In November 2016, the Surgeon General’s report Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health observed that one in seven people in the United States is expected to develop a substance use disorder at some point, but only one in ten will receive any type of specialty treatment. In addition, while more than 40 percent of Americans with substance abuse disorders also have a mental health condition, but fewer than half will receive treatment for either concern.
What can we do?
Ideally, every individual with a substance abuse disorder should be able to participate in a quality addiction rehab program. In reality, few addicts receive this sort of treatment. It may be because they don’t seek it out, or because they mistakenly believe they aren’t a good candidate for rehab because of their life situation, budget or location.
Addiction Support Groups for Recovery Treatment
Even though there are quality, affordable rehab programs available for all types of addicts, many individuals still choose not to seek treatment. For those people, support groups for addiction may be a good option. Even individuals who do choose to participate in treatment programs attend support groups. Meetings for groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Dual Recovery Anonymous are a wonderful recovery resource you can find everyday, across the country.
Not only are support groups good for guiding people to sobriety, they are incredibly helpful to individuals who have completed a recovery program, and want to maintain their sobriety. Recovery is like a living thing, and addiction support groups are one way to offer the nurturing your recovery needs to keep thriving.
What are addiction support groups?
Addiction support groups come in many forms, and can serve a multitude of addictions including drug support groups, alcohol support groups, or behavioral support groups for addictions like sex or gambling. Some groups are created locally, while some have connections to national organizations that provide a variety of support, education, and advocacy resources. No matter the type or size, each group offers a safe space for addicts to take responsibility for their substance abuse, share experiences and coping techniques, and connect with others who are facing the same challenges.
Most addiction support groups are modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Founded in 1935, the organization has grown to serve over 2 million people who attend meetings held for 115,000 groups in over 170 countries.
Most addiction support groups follow the same format at each meeting. A member shares their addiction story, then other members share whatever problems, concerns or successes are on their minds. Everyone present offers a sympathetic ear, and those who feel able to offer advice and emotional support do so. Members are all races, ages, and religions, meetings are free, and the only requirement for membership is a desire to live without substance abuse.
Extensive research done on support groups for addiction show that attending meetings will significantly improve an addict’s chance of achieving and maintaining long-term recovery. Alcohol and drug support group meetings can be found in almost every town and city in the United States, almost every day of the week. It’s estimated that over 5,000,000 Americans attend addiction support groups each year.
What is the difference between addiction support groups and group therapy?
In support groups for addiction, people who are dealing with the same type of addiction meet to share experiences, validate one another in an atmosphere of openness and respect, and ask questions and discuss issues in a way that is free of judgement. Recovering addicts can use this community as a tool for discovering or continuing along their own self-directed, recovery path. There may be a peer counselor or group leader who facilitates the meeting, but everyone in the room has equal potential to be a teacher. Meetings are kept confidential by members, and members are encouraged to develop relationships of mutual support outside the meeting space. No records are kept, and meetings are always free.
Group therapy is a therapeutic tool designed to help group members address addiction and mental health concerns in conjunction with others who need help with similar issues. Therapy groups are led by professional counselors, therapists, psychiatrists or psychologists who guide the proceedings and keep records following professional health system guidelines. While support groups are more oriented towards mutual validation, group psychotherapy is sometimes deliberately confrontational, to help members honestly address and work through their issues. Group therapy is a professional psychiatric service that is billed to insurance providers, and are similar to private therapy sessions, but in a group environment.
Fourteen Benefits of Addiction Support Groups
Years of documented experiences and respected studies have demonstrated the many benefits of support groups for addiction recovery. Here are some of the ways meetings can be helpful through every step of the recovering addict’s journey.
1. Support groups remind you that you are not alone.
Support groups for addiction are a great way for individuals in recovery to connect with other people who are dealing with similar issues, and who can therefore relate, sympathize and offer feedback grounded in real-life experience. Going to a meeting can reduce feelings of despair, frustration, fear or loneliness that you may be suffering, reminding you that there is a community of like-minded individuals who understand and support you.
2. Meetings provide compassion and emotional support.
Having a community to turn to and confide in can keep you strong in recovery. Alcohol support groups and drug support groups provide you a non-judgemental place to vent feelings and discuss challenging life situations with people who have had hands-on experience coping with the same thing. Sometimes just talking about your difficulties out loud can be enough to avoid a crisis situation, and whenever someone does offer advice, you know it’s coming from someone who’s “been there” too.
