Addiction support groups are an option for individuals on the path toward addiction recovery. They are a place where you can receive encouragement and assistance and offer the same to others. They have been proven in many studies to help individuals as they navigate their recoveries and rebuild their lives.
These support groups can be a part of your treatment process and are commonly continued, or started, once a person leaves treatment as a form of aftercare. Support groups help people maintain and enrich their addiction recovery.
What is a Support Group?
Support groups, also called mutual-help, mutual aid, or self-help groups are organizations “of two or more people who share an experience or problem and who come together to provide problem-specific help and support to one another.” These associations can help with many different problems, including coping with mental disorders, survival of disasters, loss, grief, and addiction.
Addiction support groups are specifically focused on substance abuse and behavioral addictions and the issues associated with recovery. Support groups are normally focused on a specific type of addiction which separates one group from another. This makes it easier for members to focus and feel as if their particular issues are being addressed by others who share their same experiences.
What Type of Addiction Support Groups are There?
There are actually many types of addiction support groups focused on many different types of compulsive behavior. Because addiction does not merely apply to drugs or alcohol, different associations focus on different subjects. For example, one group may focus on recovery from narcotics addiction while another focuses on alcohol dependence. For this reason, many addiction support group types exist all across the country.
- Behavioral Support Groups
Some of these groups are more specific than others. For example, Women for Sobriety is an organization that allows strictly female members to discuss the unique struggles of alcoholism for women while Alcoholics Anonymous accepts members of all genders.
In addition, certain self-help groups exist where individuals can discuss more than one type of addiction. Smart Recovery allows individuals with all different types of addictions to come together and learn coping skills while Narcotics Anonymous does not always focus specifically on opioid-based drugs. LifeRing is another organization that supports abstinence for both alcohol and drug addicts.
Other groups even offer help to family members of addicts. Nar-Anon and Al-Anon specifically focus on helping those whose loved ones are dependent on drugs and alcohol, respectively, find better ways to cope with their feelings and problems associated with their loved one’s substance abuse.
Because there are so many types of support groups available, it is likely that someone suffering from addiction (or the effects of an addiction) will be able to find an appropriate support group for their needs.
How Do Addiction Support Groups Work?
Addiction support groups usually work by several principles that are, for the most part, unchanging.
“Members themselves run groups in rented venues, without professional involvement” (NIAAA).
- This means no one in the group is conducting professional therapy or treatment of any kind. The meetings are usually run by a sponsor who has also experienced a history of addiction but is not a licensed counselor.
- Members can attend meetings as often as they like without penalties, although it is recommended, especially at first, that individuals attend regular meetings to get the program’s full effect.
- Members do not need “insurance approval” or a clinician’s consent to attend an addiction support group. These programs are not based on any type of benefits program and, in most cases, are free for members to join and attend as often as necessary, unlike professional addiction treatment programs which can sometimes be costly.
- Members are encouraged to support one another and help each other by bonding over their mutual histories and current recoveries. Support groups are not a place to be judged or to judge others.
- Members are encouraged to forge friendships and help one another outside of meetings. In some cases, individuals choose a personal sponsor who has been in the program longer than they have and go to them in times of trouble.
These organizations often foster a strong, community-type connection among members in order to provide the kind of support necessary to recover from addiction. When addicted individuals feel that there are others who also understand what they have been through, it can be easier for them to share and avoid isolating themselves. The process of recovery is supported by relationships and social networks.” While family and friendships are a large part of this, knowing others who have gone through the same things they have can be incredibly important to that support as well.
When and Where Do Support Groups Meet?
In most cases, the larger support groups (like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.) meet somewhere at least once a day. These meetings may take place in churches, outreach centers, libraries, on school campuses, and in other public and private meeting spaces that are easily accessible to everyone. Some meetings even take place in outpatient or inpatient rehab facilities as well.
In the beginning, certain individuals may choose to attend meetings every day while others may go once a week. AIn contrast to professional treatments, people typically have access to support groups at times when they are at higher risk of relapse, such as evenings and weekends. These can also be the only times certain individuals can attend meetings due to a busy work or school schedule.
How Can I Find a Local Support Group Meeting?
By choosing one of the groups listed above and visiting their website, you can often find a meeting near you sometime within the next 24 hours. There are also directories online with listings for different support group meetings. Usually, it is very easy to find some sort of beneficial group that will meet in a place close to you.
You can also ask your personal physician or someone at one of these local facilities about possible nearby support group meetings:
- Outreach center/community center
- Free clinic
- City government office
Do Addiction Support Groups Use the 12 Steps?
Most of these groups follow the 12-step program used in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). SMART Recovery and LifeRing are programs that do not use the 12-step approach.” The 12-step program has been effective for many individuals which is why most support groups use it. However, it has religious overtones which is why some individuals are more comfortable with other, secular-based programs.
Are Addiction Support Groups Effective for People in Recovery?
Many studies have been conducted about the effectiveness of support groups for those in addiction recovery. Sustained attendance at self-help groups (SHGs) is associated with a higher likelihood of abstinence and better substance use outcomes.
Individuals who continued to attend these groups were often seen to accrue more benefits (such as sustained abstinence, better employment prospects, improved relationships and family stability, reduced criminal activity, etc.) than those who stopped attending. In addition, the latter individuals’ change in attendance often “foreshadow[ed] poorer substance use outcomes.”
It was also found in this study that women, older adults, and less religious individuals benefited as much from support groups as did their counterparts (men, younger people, and more religious individuals, respectively). Generally, addiction support groups are effective for people in recovery. However, there are some specific rules to their effectiveness.
- Support groups, just like different professional treatment types, are not effective for every individual. Even one type of group may be better for one person than another. It is important for the individual addict to consider all options and to choose a program that best benefits their needs.
- Support groups may be helpful to some individuals and even be able to take the place of professional treatment in some cases. However, as far as professional treatment goes, behavioral therapy (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or contingency management), medications, or their combination are still considered to be the most effective means of treatment by clinicians.
- Those with incredibly severe addictions, mental and physical health problems, or other potentially harmful issues should usually seek out professional treatment in order to safely recover from addiction. Then, a support group can be attended either as a supplemental program or as an aftercare program at the end of treatment.
Support groups do not work for every individual which is important to remember and they can sometimes, especially in the beginning of treatment, be too relaxed or lenient for certain patients. However, they have a long history of providing support to individuals in recovery from addiction and changing their lives for the better.