If you have been struggling with addiction and substance use disorders (or any co-occurring disorders), you no longer have to go through the same struggles on your own. Instead, a better option would be to join a support group.
These groups are designed to bring together people who are facing similar - or related - issues, whether that is mental illness, major life changes, or help with overcoming substance use disorders and addiction.
In general, members are expected to share advice and experiences, and in the process find the therapeutic assistance they need to get over their problems, and have the right company to travel on the road to sobriety and full recovery. As such, you will find that it is helpful to simply get the opportunity to talk and share with others who are in a similar situation.
While not everyone needs or wants support beyond that which they can receive from friends and family, you might find that it is useful for you to turn to others beyond your immediate social circle for comfort and encouragement.
To this end, support groups are designed to help addicts cope better, feel less isolated, and make connections with others who share similar struggles. This isn't to say, however, that the support group should serve as a replacement to the standard medical care you are receiving. Instead, you should take it as a valuable resource that you can rely on particularly after you check out of rehab.
In the guide below, you will learn more about support groups, what they are, the different types, why recovering addicts need them, and more.
Support groups, at their most basic, are gatherings of people with common or similar health concerns and interests. In the case of addiction, the support group you join should focus on the specific condition, situation, or substance - such as prescription drugs, alcohol, or other addictive substances.
This definition, however, does not cover group therapy or other forms of therapy. Group therapy, instead, refers to the formalized type of treatment designed to bring together several addicts with similar substance use disorders under the guidance of trained therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health providers.
On the other hand, support groups are typically formed by lay people with a particular addiction or substance use disorder - or by someone who are interested in it (such as a close friend or family member). In some cases, the groups are also formed by advocacy organizations, nonprofit organizations, mental health clinics, and other related organizations.
Additionally, it is important that you understand that support groups often come in different formats - including over the internet, via phone, or in person. These formats are led by professional lay facilitators, although some are run under the guidance of psychologists, social workers, and nurses.
In most cases, these groups are highly structured and educational. For instance, the group leader might choose to invite social workers, nurses, psychologists, or doctors to talk about topics related to the common needs of the group. Other groups also emphasize shared experiences and emotional support.
That said, 12-step programs and other support groups are integral and essential parts of the process of recovering from addiction and substance abuse for many individuals the world over.
Although there are several types of support and recovery groups, the most widely known include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Millions of people who have actively engaged in the recovery provided through these programs end up remaining abstinent from drugs and alcohol (as well as other addictive substances) for many years to follow.
The programs provided also utilize the model of collaborative groups to encourage members to remain and become fully abstinent from alcohol, drugs, and other addictive behaviors and substances.
These groups are often part and parcel of a larger rehabilitation program - although you may be a member of NA or AA even long after you attended rehab and received treatment for your addiction - or without ever even having to check into a rehab facility.
Some of the most common support groups that you can join include:
AA was the original support group, and it formed the foundation for most of the other groups that are based on the main 12 steps that follow the same tenets and principles as AA.
As the name implies, these support groups are designed in such a way that those in attendance retain their anonymity. This way, they encourage members to seek help and guidance with the knowledge and comfort that comes with understanding that their attendance won't compromise their privacy.
That said, these 12 steps are taken as part and parcel of a more comprehensive treatment plan in most inpatient and outpatient alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers. They are also taken as a set of tasks that members of the support groups need to complete so as to improve their chances of overcoming their addiction and maintaining their newfound sobriety.
Following in AA's footsteps, individuals such as the founders of NA (Narcotics Anonymous) eventually started creating similar 12 step groups for addicts who had other substance use disorders separate from or in addition to their alcohol dependence and addiction.
To this end, there are a number of 12 step groups in existence. These include, but are not limited to:
In most cases, you will find that all these groups tend to be peer-led and self-supporting. They also have meetings at which friends and family members may attend to provide support and encouragement to their loved ones suffering from addiction and substance use disorders (as well as related co-occurring disorders).
There are several other addiction support groups that are not entirely based on AA's original 12-step model. You may prefer to pick from one of these alternatives particularly if you do not want to admit that you are powerless to your addiction (an admission that is a primary foundation to the 12 step model).
