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How Do Support Groups Help Substance Abusers?

Geraldine is a lifestyle and wellness writer. She writes about substance abuse, mental health, and how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Support groups often offer more support than the addict's families.

Support groups often offer more support than the addict's families.

Substance Abuse Support Groups

Drug addiction is a lonely disease. More often than not, substance abusers withdraw from their social circles and push away family members and loved ones as their addiction worsens. Support groups or self-help groups for substance abusers can offer that supportive space many don’t have.

More than just a supportive environment, there’s research that points out the many ways support groups help substance abusers, plus the role these meetings play in long-term sobriety.

What Are Drug and Alcohol Support Groups?

In essence, self-help groups are meetings that provide a supportive space for anyone struggling with substance abuse. Of course, these groups can be more specific, as they congregate a group of people who have faced similar experiences and challenges.

In support groups, people have the opportunity to share their stories, receive encouragement, hear about ways others have managed their journeys to recovery.

Most of you have probably heard of famous recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. But some people find support groups in community networks and churches in their communities. Each group offers a distinct sense of support and camaraderie that someone struggling with addiction might not get elsewhere.

It’s important to point out that self-help groups, like their name implies, are run and monitored by members. No professional therapists are guiding the sessions like they would in a group therapy setting, for example.

Benefits of Support Groups for Substance Abusers

Not everyone struggling with a substance addiction is ready for treatment. Self-help groups can be the first attempt at getting the help they need to recover. A support group is a great place to gather strength and find the encouragement they need to start their recovery.

When looking at the benefits of peer support groups in addiction treatment, one review of over ten studies found four associated benefits in 1) substance use, 2) treatment engagement, 3) HIV/Hepatitis C virus risk behaviors, and 4) secondary substance-related behaviors like cravings. Still, researchers point out more rigorous research is needed to understand the benefits.

Here are some of the positives support groups bring for substance abusers:

  • Access to a safe community that provides encouragement and accountability for people willing to stop using drugs or alcohol.
  • The opportunity to find a community sponsor to help participants maintain momentum and avoid relapsing.
  • Feedback from other group members can help new members see their substance abuse from a new perspective.
  • Sharing past experiences in an anonymous and supportive environment can help people work through trauma without feeling judged.
  • Support groups are available nearly in every city, and they now even have online sessions.
  • Addiction support groups are unique because they offer newcomers an opportunity to connect with sober individuals that they might not otherwise get to know.

Potential Setbacks to Discuss

Of course, to any possibility, one must look at both sides of the coin. When talking about self-help groups, the most significant setback mentioned by many is the issue of spirituality. The vast majority of 12-step programs focus heavily on a Higher power belief and trusting oneself to spirituality to get better. This leaves non-religious individuals somewhat lost and struggling to find a valuable connection to remain engaged in the group.

Generally, the “God part” of most 12-step groups can be pretty troublesome for non-believers. Non-religious people are still encouraged to follow the same steps, seek prayer, practice meditation, and develop a conscious relationship with God. The member, or addict, will create a sense of a relationship with a higher power through the steps.

While there are many different twelve-step programs out there, the two main ones address the biggest addictions—Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). One could consider these two programs the birth of the 12-step model. Nowadays, you can find particular groups, such as Cocaine Anonymous (CA), for cocaine addicts.

Beyond these traditional programs, new organizations have emerged, offering a different approach to addiction recovery support. These programs provide similar structures to traditional 12-step programs, but they have different beliefs and philosophies.

  • SMART Recovery: Self-Management and Recovery Training focuses on self-empowerment.
  • Secular Organizations: Also known as S.O.S., this organization has no ties to any outside organizations. The only requirement to continue to be part of these meetings is continued abstinence.
  • LifeRing: LifeRing believes each individual has the power to control their addiction within them. They refer to struggling addicts as two individuals, the “addict self” and the “sober self.” They ask individuals to find strength and self-control within themselves.
  • Moderation Management: MM is a program designed to target problem drinking early on and invites individuals who see alcohol becoming an issue in their lives to join. The program proposes to change risky drinking habits by promoting a healthy lifestyle and not necessarily through complete abstinence.

Things to Consider When Looking for One

Without a doubt, support groups are critical in someone’s path to recovery from substance abuse. However, they differ from formal treatment programs that use evidence-based therapies to treat addiction. Also, there are some considerations some people forget to mention, and most people don’t realize until they step into a meeting, such as:

  • Support group meetings are anonymous but not private. Anyone who’s reluctant to talk about their struggles in front of others or is scared they’ll find someone they know in the group may not feel comfortable.
  • Most 12-step programs have a spiritual or religious overtone. Their programs are deeply rooted in spirituality, and this faith-approach doesn’t always connect with everyone.
  • There are no therapists present or guiding support group meetings. These are 100-percent peer-driven meetings that may or may not have any therapeutic results.


  • Tracy, K., & Wallace, S. P. (2016). Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 7, 143–154.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Geraldine Orentas