Home > Investigating substance use via Reddit: systematic scoping review.

Chi, Yu and Chen, Huai-Yu (2023) Investigating substance use via Reddit: systematic scoping review. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 25, e48905. doi: 10.2196/48905.

External website: https://www.jmir.org/2023/1/e48905

BACKGROUND: Reddit's (Reddit Inc) large user base, diverse communities, and anonymity make it a useful platform for substance use research. Despite a growing body of literature on substance use on Reddit, challenges and limitations must be carefully considered. However, no systematic scoping review has been conducted on the use of Reddit as a data source for substance use research.

OBJECTIVE: This review aims to investigate the use of Reddit for studying substance use by examining previous studies' objectives, reasons, limitations, and methods for using Reddit. In addition, we discuss the implications and contributions of previous studies and identify gaps in the literature that require further attention.

METHODS: A total of 7 databases were searched using keyword combinations including Reddit and substance-related keywords in April 2022. The initial search resulted in 456 articles, and 227 articles remained after removing duplicates. All included studies were peer reviewed, empirical, available in full text, and pertinent to Reddit and substance use, and they were all written in English. After screening, 60 articles met the eligibility criteria for the review, with 57 articles identified from the initial database search and 3 from the ancestry search. A codebook was developed, and qualitative content analysis was performed to extract relevant evidence related to the research questions.

RESULTS: The use of Reddit for studying substance use has grown steadily since 2015, with a sharp increase in 2021. The primary objective was to identify tendencies and patterns in various types of substance use discussions (52/60, 87%). Reddit was also used to explore unique user experiences, propose methodologies, investigate user interactions, and develop interventions. A total of 9 reasons for using Reddit to study substance use were identified, such as the platform's anonymity, its widespread popularity, and the explicit topics of subreddits. However, 7 limitations were noted, including the platform's low representativeness of the general population with substance use and the lack of demographic information. Most studies use application programming interfaces for data collection and quantitative approaches for analysis, with few using qualitative approaches. Machine learning algorithms are commonly used for natural language processing tasks. The theoretical, methodological, and practical implications and contributions of the included articles are summarized and discussed. The most prevalent practical implications are investigating prevailing topics in Reddit discussions, providing recommendations for clinical practices and policies, and comparing Reddit discussions on substance use across various sources.

CONCLUSIONS: This systematic scoping review provides an overview of Reddit's use as a data source for substance use research. Although the limitations of Reddit data must be considered, analyzing them can be useful for understanding patterns and user experiences related to substance use. Our review also highlights gaps in the literature and suggests avenues for future research.

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