You may also be looking for a more secular group, or even wish to get your recovery support from a group that is focused on a particular religion or spiritual background or foundation.
In the same way, you may prefer to go with any of the countless online messaging forums and boards for recovering addicts where you might find the answers you are looking for, or the support you need to overcome your addiction.
Some of the addiction support groups that are not based on the 12-steps model include, but are not limited to:
Fully abbreviated as SMART, the Self-Management and Recovery Training approach uses the in-person meeting formula as well as a variety of online groups and forums to help addicts in their path to full recovery and sobriety.
This model mostly places an emphasis on developing, empowering, and teaching the members practical skills they can use to fight their addiction and ward off any temptations that might cause them to start abusing drugs and other addictive substances.
The support groups that are based on the SMART approach will also encourage you to determine the level of drug or alcohol consumption that will best work for you - whether this means skillful moderation or total abstinence.
Additionally, the groups will focus on the self-empowerment of the members. This is why the acronym stands for self-management and recovery training. In some cases, a facilitator (such as a licensed counselor) will lead the group and provide guidance for each individual member through a rudimentary four-point program.
The SMART module also bases its four points on cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy. According to the model, members of the group may be able to develop the ability to personally and fully overcome their substance use disorders, co-occurring disorders, and addiction. There's also an online community as well as web courses dedicated to progressing the teachings of the model.
Otherwise referred to as Save Our Selves, the Secular Organizations for Sobriety adopt a self-empowerment approach to sobriety and recovery from addiction. Although any addicted individual may join one of these support groups, most people choose the model because of the secular approach it takes to help members reach full sobriety.
These support groups are also designed to guide people overcome their addictive tendencies and denial through honest and open communications. You may also be interested to learn that the members of the SOS model believe that recovery is possible through personal responsibility and self-reliance.
With the understanding and belief that people face different issues and problems on the road to recovery from substance abuse, Women for Sobriety was the first addiction support group that solely focuses on women.
As such, this model bases its programs and support groups on 13 basic acceptance statements that are designed to help shape the way in which women who are recovering from addiction should approach life.
These 13 statements, to this end, are designed in such a way that they will give the participating women the strength to overcome addiction by showing them how they should let go of the negative energy and thoughts that compel them to start using, as well as to accept the past mistakes they did - such as getting into substance abuse and becoming addicted in the process.
As such, WFS holds support groups for addicted women. Through these groups, members get the opportunity to openly share their struggles as well as find the mutual support they need. If you are an addicted woman, you may also get the opportunity to participate in WFS-moderated chats and forums over the internet.
If you are in search of a support group that is based on Christian teachings, then you might want to give Celebrate Recovery a chance. This group, at its most basic, tends to center its meetings on the Bible (Christian scripture) and - in the process - help members to find strength during recovery and abstinence from its teachings.
Additionally, Celebrate Recovery provides literature with a specific curriculum that members of the various support groups should follow if they are to beat their addiction squarely. The program may also be adapted to the Bible so that the Christian teachings therein are part and parcel of the recovery curriculum.
The recovery model that comes with Celebrate Recovery also teaches the participants to accept that their life and future is under the control of God - or of a higher power. Additionally, these support groups provide encouragement and education for such issues as low self-esteem and depression.
Commonly abbreviated as JACS, the Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons, and Significant Others is a type of support group that is designed to help Jewish individuals living and working in the United States start living a life that is free and independent of drugs and alcohol.
As such, JACS fosters it addiction recovery model on helping members integrate further into the mainstream Jewish community. Additionally, it does not allow judgment and accepts every variance of the mainstream Jewish faith.
As a participant in this type of support group, participants get the opportunity to understand addiction, substance use disorders, and all the causes and effects that appertain to these conditions. You may also get the opportunity to subscribe to the online discussions that JACS offers.
Apart from the above non-12 step support groups, there are some groups that are solely designed to help the family members of recovering addicts and alcoholics. Although addiction and substance use disorders are certainly difficult on the person who is suffering through it, you may also want to keep in mind that the family members are also affected in one way or the other.
