Drugs Addiction support groups are a crucial component of many addiction recovery phases. The most well-known support groups are 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Still, several other support groups may be incorporated into an individual's aftercare plan to support them through addiction recovery. 12-step and similar recovery programs can extend the progress made during formal treatment efforts; the continued social support of peers who are also in recovery can be a powerful tool to promote long-term sobriety.
Participation in support groups involves heartfelt sharing between members about their experiences and what strategies work to live a contented, sober life.
One of the critical components to a sustainable and prolonged recovery from substance abuse or dependency is often the active participation in a support or self-help group after completing a drug or alcohol treatment program.
Peer support and creating a healthy network of individuals with similar circumstances may help maintain long-term sobriety. One of the most well-known support groups is Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, which is based on the 12-Step model, promoting spiritual growth while maintaining complete abstinence from substance abuse. AA is often used to refer to all 12-Step groups, including supporting drug abuse recoveries like Narcotics Anonymous or NA.
The General Service Office (GSO) of AA estimates that over 115,000 groups operate in approximately 170 countries with over two million current members worldwide. A study published in Addiction cites that those who attended and participated more frequently in AA or NA meetings after completing a residential drug treatment program were more likely to abstain from opiates and alcohol over five years than those who attended AA or NA less regularly or not at all.
AA and NA groups are designed to be available to everyone regardless of race, gender, orientation, or professional, social, or economic status. Meetings are open to all people from all walks of life. However, the critical components of AA and NA are spiritual, which may alienate those who do not accept giving themselves over to a higher power or God. AA promotes honesty and morality at its core, and for nonbelievers, the spiritual components, including prayers and acceptance of a higher power, maybe overwhelming and counterproductive. Fortunately, many nonreligious, or secular, AA-type groups exist. These recovery support groups include agnostics, atheists, humanists, freethinkers, and The New York Times reports that as many as 150 such groups are operating in the United States today.
How and Why Support Groups Work
When you participate in a support group, you may find out that it's the first time you feel a sense of connecting with other people who genuinely understand what you have been going through. In a supportive and non-judgmental environment, you are free to share your own experiences while learning what has worked for other people in similar circumstances.
Support groups reduce the sense of isolation in recovery patients, and it allows you to witness the progress and growth in the people around you. Other members of your support group may offer encouragement as you progress, and they might also point out things you are doing that may be setting you up for a relapse.
Different people respond to different types of support groups. Groups may be based on a self-help philosophy of peer support. If you find that a kind of support group doesn't work for you, keep looking until you find one that does.
Specifics and Benefits of a 12-Step Program
A 12-step group is a mutual-help group founded on the philosophy of the 12 steps, which outline a sequential program of recovery that participants work through. It's essential to note 12-step programs are non-professional, self-supporting fellowships. They are peer-led by others in recovery rather than by treatment professionals.
The 12 Steps begin with an admission of powerlessness over one's Addiction and a belief in a “Power greater than ourselves.” Other steps include taking a searching, fearless moral inventory, and making amends, if possible, for past wrongs.
The programs are free, widely available, and participation is confidential. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about a drinking or drug problem. Members are encouraged to frequently attend meetings and, eventually, connect with another member in recovery, known as a sponsor, who has been in the program for some time and is willing to mentor newcomers. Participation in 12-step programs has been associated with reduced substance abuse and overall better social outcomes.
Twelve-step programs are probably the most well-known support groups for recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. The principles of 12-step programs are so practical that they are used to recover from drug addiction and several other compulsive behaviors such as gambling or overeating.
The heart of 12-step programs is an admission of powerlessness. This is followed by turning to a power greater than yourself for help. While some people religiously interpret this, others consider the group to be a higher power.
Some 12-step groups that are focused on recovery from drug addiction include:
• Alcoholics Anonymous – the original 12-step program, which aims to offer a fellowship to support anyone who has the desire to stop drinking
• Narcotics Anonymous – a fellowship of people who are striving for complete abstinence from drugs
• Cocaine Anonymous – a fellowship for those who wish to stop using cocaine and all other mind-altering chemicals
• Crystal Meth Anonymous – a 12-step support group for recovery from crystal meth
• Dual-Recovery Anonymous – an organization for those who have chemical dependency issues along with psychiatric illness
Alternatives to 12-Step Programs
If you are looking for an alternative to 12-step programs, there are several to choose from; examples include:
• SMART Recovery. An abstinence-based program that provides tools to help individuals change defeating thoughts to Recover from Addiction
• Secular Organizations for Sobriety. Uses rational thought and encourages individuals to take responsibility for their recovery
• Women for Sobriety. It aims to empower women to change their thought processes as they grow emotionally and spiritually and recover from Addiction
These organizations offer an alternative way to approach your long-term recovery while still providing the fellowship and support of others in recovery from drug addiction.
Rates of Success among Support Group Attendees
As the benefits of peer support for long-term recovery become more apparent, researchers are examining exactly how influential these groups can be. An analysis published in 2016 reviewed ten studies from 1999 or later. There are several distinct types of peer support groups for abstinence in various locations, but many of them, according to the 2016 analysis, dramatically improve recovery. For example, the reviewed Recovery Association Project (RAP) found that, at a six-month post-rehabilitation follow-up point, 86 percent of those who attended support groups in some form had been abstinent from drugs and alcohol in the previous month, which is much higher than the general recovering population at that point in their process. These participants also reported a high rate of satisfaction with their support group. Other studies in the meta-analysis reported more general findings of tremendous success maintaining abstinence among support group attendees but no specific percentages.
A slightly older analysis found that veterans who worked to overcome substance abuse and who attended support groups as part of their recovery reported tremendous success abstaining from drugs and alcohol – not just at the six-month mark but also the first, second, and even third year after recovery. However, attending a support group regularly had much better results than sporadic attendance or dropping out after a few months; among veterans who left before one year, or who did not attend weekly or biweekly meetings, results for abstinence were the same as those who did not go to support groups at all.
An article that examined the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) reported that those who regularly attended support group meetings maintained abstinence for much longer than those who did not. A 16-year study following problem drinkers and AA attendance found that 67 percent of those who attended at least 27 weeks of AA meetings in the first year – or about one session every two weeks – maintained abstinence through the 16-year study. In contrast, 34 percent of problem drinkers who did not attend AA meetings held abstinence in these 16 years. Attending therapy sessions improved outcomes, too; 56 percent of problem drinkers who attended therapy maintained abstinence compared to 39 percent who did not. Combining the two likely supports more complete sobriety and recovery, as peer support and therapy address issues from multiple angles.
How to Find a Support Group
As technology improves, support groups evolve to reach more people. Phone support groups gained popularity in past decades. Still, online support groups and forums are taking off now and helping people in remote areas with uncommon conditions or who do not want to leave the house. People who otherwise might be isolated due to their or a loved one's illness can find common ground with peers worldwide.
Peer support in person can also be critical. A quick search online can offer immediate assistance for those curious about their options. Other ways to find support groups include:
• Ask a doctor, counselor, therapist, or social worker for help.
• Contact local community centers or religious organizations.
• Ask staff at a rehabilitation program.
• Talk to friends and family if they have gone through similar searches.
• Contact national organizations.
When searching for a support group, it is essential to find an organization that matches individual needs and preferences. This may include gender-exclusive groups, such as male-only or female-only meetings. Parents in recovery from Addiction may prefer their own, separate appointment. Adolescents may form a support group at school to help each other through recovery. Groups about specific substances, like alcohol, cocaine, or opioids, are also helpful since people recovering from these substances may be exposed to drugs in similar ways or experience identical withdrawal symptoms that need management.
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