If you are a recovering addict, let us first say congratulations. Addiction is one of the most difficult things that a person can overcome. If you have managed to beat your addiction and you’re now looking for ways to follow up on your treatment, then you may have looked into the different forms of self-help groups.
There are a lot of different self-help groups out there – Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Alateen, Cocaine Anonymous, Smart Recovery, Refuge Recovery… the list goes on. They all function a little bit differently, but in essence, they all share a similar purpose: providing an opportunity for recovering addicts to help each other overcome problems.
Why would I choose a self-help group?
Self-help groups can help recovering addicts in a way that one-on-one therapy cannot. Self-help groups are unique because they let you engage with other people going through similar problems. This takes away a lot of the stress and anxiety that can come with addiction, and opening up to other addicts is much less stressful than when you are sharing your problems with a therapist who may not have had experience with addiction themselves.
Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the longest-running self-help groups for people with addictions. Alcoholics Anonymous has proven to be so successful that some of the methods used in the program have become the industry standard, as well as encouraging the development and widespread popularity of the other self-help groups. A.A. first made an impact by proving that group therapy is an extremely effective practice.
Nowadays, most self-help groups allow their members to share stories, advice, and information regarding their addiction. Self-help groups provide their members with anecdotal advice based off firsthand experience which can be difficult to find at a traditional rehab. This also allows their members to pick and choose the advice that they think will work best for them.
How do I know if I need a self-help group?
Self-help groups are not necessarily for everybody. It’s generally suggested that people recovering from addictions, or people who are interested in overcoming their addictions attended the “anonymous” self-help groups. While those not suffering from addiction are not exclusively prohibited from attending these groups, the majority of attendees are struggling with at least some degree of addiction.
If you are trying to decide whether or not you need group therapy to help you with your own recovery, then there are a few things to consider.
How serious is your addiction?
Many people decide to attend group therapy before their addiction becomes too serious. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are a great place to go if you are worried that your substance use is at risk of becoming a problem. It helps to be able to talk to people who have experienced the darker side of addiction. In many cases, this is enough to scare people away from continuing down the path to dependency.
That doesn’t mean that Alcoholics Anonymous, or any of the other groups, are exclusively for people hoping to stop their addictions before they unfold. Most of the attendees at these groups have been addicted, or have been recovering from addiction, for many years.
Do you plan on attending rehab?
If you’re not sure whether or not you’re going to attend rehab, you might want to go to a support group first. Support groups can help you stomp out addictive behavior with methods like the 12-step program, and you may be able to knock out your addiction without needing to attend rehab.
However, if you are planning to sober up before attending a group therapy, it may be necessary to go to rehab – or at least detox – before going. It’s not practical to try to force yourself to attend a group session while you’re in the middle of intense withdrawals.
Withdrawals can also be a barrier preventing you from getting clean while you’re attending group sessions. If you think that you’re going to be at risk of going through withdrawal, it’s worth your time finish the process first. This is a better alternative than having to relapse everyday before making your way to the group therapy, just so you can eliminate to the withdrawals enough to be present.
If you already plan on attending rehab, then you might as well wait until you have completed the program before attending group therapy. You will learn new coping techniques during rehab that will help you engage with the others at group therapy. Also, chances are that your rehab facility will hook you up with some information for local group sessions. Many rehabs include mandatory group therapy as part of their curriculum.
Have you already attended rehab?
If you have already completed a rehab program but you haven’t taken part in group therapy, then you should attend one anytime you are doubting your recovery. If you were noticing the symptoms of an emotional relapse, or you are worried that you are falling into old habits or behavior patterns that might lead you to use again, you should try group therapy.
A rehab program can teach you many useful things about behavior and addiction. However, textbook knowledge is very different than personal experience, and can only go so far. You may learn more from listening to a room full of recovering addicts than you ever have in rehab.
The most popular support groups for addiction in general
if you’re considering going to a support group for your addiction, there are several groups that you might want to consider right away. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are two of the oldest support groups around. If you are not part of a specific demographic (a visible minority, LGBT, etc) then these groups will probably be able to offer you the support that you need.
- Alcoholics Anonymous is a non-discriminating, all ages, self-supporting group that has been around for nearly a century. Alcoholics Anonymous was the first group to pioneer the use of the 12-step program which has been adopted into almost all standard methods of rehabilitation. Since Alcoholics Anonymous has been around for so much longer than any other support groups, it is not uncommon for people to seek help here despite having addictions to other substances.
