While it might be possible to succeed in recovery without the help of others, the path is much easier when it’s shared with encouraging peers. Support groups provide strength, hope, and mutual assistance throughout the recovery process. Whether they take the form of a facilitated group therapy session, a 12-step meeting, or a gathering of people with similar experiences, support groups are an essential part of substance abuse treatment. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment states that participation in support groups, or mutual self-help groups, can greatly increase the chances of an individual remaining in treatment and staying sober after rehab.
In outpatient and partial hospitalization programs, support group meetings represent a significant part of the treatment schedule. In fact, clients in these advanced programs may spend more time in peer groups, 12-step meetings, and relapse prevention sessions than in one-on-one therapy. Clients at this stage may have the option to choose from multiple group meetings each day as they learn to identify their own needs in recovery.
Types of Support Groups
In substance abuse treatment, there are several basic types of support groups. Each type has its own focus and purpose, and fulfills a different need for recovering members. Comprehensive treatment programs give their clients access to groups in several different formats in order to maximize the benefits of therapy:
- Mutual self-help groups:Mutual self-help groups consist of likeminded people who are dedicated to achieving and maintaining a substance-free life. These groups are generally moderated by a counselor or by a member of the group, and each meeting focuses on a topic of the members’ choice. The purposes of these groups include not only offering strength and hope, but also challenging self-destructive thoughts and behaviors.
- Cognitive skills groups:Cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, is a highly successful modality in substance abuse treatment. In cognitive skills groups, also known as behavioral modification or skills development groups, participants learn from each other how to change self-defeating thought patterns and cope with high-risk situations. These groups are usually facilitated by a therapist, counselor, or social worker who can moderate the discussion and keep it focused on behavioral and cognitive change.
- 12-step groups:Group support is one of the fundamental cornerstones of spiritually oriented 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cocaine Anonymous (CA). These groups consist of people who share a desire to stop drinking or using drugs. Participants must not necessarily be members of a 12-step group, or even supporters of the 12-step principles; however, individuals who attend a meeting are expected to respect 12-step protocol while in the session. Most 12-step groups have “open” meetings, which any member of the community can attend, as well as “closed” meetings, which are accessible only to active members of the group.
- Relapse prevention groups:Relapse prevention groups focus their attention on overcoming the challenges that might interfere with long-term abstinence. Topics of discussion might include identifying high-risk emotional states, coping with substance abuse triggers, dealing with a temporary setback, and minimizing the impact of a relapse. In the outpatient and aftercare phases of recovery, relapse prevention planning is strongly emphasized.
Studies have consistently shown that participation in support groups during treatment results in better outcomes for clients. According to the Textbook for Substance Abuse Treatment, individuals who participate in both support groups and a substance abuse treatment program have higher rates of abstinence and participate more actively in recovery after they have finished rehab. Research has shown that support groups complement substance abuse treatment so well that participation in these groups is required by most inpatient, outpatient, and partial hospitalization programs.
In addition to 12-step groups, there are other nationally organized mutual self-help groups with a more secular approach to recovery. Clients who are not attracted to the spiritual emphasis of 12-step meetings can explore groups like SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training), SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves), or WFS (Women for Recovery). Treatment facilities and community health centers also hold informal groups or classes that cover topics such as relapse prevention, life skills training, relationships, and financial management.
Finding a Comprehensive Treatment Program
Support groups are most effective when they are part of a comprehensive treatment program. The treatment center you choose should offer a fully integrated array of recovery resources, including access to one-on-one counseling sessions, family and marriage counseling, case management, relapse prevention, vocational counseling, and legal services. Look for a fully licensed facility that is staffed by a team of multidisciplinary professionals who have been trained in both substance abuse treatment and mental health services.
At Orlando Recovery Center, multiple support groups and 12-step meetings are part of our daily treatment schedule. We want our clients to maximize their time at our facility by gaining information, knowledge, and inspiration from their peers as well as from our multidisciplinary staff. With that goal in mind, we are equipped with meetings rooms and clubhouses where our clients can gather throughout the day. For additional information about our full continuum of care, contact our intake counselors today.
Medical Disclaimer: The Orlando Recovery Center aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.