December 4, 2022

3 of the Most Effective Support Groups for Drug Addiction

When you have a problem, it helps to talk to someone else who faces the same challenges. They understand what you are going through, relate to your thoughts and feelings, and can offer encouragement and support. If you have a drug addiction, you can benefit from this same type of support from your peers. Support groups for drug addiction consist of multiple people with similar issues gathering, offering empathy, sharing information, and discussing strategies to maintain sobriety.1

Support Group vs. Group Therapy

Support groups for drug addiction are not formal drug addiction treatment, and you should never substitute them for a treatment program or therapy. Participating in a group to help you meet specific therapeutic goals is called group therapy. Below are differentiating characteristics of drug addiction support groups and group therapy.2, 3

Support groups:

  • Also called self-help groups and mutual aid groups
  • Informal gathering of people with a common problem
  • Groups are voluntary
  • Groups are led by peers who may or may not go through a specific training program
  • Typically free and anonymous with no intake process or requirements
  • Not necessarily affiliated with an addiction treatment program

Group therapy:

  • Also called group psychotherapy and group counseling
  • Formal gathering of multiple people in a treatment program or in private therapy
  • Groups may be a requirement of an addiction treatment program
  • Groups are led by licensed mental health professionals

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Support Group Formats

The format of a drug addiction support group varies depending on the topic, facilitator, preferences of group members, and access to resources. The most common support group formats are curriculum-based, topic-focused, and open forums.4

Curriculum-Based Support Groups for Drug Addiction

If you have taken an online or in-person class to learn a new subject, some elements are always present, such as a teacher, a textbook with a guided outline, and a timeframe of when the class starts and stops.

Curriculum-based support groups for drug addiction are similar to subject-specific classes. One difference is that the teacher, or facilitator, does not have to hold a certain degree to run the group. They don’t even have to be in recovery or struggle with  addiction. They must, however, be able to keep the group on time and track with the curriculum.

The curriculum may come in a workbook or packet that each member receives and uses to complete readings and assignments. The curriculum typically includes information on:4

  • Addiction
  • Relapse prevention
  • Triggers
  • Communication
  • Emotional management
  • Building a support system

Topic-Focused Support Groups for Drug Addiction

Peers in recovery can lead topic-focused support groups for drug addiction, or the sessions can be led by a facilitator who may or may not have a history of drug misuse. To run a topic-focused group, they must be able to keep the group on track so that the meeting starts and ends on time and completes the group’s goal.

At each meeting, the group discusses a specific recovery-related topic. An introduction to the topic is usually given at the beginning of the meeting. Facilitators may hand out reading materials, play a video, or have a guest speaker on the topic. Additionally, questions for group members lead to deeper discussions on the topic and how it relates to each person’s recovery.

Open Forum Support Groups for Drug Addiction

Open forum support groups for drug addiction have an opening and closing structure, but the discussion is not guided, and each meeting may be completely different than the previous one. Attendance at each meeting may also vary since participants can drop in and out and consist of regular members and visitors. This support group does not have a specific plan, topic, or material to cover. The natural flow of conversation regarding recovery determines the direction of the subject matter.

Common Support Groups for Drug Addiction

Not everyone benefits from the same type of support group. Factors such as format, location, stage of recovery, and access to resources may influence a person. It is essential to attend a support group based on your preferences and goals. A discussion of 3 of the most common drug addiction support groups is below.

1. Twelve-Step Support Groups for Drug Addiction

The 12 Steps refer to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) principles and the guided steps that have helped millions maintain long-term recovery from substance misuse. Due to its success, many different groups adopt the 12-step facilitation model to meet their needs.5

Twelve-step facilitation support groups for drug addiction include:

  • Cocaine Anonymous (CA)

  • Chemically Dependent Anonymous (CDA)

  • Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA)

  • Heroin Anonymous (HA)

  • Marijuana Anonymous (MA)

  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)

  • Pills Anonymous (PA)

The 12 Steps are a regular part of most treatment programs in the United States. The National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services results indicates that 74% of treatment centers offer 12-step programs.6

Twelve-step groups at treatment centers may be facilitated by a member of facility staff. In the community, these groups are always peer led, usually by a senior member with long-time experience working the 12 Steps.

You may be required to attend a 12-step group as part of your aftercare services when you complete treatment, specifically as part of your contract in transitional housing.

Drug addiction support groups using the 12 Steps are either open or closed.7

  • Open groups mean anyone can attend, including friends and family members. Open groups are more educational, and no one shares their personal stories. Instead, a guest speaker may give a testimony, or a treatment professional may discuss recovery options in your area.
  • Closed groups are limited to persons who have specifically joined that group. Confidentiality is a priority, and peers support one another using literature provided by the organization.

Loved ones of a person with a substance use disorder may benefit from attending 12 step groups created specifically for them, like Al-Anon, Co-Anon, Nar-Anon, Co-dependents Anonymous, or Families Anonymous.5

2. SMART Recovery

Self Management and Recovery Training (SMART) Recovery is a non-12 Step program offering support for free in the form of online or in-person SMART Recovery meetings. Resources include literature, videos, and face-to-face interactions. SMART Recovery meetings are not condition-specific, meaning anyone with any addiction may attend, even behavioral addictions.8

The focus of SMART Recovery meetings is on empowering people to make positive changes in their life, such as maintaining abstinence. Evidence-based therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing, help sustain recovery.8

SMART Recovery has a four-point system for recovery, including:9

  1. Building and maintaining motivation

  2. Coping with urges

  3. Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors

  4. Living a balanced life

Your loved ones can access multiple SMART Recovery online resources to get the help they need, such as:10

  • Friends and family SMART Recovery meetings, online and in-person
  • Friends and family programs
  • Literature
  • Podcasts and blogs

3. LifeRing Secular Recovery

LifeRing is a group of people who support others who want to live a life free of alcohol and drugs. LifeRing meetings empower and motivate. Each person creates their recovery plan using the LifeRing workbook.11

Workbooks for empowering your sober self and eliminating your addicted self help members follow a 3-S Philosophy:

  1. Sobriety

  2. Secularity

  3. Self-Help

Resources for members include in-person and online LifeRing meetings, email groups, and online forums.

