Addiction and substance abuse have been serious problems for human beings for thousands of years. Addiction is described clinically as a disease of choice. This means that the addiction sufferer has an impaired ability to make healthy choices. Anyone who has experienced addiction can tell you that addiction is when a person wants to stop engaging in problem behavior, but they cannot because the compulsion is too strong.
Addiction is possible due to a vulnerability of the chemical reward system that is built into our brains. Typically, when we do something good for us, we get a hit of dopamine which feels good. With addiction, we engage in harmful behavior that artificially or excessively triggers a dopaminergic response. The result is we become compelled to do things that can cause us harm.
Therefore, because the addicted person is unable to make healthy choices, it is imperative that she or he get professional help and support. Every addiction sufferer will reach a point when they know that they are damaging their health and risking their lives. The experienced addiction sufferer also knows that such moments of clarity are passing and that they must seek help before the addictive impulse is triggered again.
There are a number of things that are powerfully associated with a lasting recovery. They include a religious or spiritual awakening and replacing the drug of choice with healthier choices which trigger a natural dopamine response. They also include incorporating a robust group support system into the recovery plan.
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Understanding Support Groups
Addiction treatment support groups are gatherings of people with similar experiences and relevant expertise. They can be curated to support persons with specific life experiences such as addiction sufferers who are part of a minority group. Others include support groups for military veterans, widows, LGBT persons, persons with general or specific types of mental health challenges, and more.
Most support groups are usually tailored to accommodate certain types of substance abuse issues. For example, there are support groups for persons suffering from alcoholism, groups for persons struggling with a narcotics addiction, and more. Groups like these come in many forms including 12-step programs, family-focused groups, and secular or spiritual-based groups, just to name a few.
The role of these groups is to provide meaningful support to those seeking to achieve a lasting recovery. The support of family and friends is key. However, the support of a group of people who understand the peculiarities of a given form of addiction is also indispensable. Such support is invaluable since the addiction sufferer benefits from the support of their peers, with similar life experiences. This gives the recovering person a feeling of genuine support without the sense of being talked down to.
Benefits of Joining a Support Group
Addiction recovery support groups are among the most proven, reliable, and evidence-based forms of addiction treatment. The evidence backing this claim is enormous. Support groups are an excellent way to give the recovering addiction sufferer a chance to get rewarding social interaction in a therapeutic setting. It provides a key way to achieve a positive, healthful dopaminergic response in the absence of drugs.
But that is just the beginning of the benefits of group support. Others include but are not limited to:
- Emotional support from understanding peers
- A safe environment to share experiences without judgment
- The chance to learn coping mechanisms/strategies from persons with similar experiences
- Mitigation of feelings of isolation and loneliness
- Valuable opportunities for mentorship and guidance
Through long professional experience in addiction recovery, the people at Illinois Recovery Center have seen first-hand the value of social support from people with similar experiences. In such an environment, the recovering addiction sufferer can learn real-life strategies that will work for them from others who can impart such strategies from personal experience. Just talking with like-minded people on a similar life path can be a powerfully rewarding experience for anyone. For the recovering addiction sufferer, it could be the one thing that makes lasting recovery possible.
Popular Substance Abuse Support Groups
As mentioned above, there are many types of support groups for addiction sufferers to seek the support of their peers. The most well-known and popular of these include:
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
AA is a specialized support group for alcoholics. It is famous for its “12-step” principles which are as follows;
The 12 steps are not a one-and-done proposition. Rather, they are meant to direct the thoughts of the recovering addiction sufferer at any critical point in the recovery process. The recovering person is reminded, with the support of their peers, to be mindful of each step and to direct her or his thoughts accordingly at any point when the temptation to engage in addictive behavior emerges or threatens to emerge.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
NA is similar to AA except that it is specialized for persons struggling with a narcotics addiction. The steps are more involved and detailed, but they follow the same spirit of the 12 steps in AA. Both groups encourage a belief in a higher power, but NA is more explicit in this regard.
The Smart Recovery program is a secular group designed to appeal to those for whom spiritual or religious thinking is not acceptable. It emphasizes the use of scientifically based thinking and evidence-based treatment.
Al-Anon and Nar-Anon
These are family-based support groups that have much in common with NA and AA. The one important exception is that members are encouraged to bring family and loved ones to meetings. When recommended, these groups can feel safer for attendees, especially when the addiction sufferer is very young.
Other specialized groups
Of course, this list is far from exhaustive. There may be as many as 80 established 12-step programs available, depending on where you live. There are also:
- Adult Children of Alcoholics
- Co-Dependents Anonymous
- Families Anonymous
How to Find the Right Support Group
The path to recovery is different for every person living with addiction. The key to finding the right support group is to look for one that suits the individual’s personality, life path, needs, and recovery goals. Knowing that trial and error may be a necessary part of the process will help.
Finding the best group starts with an assessment of the recovering person’s needs and preferences. Seeking the recommendations of a professional addiction recovery counselor or other recovery expert is usually the best place to start.
One can always look to online databases, and directories, and a simple Google search can go a long way. Local community centers are also a wonderful resource and include churches, hospitals, and community centers.
It’s best to keep in mind that the first support group you attend may not be a perfect fit. If you attend a group and dislike the experience, it’s important to be willing to try others. Do not assume that one group is representative of all recovery support groups and that one that suits your personality and needs is almost certainly out there waiting to be found.
Tips for Making the Most Out of Support Groups
To find the best group for you, it may be necessary to shop around. Still, it is recommended that you stick it out to the best of your ability with each group you try. Know that any experience like this will be uncomfortable at first. Commit to regular attendance. Actively participate in discussions and respect others and their confidentiality.
Seek out a mentor to help you, especially in the early stages of recovery, and to help you fit into the group more easily. Finally, any good support group will have access to valuable resources such as online forums, literature, workshops, special meetups, and more.
At the end of the day, making your relationship with any support group work will require effort on your part and the part of the group as a whole. Do your best to make the groups you try to work for you, but be ready to find a more suitable group when necessary.
Online and Digital Support Options
There are also online addiction recovery support groups available. Many of these may be free or low-cost. What’s more, should another COVID-like event occur, you cannot be barred from attending online meetings.
The most important part of any successful recovery process is meaningful, sincere support from people who care about you and understand what you have been going through. Support groups are a proven way many people achieve such support. It will take effort on your part, as any relationship takes work. But with focus, effort, and sincerity, an addiction support group is among the most successful recovery treatment methods available.
Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction
What Are the 12 Steps of Narcotics Anonymous (NA)?
What are Support Groups for Addiction?
How to Find a Support Group Near You or Build One to Help You on the Road to Recovery