After completing treatment for drug or alcohol addiction — whether or not it’s upon discharge from a residential treatment facility or while attending counseling or an outpatient program — most people are encouraged to join a support group to help maintain recovery. If your son or daughter finds themselves in this position, regular attendance at support group meetings can provide structure to create a new daily routine, and it can offer interaction with like-minded people and a chance to feel connected rather than isolated. Support groups can be a safe space away from certain triggers and offer the opportunity to learn new, healthier coping skills from others.
There are a variety of support groups to choose from, but just as with substance use treatment, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It may be helpful to encourage your son or daughter to try out different groups in order to find the best fit. And keep in mind that since groups are peer-led, each one can feel a bit different even if they are affiliated with the same overall program.
12-Step support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are widely available not only in the U.S., but also around the world. The program is based on the famous ‘12 Steps’ with the objective of accepting that one is powerless over the substance (or behaviors in the case of gambling, overeating, sex, etc.) and that finding a ‘higher power’ (or a God of your understanding) is key to recovery. Recovery is defined by abstinence and most people in 12-Step groups count the number of days since they last engaged in substance use; often using one of the many phone apps available.
In early recovery, a person may be told to go to “90 meetings in 90 days” or you’ll hear someone say “I’m doing a 90 in 90”. Attending meetings daily for at least three months helps to establish a new routine and builds a foundation for living without using substances with regular social support.
There are different types of meetings, including “open” meetings that anyone (including family members) can attend, “closed” meetings which are only for the person with the substance use problem, “Big Book” or “Step” meetings focusing on the readings and principles of the program, as well as gender-specific meetings and meetings for the LGBTQ community. Locating nearby meetings can be done online searching by zip code, which is also a great way to find meetings to attend when your child is out of town for work or vacation.
During meetings, a basket is typically passed for a nominal contribution (i.e. $1-$2) to help support the meeting. This is optional. The leader will also provide information on literature for sale that can be purchased after the meeting at little cost, or obtained for free in some cases.
It’s recommended that newcomers get a ‘sponsor,’ on a temporary and/or on-going basis if the relationship is a good fit for him or her. A sponsor is another member of the group who is knowledgeable about the 12-Step program and willing to work with a newcomer as a trusted confidant and guide the newcomer through the 12 Steps of recovery.
Although not considered a religious program, many meetings include the Christian Lord’s Prayer or the Serenity Prayer. Attendees will typically leave the meeting with a meeting schedule and and the phone numbers of others to call for support.
For the growing number of people in recovery from opioid addiction with the help of doctor-supervised Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT), it’s worth considering the group’s position on it. Although anyone with a substance use problem who desires recovery is allowed to attend a meeting, some 12-Step groups, such as NA, do not support the use of these medications despite their widespread endorsement by the medical community.
Self-management and recovery training (SMART Recovery)
A program largely rooted in spirituality isn’t for everyone, and the number of secular options is growing. The SMART Recovery approach focuses on changing thought patterns to address triggers and encourages aligning behaviors with personal values. It emphasizes self-empowerment and self-reliance while providing education and support. Peer-led support is encouraged and it’s okay to “cross talk” to address a peer member’s comments during a meeting. They also pass a hat for a nominal contribution.
Unlike 12-Step programs, there are no sponsors, discussion of a higher power or being powerless, or prayers. For those undergoing Medication-Assisted Treatment, SMART Recovery supports the legal use of prescription psychiatric and addiction medications, including Suboxone and Methadone.
While SMART Recovery has been around for over 20 years, its meetings aren’t as plentiful as 12-Step, so in-person meetings can be more difficult to find. There are online groups, however, so be sure to explore this option if it makes sense for your child.
For the parent and caregiver, check out SMART Recovery’s Family & Friends meetings.
Moderation management (MM)
MM is a support group specific to alcohol and intended for those who are already of the legal drinking age. It’s an option for individuals who aren’t sure they want to give up alcohol completely, but would like to learn how to cut back on consumption. MM provides education about alcohol, goal-setting related to drinking and self-management strategies.
It’s important to be aware that the MM recommends 30 days of abstinence before starting the moderation part of the program. Some people find this program is just right for them, while others find they ultimately do better choosing abstinence. The point is to go in with an open mind and willingness to adjust goals if necessary for the outcome desired.
As a family member, you may want your loved one to set an abstinence goal from the outset. But research shows that many people who have the ability to choose moderation eventually decide to choose abstinence in greater numbers than people who are forced into abstinence from the beginning. It’s important to focus on making pro-healthy choices at the start, rather than an “all or nothing” approach.
Additional addiction support group options
Again, as with treatment, individual needs vary, so it’s good to be aware that there are many options when it comes to group supports. For those with co-occurring mental health issues, Dual Recovery Anonymous was formed specifically to address both and covers alcohol as well as other substances.
One can also find meetings designed for specific populations such as male, female, LGBTQ, young persons or professionals so as to make the experience as comfortable as possible. It may take some trial and error, but there is likely an option out there to suit one’s needs.
The above groups, along with others, all offer some form of online meetings, which is especially helpful for anyone who may not have access to transportation or for whom a local in-person meeting isn’t available.
It’s important to understand that these support programs are peer-led, and as such, they aren’t a substitute for individual counseling or group therapy. Recovery plans often include support groups in addition to regular counseling, group therapy and ongoing medical attention.
Recovery takes a village, and group support can be a great place to find people who’ve struggled too, and have found ways to stay in recovery.