Addiction support groups are a great way to achieve or maintain recovery, but not knowing what to expect may keep some people from attending meetings.
The first evaluation, therapy session and addiction recovery meeting a person attends can be nerve wracking and may trigger some anxiety and stress before you even step through the door. The process is full of uncertainty, but the positive outcomes of support groups make meetings a core component of recovery.
Benefits of Support Groups
No matter the stage of the recovery process, the benefits of support groups are numerous. People who are in early recovery often depend on the groups as a source of guidance and hope. The first hours, days and weeks of recovery are a scary time filled with sadness, worry, confusion and anger. Navigating through these challenging times can be complex, and support groups help reveal a path forward to follow in recovery.
Some benefits of support groups include:
- Recognizing that other people had and are having similar experiences
- Learning how to cope with the daily challenges of addiction recovery
- Meeting new friends focused on recovery
- Building new trust for other people
- Hearing about the roadblocks others have experienced and the tools they used to cope
- Finding comfort in talking about your thoughts, feelings and behaviors linked to addiction
Some of the benefits of support groups are there from the beginning, while others develop over time. During a person’s first few support group meetings, they may be more interested in learning from others and listening to their stories than sharing their own. As time goes by and the person sustains recovery, they may feel more comfortable talking openly about their struggles and accomplishments as a way to guide their own healing and the healing of others.
Types of Support Groups
The types of support groups and types of recovery meetings a person may encounter are numerous. Some addiction support groups are available locally, while others are only available online. Some support groups welcome anyone in need, while others specialize in helping certain people from specific groups.
Some types of support groups include:
- 12-Step Groups: When people think of support groups, 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous come to mind. These options use a 12-step formula to maintain sobriety and a level of spirituality to continue recovery.
- SMART Recovery: Using scientifically proven methods, SMART Recovery groups focus on building motivation to change, coping with urges, learning how to manage struggles without addiction and living a balanced, healthy life.
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS): SOS offers in-person and online meetings to meet the needs of people looking for a support group that doesn’t involve religion or spiritual components.
- Women for Sobriety: As a support group attending to the specific needs of women, Women for Sobriety teaches participants how to take control of their addictions, accept their state and build a new love for self and others.
- Celebrate Recovery: Using some 12-step principles from other models, Celebrate Recovery is a “Christ-centered” approach to addiction support set to help with any form of addiction.
This list only includes a small portion of the support groups available today. Someone who is new to support groups or is struggling to find a good fit should consider experimenting with various group types. In-person groups will work better for some, while others will appreciate the flexibility of online choices.
There is no “right way” to recovery, so exploring the options can help a person make the best choice for them.
Open vs. Closed Meetings
Open vs. closed groups illustrate one of the most significant differences with support meetings. Although support groups have the reputation of being welcoming, not all groups are accepting new members at all times. Groups meant only for current members are called closed groups or closed meetings.
Addiction support groups may be closed for various reasons like:
- Not having enough room in the facility to accommodate more people
- The group needing to work through current issues
- Several group members relapsing recently
If a group is closed, keep searching for open options in your area. Remember that a variety of online variations are available as needed.
What Happens at a Recovery Meetings?
What happens at a recovery meeting largely depends on the type of meeting attended. An important distinction to make is that support groups are not therapy groups. Therapy groups have a trained and experienced therapist facilitating the group. Most support groups are based on the support of peers, rather than professionals.
A 12-step group will spend time reviewing the 12-step principles and information from 12-step literature. On the other hand, a SMART Recovery meeting could spend time inspecting a person’s motivations, beliefs, emotions and behaviors to study their influence on recovery.
Support groups may have a predetermined topic for that meeting, or they may offer the members an opportunity to guide the direction. Some support groups have designated leaders, and others create an atmosphere where everyone is equal.
Many support groups center around recovery speakers sharing their challenges in recovery. The recovery stories help the audience to learn from the experiences of others, and they help the speaker process issues from the past.
Before and after the meeting, people mingle while drinking coffee or nibbling on a doughnut. They could be exchanging pleasantries or tackling serious factors interfering with recovery.
Other Things to Expect
Because recovery support groups are all different, they provide a wide range of benefits. Other things to expect during these groups include:
- Support. What would an addiction support group be without support? Recovery can be a challenging process, but attending these groups can offer the needed support to continue the journey. Some members may offer their support with a friendly smile, by listening to the struggles of others or by presenting advice and suggestions. Support is a critical component of peer groups.
- Mixed emotions. In an ideal world, heading to a support group would be a purely positive and helpful experience, but addiction and recovery are not always so idyllic. Support groups make people think about addiction and reflect on their past. As much as a person can feel inspired, optimistic and encouraged, support groups may also bring about feelings of shame, guilt and self-doubt.
- Participation. The fear of having to speak in front of strangers may keep people from attending a support group. Fortunately, no one is forced to speak or participate in support groups. Listening is a good way to build comfort in the process and benefit from the group. As comfort grows, verbal participation can begin.
Support groups are a great way to begin recovery, but they tend to be more helpful when combined with professional addiction treatments. If you or someone you care about could benefit from professional treatment for addiction, contact The Recovery Village. A helpful representative can guide you toward the care you need.
Tracy, Kathlene; Wallace, Samantha P. “Benefits of Peer Support Groups in the T[…]eatment of Addiction.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, September 29, 2016. Accessed August 27, 2019.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “Peer Suppo
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