- Narcotics Anonymous operates in a similar fashion to Alcoholics Anonymous. The main difference between NA and AA is that Narcotics Anonymous allows for the open discussion of substance abuse regardless of the substance in question. While a drug addict can apply the knowledge that they gained from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to their addiction, NA gives them the freedom to be open and honest about their problems.
Non-religious addiction support groups
While Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous remain the two most popular groups for helping recovering addicts engage with and help each other, they both follow the 12-step program. The 12-step program has been subject to much scrutiny because of its religious nature.
Some people may suggest that you can lessen the religious context of the 12-step program by applying the steps in a ‘spiritual’ sense without using the word God. However, some support groups are very much ‘by the book’ and would not accept this as a viable effort. For that reason, several groups have sprung up that aim to provide group support in a non-religious context.
- Smart Recovery is a nonspecific group that supports people struggling with alcoholism as well as drug addiction. The dynamic of Smart Recovery allows for people from all sorts of different walks of life, with different types of problems, to come together and share advice and life experience.
- Smart Recovery is also noted for being one of the first widely popular support groups that didn’t require that members submit to the 12-step program. Smart Recovery compensates for agnostics and atheists without discriminating against them.
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is another nonprofit, self-supporting system that helps addicts help each other. SOS is the name that describes a network of associated groups that are not centralized in a specific locale. SOS is non-discriminating and will help people of all races and ages get support for addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, food, and more.
- The Secular Organizations for Sobriety gained some fame thanks to the documentary, “No God at the Bottom of a Glass.” This documentary is an award-winning film that tells the tale of the SOS and its creation as an effort to avoid discrimination against non-religious addicts hoping to find support for their problem.
- Refuge Recovery is emerging as one of the most popular non-Christian group supports for addictions. Refuge is a mindfulness-based community that focuses on providing addicts with a foundation and framework to develop healthy mental techniques to prevent relapse, following the “Buddhist Path to Recovering From Addiction.”
- This organization focuses on teaching the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. This means that Refuge puts some serious importance on empathy and knowledge, using them as key factors in beating addiction and preventing relapse. This group focuses on human connection and concern for other people, and meetings among members of this group are often quite positive.
- While the SOS is specifically a secular organization, Refuge does not discriminate against religious folk. Much like Buddhism itself, Christians and people of other religions are welcome to be a part of the program as long as they are considerate and accepting.
Support groups for particular addictions
While Narcotics Anonymous allows for the open discussion of abuse and addiction to any number of substances, and Alcoholics Anonymous can sometimes be beneficial for people struggling with drug addiction, these groups are non-specific. It can be very helpful to seek out a support group meant for people struggling with the same addiction as you.
Different drugs create different patterns of addiction. Likewise, each drug has a different period of withdrawal and requires different coping mechanisms to overcome. For this reason, it is useful to seek support among people who suffer from the same problem as you.
There are many different support groups available for all sorts of different addictions. These include:
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Crystal Meth Anonymous
- Marijuana Anonymous
- Dual Recovery Anonymous is dedicated to helping people cope with polysubstance abuse problems.
- Pills Anonymous is a group that helps people overcome addictions to pills, prescription or otherwise.
Support groups for women
Some women are more comfortable attending a group therapy session if all of the other attendees are women. This could be because of traumatic experiences with men or other difficulties. Regardless of the reason, there are some groups that are made specifically to help women overcome their addiction is together.
- Women for Sobriety, Inc is the largest and most popular addiction group for helping women. The group is being around for longer than 40 years, and helps women overcome addictions to both alcohol and drugs. Women for Sobriety does not use the 12-step program, but they use something similar in their New Life Program. The Thirteen Acceptance Statements, in a manner similar to the 12 Steps, promote emotional and spiritual growth among the members of the group.
- WFS has certified moderators that are qualified to lead group sessions throughout Canada and the United States. There is also a 24-hour online forum and several chat groups that are run by WFS.
- Many local chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous offer weekly or nightly sessions that include only women. These same groups are also likely to host evenings with only men.
Support groups for minorities
The problem of addiction among minorities in the United States and Canada is no secret. One Of the biggest barriers preventing minorities from seeking treatment is the availability of equal care. This can happen for a number of reasons.
The segregation of racial minorities in ghettos and urban areas often puts them too far from any addiction services to seek treatments, and the education that they receive during their upbringing often leaves them unprepared for defending themselves against addiction.
- Across Boundaries is a fantastic organization that works to provide mental health services to minorities, particularly in racialized areas. Among the services they provide are support groups for people struggling with addictions.Across Boundaries anti-racism and anti-oppression frameworks that allow for more than just the therapeutic treatment of mental illness and addiction. The therapy provided by this group aims to educate their patients about racism and discrimination.
