Guide to Support Groups

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Substance abuse is difficult not only for the person who is addicted to drugs and alcohol but also to others that love them. Finding the right treatment is critical to walking a path of sober living and healing wounds that may have been caused by the addiction. One treatment that is essential to recovery is support groups that provide an outlet for someone to share what may have led them to addiction, discuss staying clean and sober with others who also suffer from addiction as well as to gain coping mechanisms for life issues that could cause them to relapse.

What Are Support Groups?

During addiction treatment, many treatment programs include group sessions as part of the recovery process. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) that human beings naturally congregate in groups. The NIH describes a support group as the “giving and receiving nonprofessional, nonclinical assistance from individuals with similar conditions or circumstances” in an effort to achieve long-term recovery. The groups may include others with the same addiction, mental health, or dual diagnosis.

Who Runs Addiction Support Groups?

The premise of most groups used in substance abuse treatment is that members help each other stay sober. Therefore, the groups are often led by those who are recovering addicts themselves. In most cases, there is one leader who begins the therapy session, encouraging others to share their own experiences since the previous session. Although the leader acts as a mediator, the groups are often conducted by the members themselves as they help each other navigate through sober living.

Who Attends These Groups?

Therapy groups may be held in a wide variety of settings. They may be held at an inpatient residential treatment center with attendance at group meetings required of all residents. As an inpatient, someone who is suffering from substance abuse will receive individual therapy, but group therapy has been proven very effective in building a solid recovery foundation. In these settings, attendees may be in a particular group because they have similar reasons for falling into addiction, such as PTSD, trauma or abuse. They may be members of the same profession, such as first responders. Members may be addicted to the same type of substance. The groups are normally created to assist those with similar addiction issues in order to make each member of the group relatable to other members.

How Do Therapy Groups Assist in Recovery?

Studies have shown that individuals who attend a support group are better able to sustain abstinence, are more likely to find employment, improve relationships with loved ones, are less likely to engage in criminal activity and have more stability within their family. Because members of the group support each other, if someone stops attending, intervention could prevent relapse or avert an impending crisis. The groups are also run by those who are dealing with addiction as well which means they may not be licensed therapists but acting as a moderator. Judgment is not permitted at the sessions so those in attendance feel safe. Many who have attended this type of therapy say that they learned more by simply listening to others.

How Effective Are They?

In one study conducted by the NIH, 86 percent of participants in group therapy indicated no use of alcohol or drugs in the previous 30 days after a 6-month follow-up and 95 percent reported a strong willingness to recommend the program. Another study found that relapse dropped by 24 percent while homelessness before attending support sessions was 85 percent. The number who were homeless after attending the sessions dropped to 33 percent.

How Is the Meeting Conducted?

Many therapy sessions are conducted using the 12-Step model. This model was developed in 1935 with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. Members of the groups share their experience with anyone who is looking for help in conquering addiction with groups available around the world. The programs use a Twelve Step process to address addiction, and it is possible to find a program to deal with alcohol abuse, narcotics abuse, gambling and food addictions. The Twelve Steps include:

  • 1. Admitting someone is powerless over addiction or alcohol
  • 2. Belief in a Power greater than themselves
  • 3. The decision to turn their will over to the care of their God
  • 4. Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves
  • 5. Admission to God, themselves and others the exact nature of their wrongs
  • 6. Ready to have God remove all defects of character
  • 7. Humbly ask God to remove their shortcomings
  • 8. Make a list of all persons they have harmed and be willing to make amends
  • 9. Make direct amends to those they have harmed except for when it would cause harm to them or others
  • 10. Continue to take personal inventory and admit when wrong
  • 11. Seek conscious contact with God through prayer and meditation
  • 12. Carry this message to others and practice these principles in all affairs

Although the Twelve Steps often refer to God, the process uses the term to mean anything someone views as a “Higher Power,” including nature, fate, the universe, etc. It simply refers to one’s personal belief in something greater than themselves. In addition, there are also group programs available that do not use the “higher power” philosophy that are just as effective.

In all cases, the sessions allow anyone who is dealing with a substance abuse issue to share their experiences in an effort to help others. Each member of the group is at a different level in the recovery process. Some may have been sober for decades while others may just be starting out on a sober living path. This allows for members to share experiences that can provide tips for remaining clean and sober, coping mechanisms for those times when it can be difficult, and an understanding that what they have done in the past can be remedied.

What Rules and Expectations Are There?

The most important rule in any group session is respect, and there is also an understanding of anonymity when in programs. For example, last names are rarely used when sharing in the group setting in order to protect the identity of someone who may be sharing something that was very painful or difficult. Anyone who is participating in the group is expected to talk openly and honestly, but advice to others is often discouraged. Interruptions and side conversations are also discouraged as the main benefit of the group session is listening.

Is a Support Group Enough?

For some who are entering addiction treatment, a support group may be enough to help them overcome addiction. However, many of those who suffer from substance abuse need additional help, including luxury rehab inpatient treatment which may include individual as well as group therapy. Some benefit from unique treatment including equine therapy or therapies designed specifically for their illness, profession or background. Other therapies that may help include:

  • 12-Step
  • 12-Step Alternatives
  • Co-Occurring Disorders
  • Epigenetics and Trauma
  • Experiential Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Medication Assisted Treatment
  • Physical Health & Fitness
  • Trauma & PTSD Therapy
  • Veteran and First Responder Therapy

If you or a loved one are dealing with addiction, contact Defining Wellness today to see how we can help. You can give us a call to learn more about our luxury rehab at 855-790-9303 or you can fill out the easy online form for more information.

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