24 Healing Options for any Illness

Support Groups

When struggling with an addiction, it is easy to feel alone, isolated from friends and family. Feelings such as these may be one of the reasons that the addiction developed in the first place, and can make recovery difficult. Because of this, various forms of group therapy can be very beneficial to those who are trying to overcome their addiction. Support groups encourage patients, who so often disconnect themselves from friends and family, to reach out to others and include them in the recovery process. They also offer a safe, judgement-free environment to talk through problems and receive advice.

There are two main forms of support group. The first is a group therapy session put together by a psychotherapist. These sessions typically have a specific treatment plan in mind from the start and are comprised of patients who are all at similar points in their recovery process.

The second type is the more common version, which is more casual and informal in nature and involves people in all stages of recovery who share their experience for the benefit of others. While they may be in different phases of treatment, those who participate in this type of group typically share a similar history, giving them all similar perspectives that allow them to better understand and communicate with one another. These similarities also help cement the support group as a safe, judgement-free zone where patients can receive advice, encouragement, and support, as well as being kept accountable for their actions. Patients who have been in treatment longer - or who have successfully completed treatment - can become role models for those who are new to the group, giving newcomers something to aspire towards and the veteran members of the group all the more reason to stay clean and continue to set a good example for the others. Attendance is voluntary. In addition to former and current patients, friends and family members may also become involved as part of a support group.

Support groups are an effective means of working through a variety of addictions, disorders, and other health issues, and can be used in conjunction with counseling, which is discussed in detail in the previous section. Counselors can often point you towards support programs in your area. If you or your loved one doesn't have a counselor, support groups can also be reached through treatment clinics and a variety of local groups such as churches, libraries, and community centers. Online resources are also available.

Once treatment as ended, support groups can continue to play an important role as a tool for relapse prevention. As mentioned above, newer support group members may look up to those who have completed treatment as role models, providing motivation to stay on track. Members of a support group also help hold one another accountable, and can be great sources of advice on how to cope with cravings and triggers since these are things that they have also had to deal with at one point or another, and they are well aware of how dangerous a relapse can be. Finally, forming bonds with other members of a support group gives a patient a network of people that he or she can reach out to when they are feeling overwhelmed or are having a tough time staying clean.

Scientific Studies:

Over the years, many studies have demonstrated the usefulness of support groups in treating addictions. In 2002, a team of Canadian scientists worked with outpatient substance abusers and looked at the effects of high functional support versus low functional support. Specifically, they looked at the impact that support had on risk factors and how long patients remained in treatment, as well as testing the stress-buffering role of support on treatment outcomes. The researchers had patients complete questionnaires about social support, stress levels, and psychological functioning at the beginning of the study and during a six-month follow-up, as well as assessing how many times the patients had been admitted to outpatient treatment programs. They found that patients who had more social support from the beginning stayed in treatment longer and drank less alcohol than those with poorer support. However, there was no notable effect of support on drug use.

A 2007 article published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment investigated mutual-aid support groups for addiction via a national survey. The authors reported that "Survey data indicate that active involvement in support groups significantly improves one's chances of remaining clean and sober, regardless of the group in which one participates." It is worth noting that they also observed greater levels of participation in people whose support groups shared their beliefs and values.

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