- Across Boundaries provides services and group supports to people in all of the following languages: African: Shona, Amharic, Harare, Xhosa, Tsonga, Afrikaans, Swahili, Somali, Twi
Asia: Dari, Pashto, Farsi, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Mandarin
Many Caribbean and South American dialects are also offered.
Are there groups for the loved ones of addicts?
While you are legally able to attend many of the above group sessions without actually struggling with addiction yourself, this isn’t recommended – part of the appeal of these groups is the fact that everybody there is going through a similar problem.
Sometimes, a family member may accompany a loved one to their first Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meeting to make them more comfortable, but they won’t be able to contribute much. Since the families of addicts are not going to be suffering from the same emotional and psychological problems as the addicts themselves, they will require different therapy.
If you are looking for a group to help you cope with a loved one’s addiction, then don’t worry. Many support groups are available for the families and friends of addicted loved ones. These groups aim to help people overcome the difficulties that come with caring for someone with an addiction.
Groups for the spouses of addicts
Addiction can seriously wreak havoc in the lives of a happily married couple. It is unsustainable to maintain a healthy marriage when one of the partners is suffering from addiction because that partner’s relationship with drugs will eventually take precedence over their relationship with their partner. This can be very stressful and can cause a number of emotional or psychological issues.
If someone develops an addiction after getting married, it’s quite common for their partner to feel responsible. This can manifest as shame, anxiety, reclusiveness, and depression, and while these may be best treated with personal counseling, a support group can be immensely helpful.
- Al-Anon is a support group that extends its services to the husbands or wives of addicts. It utilizes the 12-step program in an effort to help the partners and families of alcoholics and drug addicts relieve themselves from feeling responsible for their partner’s actions.
Another common occurrence among married couples is that of a co-dependent addiction. Codependency can arise – and frequently does – among caring couples. If the partner of an addict attempts to cover up the addiction, or if they dedicate a lot of time and effort to making the addict comfortable (caring for them during withdrawal, enabling their use by providing money, etc) then they only reinforce the addictive behavior. Over time, this will develop into a codependent relationship.
- Codependents Anonymous is a support group for people who are in relationships with drug addicts or alcoholics. Codependents Anonymous teaches spouses how to dedicate more time and effort to addressing their own needs instead of catering to their partner’s addictions. They will also learn new coping mechanisms and alternative ways to respond to their partner’s addictive behavior.
Support groups for parents of addicts
A lot of the information and media that portrays addiction focuses on the addicts themselves. There is not nearly as much attention given to the parents of these addicts, despite the fact that they are fighting a battle just like their addicted child or children. Not only do parents have to struggle with the personal emotional stress of watching their child fall into addiction, but they are also liable to have to deal with legal repercussions, financial issues like hospital fees, and any violence that may be associated with their child’s addiction.
- The Al-Anon and Nar-Anon groups are two of the most popular group therapy programs for the parents of people with addictions. Many parents report that they feel much more comfortable and understood after being able to share their stories with other parents going through similar situations. This also gives them with an opportunity to learn how to stop enabling their children from furthering their addiction.
Support groups for the children of addicts
The children of somebody struggling with a drug addiction are in a very difficult situation. Most children who are raised in an environment with drug-addicted parents become victims of neglect, violence, or abuse. Many younger children are simply shipped off to foster homes while social services decide what to do with their parents.
Those that are not sent to foster homes often develop serious psychological trauma as a result of their parent’s addictions. It can be very helpful for children to have a support group to discuss the things that they experienced as a result of their derelict upbringing.
- Alateen is actually a part of the Al-Anon organization. Also known as the Teen Corner, the Alateen support group allows teenagers of alcoholics to share stories and advice with other people who are going through similar things. Children who were raised by parents addicted to drugs can also attend Alateen, though the organization was developed specifically for children raised to alcoholics.
- Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) Is a popular support group that helps adults who were raised to alcoholics address their problems. While it is important for children to get support during young age, while they are still in the care of their addicted parents, not everybody is able to get support at this time. That’s why groups like ACoA exist.
- This group recognizes the sense of abandonment that many children raised to alcoholics develop. A mutual understanding of these feelings and a judgment-free environment are two of the reasons that ACoA remains a popular support group today.
- Adults who attend to this group often find that they’re able to overcome – or at least begin to understand – problems that they have had for many years. Many adults grow up without even realizing that they have psychological issues that formed as a result of their traumatic upbringing. Hearing other adults discuss similar situations and similar feelings is often enough for someone to become aware of their own feelings.