As such, it might be difficult for the family members to forgive the addict for their past wrongs or even to remain supportive and helpful in their recovery. To this end, you may want to check into a family support group primarily because it treats addiction as a problem that affects families in their entirely.
That said, the constructive involvement of family members through these particularly special support groups goes a long way in helping the addict heal, recover, and find meaning in their lives again. It also mitigates the bitterness that family members might be feeling on account of the past actions and hurtful words of the addicted among them.
The most popular types of family support groups include AI-Anon and Families Anonymous. These groups are designed to teach family members the lessons they need so that they are better able to encourage the addict in the family to maintain their sobriety as well as to seek help when and as required.
Additionally, family support groups will teach the addict's loved ones how to avoid:
When family members attend these groups, they also get to realize how beneficial it is for the success of the recovering addict when they understand (or try to understand) what the addict is going through and loved one has been dealing with. Through the knowledge that addiction and substance use disorders can affect anyone, the family gets to push the addict towards finding help. This, in the process, heals the family both the individual members and as a whole.
If you are looking for help for your persistent alcohol and drug use, you may want to look for a support group that will put you smack on the path to long term recovery and sobriety.
In most cases, you will find that many addicts are hesitant to join a support group. If this happens to you, you may feel that you don't really have a problem or that it does not compare to the "more severe" addictions of the other people in the group. However, you should keep in mind that you don't have to wait until you hit rock bottom for you to get the help you need.
Luckily, there are thousands of support groups all over the country that you can rely on.
Addiction support groups are designed to allow participants the opportunity and space to share their personal experiences with alcohol and drug abuse, co-occurring disorders, and substance use disorders.
As mentioned above, there are different types of support groups - each of which is designed to deal with a specific type of addiction or preferred substance of abuse. Similarly, if you have a co-occurring mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, you might find that joining such a group may prove to be helpful.
That said, support groups are designed to provide members with the support and emotional guidance they need to ward off temptations and cravings when and as they come.
Some of the other benefits that come with attending support groups include, but are not limited to:
As mentioned above, there are a variety of prominent support groups - including SMART and AA. Knowing what to expect from the group you will attend may help you make the right choice among these groups.
The most essential thing, however, as you look for a group is to ensure that it is encouraging and constructive, and that it has what it takes to help you overcome your addiction and deal with the substance use disorders (and any other co-occurring disorders like anxiety).
That said, many people have found full recovery and become sober again through the help they received while attending addiction and drug abuse support groups. However, this does not mean that you should take these groups as an end in themselves.
Rather, it might be helpful for you to remember that support groups are just one part of a more comprehensive addiction treatment program. To fully glean the benefits of being a member, therefore, it would help if you were able to couple your attendance at a support group with inpatient treatment, individual therapy, group therapy, detoxification, and other forms of treatment. Only by so doing will you be able to significantly increase the opportunities and chances for success.
Many rehabilitation facilities have incorporated the 12-step model in their teachings. By so doing, they introduce the recovering patients to Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous while also encouraging them to keep attending meetings as part of their continued sobriety and aftercare plan.
This is essential and vital because the recovery efforts you need to make to fully overcome your addiction and substance use disorders will not end when you get out of rehab. Instead, you are going to need the support and aftercare from others - which may prove to be the key elements that will ensure your successful recovery over the long haul.
However, as mentioned above, not every rehabilitation program uses the 12-step approach in helping addicts overcome their issues. Some will, for instance, only rely on individual therapy while others will use group meetings which do not follow the 12 step approach.
Therefore, as you seek treatment for your addiction, it is essential that you understand whether the treatment program you are going to join incorporate these 12 steps into its treatment or if it uses another model.
In most cases, you will find that addiction support groups will work by and go through several principles which will not - for the most part - change or become altered. For instance, these groups are run by members themselves in a rented venue and without the involvement of professionals.
This means that no one in the support group will conduct professional treatment or therapy of any kind. Instead, the meetings will be run by a member or a sponsor who has a history of substance abuse and addiction - but who is not licensed as a counselor.
