Commentary: The Power of Support Groups

The Power of Support Groups

We know that despite the staggering number of families affected by addiction, many families and loved ones of children struggling with substance-related problems often feel completely alone. And parents of children with substance use disorders often do not have easy access to a network of support in their communities. Parent groups, if available, often function more like an underground railroad than a true community resource. Groups are rarely advertised to the public, making it nearly impossible for a parent or other family member in need to find this critical resource without insider information.

Many parents we’ve talked to have said that support groups, unlike any other place, provide an unspoken sense of relief, a newfound awareness that someone else can relate, that someone else understands – that there is hope.

“I have attended parent support group meetings since 2010. When my husband and I were in the darkest place of our lives, we didn’t even realize how much we needed to be with people who had a shared experience. Nearly five years later, we are still active in our support group, and the men and women we have met in those rooms are some of our closest friends today. I do not know where we would be without that group. Together, we have laughed, cried, and learned how to take care of ourselves – regardless of our sons’ or daughters’ recovery,” said Kim Rubenstein, parent.

“I have attended parent support meetings for the past four years and they have changed our lives. I no longer feel alone or ashamed about our son’s addiction. The groups offer so much wisdom, resources and hope. I have made many new friends that I feel comfortable calling no matter what the issue. I have learned that no matter how awful the crisis feels, someone in the group has gone through the same things,” said Lori Quintavalle, parent.

It’s been four months since The Treatment Research Institute and Hope for Addiction first introduced The Support Group Project, an online directory of support groups across the nation. The directory includes both groups that meet online and in-person. While we are hopeful that the support groups that have registered so far have been helpful for many families; the directory is simply not yet reflective of the plethora of groups that exist.

“Most parents of children who are addicted to drugs and alcohol suffer crisis after crisis in total isolation. In the eight years that we have been attending parent meetings, hundreds of parents have come through the doors, but we know there are thousands more who don’t know that support is out there. Over and over we hear the words: “Why didn’t we know about this years ago?”  Resources are available at meetings, free of charge, where parents can get firsthand information and referrals to service providers from other parents based on direct experiences,” said Pam and Bob Roberts, parents and support group leaders.

There are more than 3,000 counties across the United States, and while there may not be a support group in every county, it is our goal to represent as many as possible through the Support Group project directory.

Pam and Bill added, “in the past, finding your way to the meetings has been hit-or-miss. The meetings tend to support “anonymity” so finding out when and where they are held has been based on chance referrals by someone who knows someone. We are grateful to TRI for putting this directory and search engine together.  The website gives groups a place to inform others and will help connect parents and other family members with the support they need.”

Do you host a support group? Do you know of someone who does? Parents, siblings and caregivers of loved ones dealing with addiction are looking for support groups in their community. Help them find one.

The Support Group Project website provides groups the ability to detail their group by meeting location, how many people attend the group and additional supports the group may offer such as referrals and peer support. Registration on the site is free and only requires that groups maintain up-to-date program information.

To register a group or search the directory, visit The Support Group Project.

Elena Bresani, Research Coordinator
Treatment Research Institute, Parents Translational Research Center

The Support Group Project was created by the Treatment Research Institute (TRI), in collaboration with Hope for Addiction. The research and the publication of the website were supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health.