Loved ones of a person with drug addiction can attend LifeRing meetings if they are abstinent from alcohol and drugs. Multiple families can establish a LifeRing Partners support group.11

Other Recovery Supports

There is no one-size-fits-all recovery program. Some people may use the 12 Steps and remain abstinent for the rest of their lives. Some may need the 12 Steps combined with SMART Recovery and LifeRing support groups for drug addiction.

It is okay to seek recovery help from multiple sources. Below are recovery supports that can complement any recovery program:12

  • Recovery Coaching is a paid service that gives you one-on-one peer support for as long as you need it. Coaches are different than sponsors. Coaches motivate you daily, build your self-esteem, help you access local resources to improve your life, and model abstinence. Sponsors can only assist you in the 12-step process.
  • Case Managers are instrumental in helping you transition into a sober lifestyle. While you see them less often than a recovery coach, they help you access more formal resources. Examples include job training, employment, mental health services, drug addiction support groups like Narcotics Anonymous, SMART recovery meetings, housing assistance such as matching with transitional housing, etc. Case managers may or may not be in recovery themselves, and are not therapists.
  • Recovery Houses offer excellent support when transitioning from a treatment program back into your home environment. They give you time to practice what you have learned in treatment and continue receiving support from your peers. Depending on the recovery house, you may be required to attend drug addiction support groups as a condition of your stay. You may also be able to gain employment, work with a case manager, and do other activities to grow stronger in your sobriety.

Being required to attend drug addiction support groups is not a bad thing. You can gain something useful from every meeting. Make it a goal to learn something new at each meeting and share that with your peers.

  • Recovery Management Checkups are a type of monitoring that helps you remain accountable. They are most beneficial in helping someone who relapses get back into treatment quickly. Checkups can be done in person, but many people choose telephone or virtual sessions to make checkups more accessible.
  • Recovery Community Centers provide a safe, sober space for anyone in recovery to hang out, engage in fun activities, and get support from peers. They give you a place to go and something to do to replace addictive behaviors.

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Support Groups for Drug Addiction Improve Recovery Outcomes

Attending a support group meeting alone does not make recovery easier. It also doesn’t predict how your recovery journey will go. However, drug addiction support groups are much more than attendance.

Research indicates that certain factors related to support groups for drug addiction can improve their impact on your recovery, including:13

  • Beginning a support group while in a higher level of treatment
  • Attending frequently in early recovery
  • Participating and fulfilling roles at groups that allow peer involvement, such as Narcotics Anonymous meetings and SMART Recovery meetings
  • Giving back to the community or volunteer work
  • Giving and receiving peer feedback and encouragement
  • Following guidelines or steps

Finding Support Groups for Drug Addiction

Factors to consider when finding drug addiction support groups include logistics such as location, time and day, and transportation. Also, your preference of using 12 Steps or another program’s principles, if the Narcotics Anonymous meetings are open or closed, resources, and individual requirements.

Call 800-661-1690 (Who Answers?) to speak to addiction treatment specialists about drug treatment options. We are here 24/7, so you don’t have to wait to call.

Resources

  1. Tracy, K., & Wallace, S. P. (2016). Benefits of Peer Support Groups In the Treatment of Addiction. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation7, 143-154.
  2. US Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). Chapter 5, Recovery: The Many Paths to Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). Office of the Surgeon General (US). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. Washington (DC).
  3. Malhotra A, Baker J. (2021). Group Therapy. StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.
  4. Mental Health America’s Center for Peer Support. (2016). Support Group Facilitation Guide.
  5. 12Step.org. (2022). 12 Step Versions in Different Fellowships.
  6. Department of Health and Human Services. (2014). National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS): Data on Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities. BHSIS Series S-73, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4890. Rockville, MD. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  7. Alcoholics Anonymous. (2022). What to Expect at an AA Meeting.
  8. Beck, A. K., Baker, A., Kelly, P. J., Deane, F. P., Shakeshaft, A., Hunt, D., Forbes, E., & Kelly, J. F. (2016). Protocol for a Systematic Review of Evaluation Research for Adults Who Have Participated in the ‘SMART Recovery’ Mutual Support ProgrammeBMJ Open6(5), e009934.
  9. SMART Recovery. (2022). SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program.
  10. SMART Recovery. (2022). SMART Recovery Family and Friends. Help for You and Your Loved Ones.
  11. LifeRing. (2022). What is LifeRing?
  12. US Department of Health and Human Services (2016). Chapter 5, Recovery: The Many Paths to Wellness. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); Office of the Surgeon General (US). Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health [Internet]. Washington (DC).
  13. Donovan, D. M., Ingalsbe, M. H., Benbow, J., & Daley, D. C. (2013). 12-Step Interventions and Mutual Support Programs for Substance Use Disorders: An OverviewSocial Work in Public Health28(3-4), 313-332.
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