December 10, 2022

Addiction Support Groups for Drug and Alcohol Recovery

Many different treatment offerings can be beneficial during and after addiction treatment. Addiction support groups are one supportive service that may be offered during inpatient and outpatient rehab as well as after treatment.

In this article:

What Are Peer Support Groups?

Peer support groups are an opportunity to give and receive recovery support to group members who are in a similar situation as you.1 Unlike group therapy, which is facilitated by a licensed therapist, addiction support groups are run by peers in recovery. Addiction support groups also help individuals in recovery build a sober community of people who may understand what they’ve been through. Members empower and encourage each other at every stage of addiction recovery. Research shows that peer support groups have a positive impact on addiction recovery.1,2

Peer support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), are often integrated into a treatment plan for inpatient or outpatient rehab as well as included in an aftercare plan. An aftercare plan is a plan that you would make with a treatment provider towards the end of your treatment. For example, if you are in rehab, you and your therapist might come up with a list of supportive services that would help you continue to make progress in your recovery after you graduate from the program.

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What Are Common Addiction Support Groups?

Al-Anon

Al-Anon meetings are family support groups. Al-Anon meetings may be a good fit for you if you have a loved one who is struggling with alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, about 35% of people who go to Al-Anon meetings have loved ones who misuse drugs as well.3 Family support groups like Al-Anon can help group members deal with the emotions that come from having a loved one who struggles with misusing alcohol or other substances. Alateen meetings are Al-Anon meetings for teens who have loved ones who struggle with alcohol misuse.3

Narcotics Anonymous

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is a 12-step group that supports people who misuse substances. You can attend NA regardless of which substances you use, including alcohol.4 NA is a free group that is meant to help people become sober and live a drug-free lifestyle.5 If you participate in NA, the group aims to help you go through the 12 steps of recovery.

Alcoholics Anonymous

Like Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a 12-step group that supports people who are struggling with misusing alcohol or alcohol use disorder (AUD). AA aims to help you become sober and live an alcohol-free lifestyle.5 AA meetings can help you work through the 12 steps.

It’s also possible to get an individual sponsor you can turn to for support during your recovery process. For example, a 12-step sponsor can guide you through the 12 steps and provide accountability and support.

Are There Alternatives to 12-Step Meetings?

Peer support groups have been used in addiction treatment for a long time. Many transitional housing or sober living homes use peer support groups that are based on the 12-step model of addiction recovery.1 However, there are alternatives to 12-step meetings if this model doesn’t work for you.

SMART Recovery

Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is an approach that aims to help people recover from addiction. SMART groups allow group members to work with peer leaders who have also used the SMART technique to recover. They also allow each member to develop a unique plan to help them reach their recovery goals. SMART groups help people create a life of positive self-regard and motivation for change.6

Compared to traditional 12-step meetings, there are a few differences between SMART Recovery and the 12 steps. A few key differences include using secular language and group meetings that are structured and led by a trained facilitator.5 These are still considered peer support groups because group facilitators aren’t required to have a mental health license or degree. Rather, SMART facilitators complete a two-day training.5

LifeRing

LifeRing groups are secular group meetings. Similar to 12-step meetings, they are unstructured group meetings led by a peer. LifeRing groups also seek to help group members become sober from substances.5 LifeRing groups have their own principles that they focus on, including sobriety, secularity, and self-help.7

Unlike 12-step meetings, LifeRing believes there are multiple ways to achieve sobriety and recovery. There aren’t any steps to go through or sponsors to rely on. Instead, each group member is encouraged to design their own recovery path with the support of group members.

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How are Addiction Support Groups Used During Treatment?

Rehab programs may include peer support groups in their treatment approach, combining regular 12-step meetings or SMART Recovery meetings with individual, group, and family therapy, as well as drug education classes. Research shows offering support group meetings has a positive impact on the treatment process.1

There are a few ways that rehabs can include peer support groups in their programs. For example, a treatment program may allow participants to attend 12-step meetings off-site. This would allow group members to find a sponsor they can continue to work with after completing rehab.

Other treatment programs may host peer support groups in-house. An example of this could be peer-led family support groups that family members can attend while their loved one is in treatment.

Can Peer Support Groups Be Part of an Aftercare Plan?

Aftercare refers to the care you continue to receive and participate in after completing a treatment program. If you complete a rehab program, your treatment team might help you create an aftercare plan. An aftercare plan is meant to help you maintain and build upon your progress in rehab.

Peer support groups may be included in your aftercare plan. For example, you and your therapist may decide that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is really helpful for you. In this case, finding an AA meeting you can attend after rehab could help you prevent relapse after treatment.

It’s also common for aftercare plans to include referrals to a transitional living program, such as a sober living house. Some transitional housing programs require residents to attend peer support groups. Some sober living homes may also host 12-step meetings and require residents to attend them.

What Are the Benefits of Addiction Support Groups?

Research shows there are many benefits of peer support groups. Some immediate benefits may include:1,2,5

  • Decreased isolation
  • Decreased risk of developing certain diseases, such as HIV or hepatitis C
  • Increased opportunity to build positive relationships
  • Opportunity to get feedback about their experiences
  • Providing support for others
  • Learning from other members’ experiences
  • Accountability
  • Self-empowerment

Research shows that the long-term benefits of peer support groups include:2

  • Increased self-esteem and confidence
  • Increased motivation to attend and engage in treatment
  • Increased sense of hope and inspiration
  • Greater empathy and acceptance
  • Reduced hospital rates
  • Decreased substance use
  • Improved mental health

To find an addiction treatment program that integrates addiction support groups into their treatment plans, give us a call at 800-661-1690 (Who Answers?). One of our knowledgable treatment support specialists is available 24/7 to assist you. Your recovery starts here.

Resources

  1. Tracy, K. & Wallace, S.P. (2016). Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 7, 143-154.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. (2017). Value of Peers, 2017
  3. Al-Anon Family Groups. (n.d). Frequently Asked Questions
  4. Narcotics Anonymous World Services. (n.d.). Information about NA.
  5. National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center. (n.d). Peer-Led Support Groups: Overview of the Empirical Research and Implications for Individuals Who Have Experienced Trafficking and Substance Use Disorder
  6. SMART Recovery. (n.d). About SMART Recovery.
  7. LifeRing Secular Recovery. (n.d). About LifeRing.
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