: Of the 300 subreddit posts, 100 (33.3%) discussed at least 1 type of informal coping strategy. Those strategies included psychological and behavioral coping skills, adoption of healthy habits, and use of substances to manage withdrawal symptoms. In addition, 12 (4%) subreddit posts explicitly mentioned using social distancing as an opportunity for cessation of or reduction in opioid use. Conclusions: Reddit discussion forums have provided a community for people to share strategies for reducing opioid use and support others during the COVID-19 pandemic. Future research needs to assess the impact of COVID-19 on opioid use behaviors, especially during periods of limited treatment access and isolation, as these can inform future efforts in curbing the opioid epidemic and other substance-related harms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere32871
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Reddit
  • abstain
  • addiction
  • content analysis
  • coping
  • coping strategies
  • data mining
  • drug
  • opioid
  • opioid use
  • social media
  • strategy
  • support

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Health Informatics


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