Self-Help Support Groups

Like most any other problem in life, it can help a lot to talk to people who know exactly what you’re dealing with because they’ve been there, too. You’ll find that there’s a wide variety of self-help groups for people grappling with addiction as well as for their families and friends; most are free (some have an optional pass-the-basket donation) and meet regularly. You may find that many other people at these meetings are facing the same or similar challenges as you and that you can benefit greatly from the mutual support and lack of judgment offered in these communities.

On the other hand, you may also say to yourself, “I’m not that bad off,” or “I’m not as hooked as some people,” and reason that a support group is only for people dealing with “serious” problems — and that you don’t fit that description. In fact, whether your problem is mild, moderate or severe, you can learn from others in a self-help support group (and also help others). Joining a support group can help you to:

  • Avoid feeling isolated and alone in your struggle
  • Regain control of your life
  • Learn from others who’ve experienced the same or a similar struggle
  • Surround yourself with people who don’t judge you
  • Talk openly about your experiences and feelings
  • Relieve stress, anxiety and depression
  • Gain a new perspective on your problems and your addiction
  • Better understand addiction as a disease in which relapses happen and find ways to sidestep triggers
  • Get referrals for treatment centers, therapists and doctors and others who can be helpful to your recovery

Many support groups are associated with a larger national or international organization such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), AL-ANON, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), among many others. You may prefer to join an online support group or supplement the support you get at in-person meetings with online meetings.

12-Step Programs

Since 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) — a community-based, mutual-support program – has been helping alcoholics get and stay sober. AA’s 12-step model has been adapted and applied to other types of addiction treatment. As mentioned above, there are 12-step-inspired programs for every kind of addiction, from Crystal Meth Anonymous and Internet & Tech Addictions Anonymous to Food Addicts Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous. The bottom line is that if you’re struggling with an addiction, you’ll soon find that so are a lot of other people, and chances are good there’s a 12-step program that can help.

The 12-step approach is also often woven into treatment plans at rehab centers, residential programs and in hospitals and sober living homes. And meetings are held in cities and towns across the country – and around the world. Just how effective AA and spin-off groups are in treating alcoholism and other addictions, though, is not so clear. “Due to the anonymous nature of mutual-support groups, it is difficult for researchers to determine their success rates compared with those led by health professionals,” states the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. But for those who attend meetings, the principles are ones that have been relied upon time and again. The basic 12-step philosophy is founded on a dozen consecutive processes (each step builds on the one(s) before it):

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Copyright 1952, 1953, 1981 by Alcoholics Anonymous Publishing
(now known as Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.)

Alternatives to 12-Step Programs

If you’re someone who does not want to use a 12-step program to overcome your addiction, more and more there are other options, including SMART Recovery® (SMART is an acronym for “Self-Management and Recovery Training”) which taps into a community of support to help you manage your own recovery, building self-reliance through education and supportive meetings.

SMART Recovery’s four-point plan focuses on being motivated, overcoming urges, managing feelings and living a balanced life. Created by physician Joseph Gerstein in 1992, it offers face-to-face and online meetings, as well as chat rooms and message boards to connect addicts with one another. The organization says it helps people recover from all types of addiction and addictive behaviors, including drug addiction and substance abuse, alcohol abuse, gambling addiction, prescription drug abuse, sexual addiction and problem use of other substances and activities.

Another alternative still is to decide that you want your doctor or other healthcare professionals (which could include, for example, a nurse practitioner, therapist or social worker) to help manage your treatment and offer motivation. In this case, your provider(s) might use the BRENDA approach — in which you’ll work together as a team or group, focusing on the goals and priorities you have for yourself. Your healthcare provider(s) using this model will usually prescribe FDA-approved medications to help you control cravings and do assessments to determine what your needs are. You’ll work collaboratively with your provider(s), so it’ll be up to you if you want to go to anonymous meetings or try SMART Recovery®, for example, as part of your treatment.

BRENDA is an acronym that stands for a method of counseling that is used to treat any addiction or mental health issue. It includes six core components that a counselor focuses on with each client: Biopsychosocial evaluation; Report to the patients on assessment findings; Empathy; Needs identified by patient and treatment provider; Direct patient advice; and Assessing the patient’s reaction to advice and adjusting treatment when needed.

BRENDA uses a type of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that focuses on questioning and changing negative and unproductive thoughts and beliefs in order to improve behavior and emotions that lead to using – whether that means drugs or alcohol or a compulsive behavior like sex, gambling or shopping — in combination with prescription medication to help quell cravings and relapse.

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