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Like so many other chronic diseases, addiction is manageable with appropriate treatment and consistent care, but, left unattended, it worsens over time. Group therapies are powerful tools for treating addiction. With intentions and goals designed to meet specific purposes for members, groups help magnify the ability to heal and recover from addiction with benefits that extend far beyond the formal treatment setting.
Group Therapy and Effectiveness
Addiction treatment and group therapies are natural allies. As the best practices for treating addiction continue to evolve, group therapies have become the most common elements of combining multifaceted principles of recovery with social influences that promote and support those aims. In many cases, according to the SAMHSA, group therapy “is as effective as individual therapy because groups intrinsically have many rewarding traits, such as reducing isolation and enabling members to witness the recovery of others.”
Studies show that people who participate in groups are able to transmit and develop concepts, beliefs, ideas, and knowledge through learning and influential factors. Collectively benefiting, members can use relevant experiences of others in addiction treatment group therapies to shape behaviors much in the same way they develop behaviors through involvements in other groups such as with friends, family, organizations, and other societal networks.
Promoting Groups to Treat Addictions
The concepts of peer-support groups to augment recovery from addictions have evolved since the establishment of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) in 1935. In these types of informal groups, participants come together with preserved anonymity to share common concerns and recovery support through experiential knowledge, advice, and feedback in a non-judgmental and openly honest kind of way.
Today, there are groups that accommodate a complex array of differences in members and focus, with the overall freedom of voluntary attendance and access. Some of these groups are faith based and derived from the 12-step model concepts introduced through A.A., but, their agendas remain the same: to achieve or sustain abstinence, recovery motivations, and positive lifestyle progressions, while helping others do the same.
Types of Addiction Treatment Groups
Addiction treatment groups are more formally structured and led by trained counselors, professionals, or other individuals to help addicts recover from addiction. According to TREATNET Quality Standards set forth by the United Nations, “Evidence-based good practices and accumulated scientific knowledge on the nature of drug dependence should guide interventions in drug dependence treatment.” The most common groups have agendas that flow according to the stage of change a person is in. For most people entering treatment, the areas of education, skills development, and cognitive-behavioral therapy groups are carefully integrated with counseling and other supportive services to immediately reduce the risk of harm from substance abuse. For instance:
- Psychoeducational groups are groups where members learn about substance abuse and its effects/consequences as well as gaining access to the information and resources that promote stability for themselves and their families.
- Skills development groups help members to develop coping skills and abstinence management strategies necessary to break free from addictions.
- Cognitive–behavioral groups focus on changing maladaptive thought patterns (perceptions, beliefs, and judgments) and the self-destructive behaviors that flow from them. Breaking issues down into smaller parts, cognitive-behavioral therapy can help to build and improve problem-solving skills and capabilities to manage physical feelings or emotions that potentially lead to abuse or other negativities.
Relapse prevention is an area that has a significant relevance to increases in overdoses and the rises in death rates, especially among prescriptions opioid and heroin abusers. According to a report from the CDC, between 2000 and 2014, “the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (opioid pain relievers and heroin). Relapse prevention groups can help clients maintain their abstinence or recover from a relapse and are often intertwined within the other groups and supportive treatment services.
Stress and neurological imbalances that cause depression or anxiety, failed relationships, and over-reactions to cravings, resentments, or loss of self-esteem are just some of the most problematic situations that a person in recovery may have to deal with. Relapse prevention groups help to raise awareness of the elements that other groups focus on while emphasizing personal strengths, changes, and strategies to avoid and cope with those “triggers” to return to substance abuse. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, a relapse prevention group “aims both to upgrade a client’s ability to manage risky situations and to stabilize a client’s lifestyle through changes in behavior.”