As a member, you can attend the meetings of the support group you joined as often as you like without the fear that you will be penalized or rebuked if you missed a meeting or a session. However, when you first start attending, it is highly recommended and encouraged that you attend the meetings regularly. Only by so doing will you be able to glean the full benefits and enjoy the full effect of the support group.
In the same way, you should keep in mind that you do not need the consent of a clinician or the approval of an insurance company to attend and become part of a support group.
On the other hand, these programs tend to not be based on any kind of benefits program. In most cases, you will be free to join the group and attend the meetings as often as you need. This is unlike with other professional addiction rehabilitation and treatment programs which might sometimes prove too costly for you to even consider.
Apart from the above, your membership means that you will be encouraged to support yourself and the others in the group, and help each other such as by bonding over your current recovery and mutual histories with drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances.
When all is said and done, you should remember that support groups are not places for you to judge others or to get judged. Instead, you should forge friendships and meaningful relationships with the other members and provide and receive assistance outside and beyond the meetings.
In some cases, you may even be required to choose a personal sponsor - particularly one who has been undergoing the program for far longer than you have. In this sponsor, you will find a friend and confidant - as well as a source of support - that you can turn to in your moments of trouble or if you relapse.
It is also interesting to note that support groups are often designed to foster a kind of strong and community type of connection among the members. By so doing, these groups will provide everyone with the kind of support that is necessary for you to eventually recover from your addiction and do away with the substances and alcohol you used to abuse.
When you feel that there are others with a deep understanding of what you are going through and have been through, it might be easier for you to start sharing more and avoid isolating yourself.
SAMHSA also reports that the recovery process is further supported and motivated through social networks and meaningful relationship. While friendships and family relationships are a crucial part of this type of recovery, you may also benefit from knowing and spending time with other people who have undergone the same or similar experiences.
So, exactly where do support groups meet? How can you attend such a meeting? In most cases, you will find that large support groups - such as NA and AA - hosting meetings somewhere in the country at least once every day.
These support meetings take place in libraries, outreach centers, churches, and school campuses. They may also be hosted in private and public meeting spaces that everyone can easily access. Some even occur in inpatient and outpatient treatment and rehabilitation centers as well.
At first, you may prefer to attend the support group meetings on a daily basis or once a week. NIAAA reports that support groups are generally more accessible especially in comparison to professional treatments such as going for therapy for your addiction or checking into an inpatient rehabilitation facility.
Of course, this also means that it is incredibly cheaper for you to go to a support group than if you counted on the other options. The only catch is that you may need to attend all for your treatment and rehabilitation to work fully and for you to achieve long term recovery and sobriety.
To find a meeting for any of the support groups listed above, you should do a quick online search and check into the official website of the group you are interested in. When you do this, you will often find that there is a meeting somewhere near you in a couple of hours. The other option would be to check in online directories and find listings for the different support groups.
Whatever you do, you will find that it is quite easy to locate a group that you can meet up with in an area close to where you are. If you have any difficulties doing this, ask your personal physician, doctors, or the staff members at the rehabilitation facility where you went for your addiction treatment for a recommendation.
Some of the most common recommendations may include:
At the end of the day, you will realize that support groups are more beneficial than you may initially have thought. In fact, many studies conducted into these groups have found that attending the meetings on a sustained basis will often yield higher chances that you will remain abstinent and that your outcome from substance use and addiction will be better.
As long as you are able to continue attending these groups, therefore, you will be in a better position to accrue more benefits, including but not limited to:
Other studies have also found that less religious individuals, older adults, and women were able to benefit from support groups just as much as their other counterparts - younger people, more religious individuals, and men. Therefore, you age, sex, or religious leaning should have no negative effect whatsoever in helping you gain as much as you can from a support group.
At the end of the day, you should keep in mind that support groups are similar to other professional treatment types in the sense that they are quite effective. As such, the earlier and more frequently you start attending the meetings, the better things will get for you down the road and the faster your journey to recovery and abstinence will run.