3. Support groups help you maintain momentum.
By offering connection, compassion and advice, support groups for addiction can help you to maintain a positive outlook and stay motivated to keep working through the recovery process. Recovery is not always a smooth path, and everyone has times when their enthusiasm and focus begins to wane. Having a resource to help you prevent problems from becoming crises, and to celebrate your successes and recovery milestones, can ensure that you re-energize, stay on track, and continue to grow and heal.
4. Meetings foster self-acceptance.
Shame and guilt can be major stumbling blocks in recovery, leading many people to start using again to escape feelings of worthlessness. Drug and alcohol support groups humanize addiction by putting you face to face with worthwhile people who also struggle with the disease. You are reminded that you are valuable because you see the value in other recovering addicts. In addition, the fact that support groups for addiction encourage you to discuss personal issues in a safe, public arena can make you feel more comfortable with who you are and what you’ve experienced, fostering the self-acceptance necessary to maintain the balance between owning your problems and loving yourself.
5. Support groups can teach you new skills.
The wide variety of people you encounter in addiction support groups creates a rich pool of experience to draw from. Almost every group member will have a toolbox of coping skills that they have learned from trial and error throughout their recovery, and they can pass along what they’ve learned to you. Sometimes just hearing about other people’s experiences can teach you by example.
6. Meetings provide inspiration.
Hearing stories about how other addicts suffered and inflicted suffering on their loved ones before finding a way to overcome addiction and rebuild their lives can be incredibly inspiring and motivating. Sometimes you need to see a living example of success to be reminded that you have it in you to succeed as well.
7. Meetings can put things in perspective.
Another great thing about the wide range of people you find in drug and alcohol support groups is that they can offer you new and unexpected views on your personal problems and challenges, putting issues in perspective and helping you view your situation from an angle you never would have been able to see without outside feedback.
8. Support groups provide a safe space for experimenting.
The compassionate and confidential environment of an addiction support group meeting can provide you with a secure place to explore new ideas and behaviors that you may or may not decide to try out in the real world. Hearing about the experiences of others, and the process of discussion and feedback in regards to your situation or the situations of other members, can let you safely “experiment” with new ways of living.
9. Supporting others can give you strength.
Although support groups for addiction can be a great source of support for yourself, they also give you the opportunity to offer support to other people. Studies have shown that helping others can actually make you feel stronger, and people who spend more time on meaningful activities than purely pleasure-seeking activities are happier overall, with a greater sense of purpose in life.
10. You are reminded of the consequences of substance abuse.
Many people in addiction recovery will hit a point many months or even years down the road when they are feeling so good that they start to believe they are strong enough to control their drug or alcohol use. Attending a drug support group or alcohol support group will allow you to hear stories from people just rebounding from hitting bottom, or just cleaning up after a recent relapse, who will tell you that they, too, mistakenly thought they could control their drinking or drug use before addiction took over their life.
11. They remind you that you are in charge of your life.
All addicts are familiar with feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Addicts in the throes of addiction feel controlled by the cycle of obtaining, using, and suffering the aftermath of using their drug of choice. By giving up drugs and alcohol, addicts take back their power and once more put themselves in charge of their own lives. Attending addiction support groups will remind you of this, and keep you focused on the things in your life that you can control.
12. Meetings remind you that you aren’t all powerful.
While many things about your life are under your control, many things are not within your power to change. Support groups for addiction help you recognize and accept this. In fact, some support groups will start meetings by reciting the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
13. Support groups create sober friendships.
Drug and alcohol support groups encourage members to make connections outside of meetings as well. Groups that follow AA’s 12 step model will encourage members who have been attending meetings for a while and making some progress to find a “sponsor.” A sponsor is another group member who you feel comfortable enough with to speak to openly, one on one. You can call your sponsor anytime to talk about anything. Not only can they be an incredible help to your sobriety, you can help theirs by allowing them to share and reinforce what they’ve learned.
14. Most of all, addiction support groups help prevent relapse.
Addiction is a chronic disease, and those recovering from it are vulnerable to relapse. Every reason on this list adds up to the main fact that support groups for addiction are a resource that can keep you from relapsing and returning to substance abuse—and if you do happen to relapse, the compassionate acceptance and assistance offered by support groups will be there to help you get back on track, and stay on track, stronger than before.