Everyone Needs Support – The Importance of Support Groups and Recovery
Addiction isn’t a solitary disease, so why should recovery be? While an addict’s mind heals, it adjusts to the new realities of sobriety. These are new modes of thinking that are as daunting as they are exciting, which can be tough to face alone.
Figuring out how to cope with a sober life isn’t easy. We may not have all the answers, but perhaps there are others that do.
Having a solid group of people backing us up is never a bad thing, whether we are recovering addicts or not. As disassociated as our society has become, we’re still human and we need the company of others to help us make our way through the world.
Our friends and family will often be the first support group we turn to, but what if they’ve also been affected by our addiction? In some cases they may need support in understanding and working through the recovery process just as much as we do. This is just one of the reasons why support groups are so important.
Why Support Groups Are Important
There are support groups out there to assist people in almost any situation, from cancer to gambling. They are defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as being a group of people that have similar experiences and concerns and who meet in order to provide emotional help, advice and encouragement for one another.
When going through an emotionally hard time, having the support of peers is extremely powerful. This dynamic is especially true for addicts in recovery. Once a recovering addict realizes that they aren’t the only one in this situation, it becomes easier to take responsibility, open up to treatment and embrace sobriety.
Support groups are not only helpful, but they also provide a safe place for us to bounce ideas and discuss the challenges facing us as we discover a new way of living. Keeping ourselves motivated and staying positive is much easier when we can turn to others to help us, especially when they are facing – or have faced – the same challenges.
Support groups can be professional or nonprofessional. The treatment provided can be formal or informal. In many cases, addiction support groups will be a crucial aspect of the treatment process. They’ll often utilize the 12-step program to help attendees reach their recovery goals.
One of the first things to go when addiction sets in is the ability to emotionally cope with life. Members of a support group provide each other with much-needed emotional support at a time when our coping skills may be at their lowest.
Friends and Families of Addicts Need Support & Comfort
People who abuse drugs or alcohol need help — but so do the people who surround them.
The impact of addiction reaches far beyond the person who’s struggling with alcohol or drug dependence.
Family and friends may experience feelings of anxiety if they try to cover up a loved one’s substance abuse problem. They may become tense when they detect telltale signs of getting high. Or they can feel frustrated when addiction leads to serious consequences, such as job loss or arrest for possession of illegal substances.
These feelings are mixed with concern for their loved one’s welfare and a desire to see them find the help and treatment they deserve. It’s a jumble of emotions that can leave everyone involved feeling drained and overwhelmed.
Luckily, there are ways to cope, including:
- Reaching out to friends and extended family
- Consulting counselors
- Finding support groups for families and friends of addicts
These solutions can give family members and friends hope during even the toughest of times.
Here’s a deeper look at these three coping mechanisms.
Families and friends who’ve been affected by addiction also need comfort and support. By associating with other family members who are going through a similar situation, it helps them advance in their own recovery process. This is how emotional healing begins, and why support groups for families of drug addicts are so important.
Support groups allow members to help each other. Many of us learn the most when we teach others. For those who devote their time and energy to helping others in recovery, the emotional and psychological benefits are quite tangible. By not only receiving support, but by also giving it, member’s involvement is increased and more is gained from the experience.
While support groups for drug and alcohol abuse aren’t the final answers to recovery’s questions, they’re extremely beneficial to the process. Those who participate in these groups generally have a more positive attitude towards their treatment and are better equipped to maintain sustained recovery.
The most abundant support groups in the United States exist to help those suffering from drug addiction or alcoholism. Let’s take a look at each category and the support groups available.
Confiding in Others
Many families of those struggling with addiction find their lives start to resemble a tangled web. When a loved one hits hard times, it’s tempting to cover for them with a little white lie or make excuses. Soon, it’s easy to lose track of what has been said to whom.
Eventually, the lies and excuses will build up and it will be time to come clean or risk alienating those who once were a source of comfort and support.
Many family members worry they are betraying their loved one by confessing their drug addiction. That isn’t true. In fact, it could lead to getting the help that will put a family on the path to recovery.
Finding the right person to confide in can be tough. It’s best to discuss addiction issues with someone who has previously exhibited compassion and tends to be nonjudgmental.
Opening up about a loved one’s drug addiction can feel as if a weight has been lifted. The simple act of sharing emotions offers a much-needed catharsis that allows a loved one to get past the anger and resentment that drug abuse so often fosters.
Counseling can help families of those addicted to drugs in many ways, such as:
- Helping them focus on their own needs and desires instead of their loved one’s perceived shortcomings
- Finding the best way to cope with difficult situations
- Pushing a loved one to get help for their friend or family member
- Pointing out the difference between being supportive and enabling
A good counselor won’t judge family members for the addiction of their loved ones. Rather, the counselor will help unravel the complicated emotions families and friends experience when dealing with the side effects of addiction. A counselor may even be able to recommend a good rehab program to get the loved one on the path to recovery, while also ensuring there are resources available to support family and friends during that tough, but vitally important journey.
Support Groups for Families of Addicts
Support groups are perhaps the most helpful way for families to cope with the drug addiction of a loved one. They let families know they aren’t alone. Two major support groups include:
Picking a Support Group
Joining a support group is usually an automatic part of a treatment program. Whether the choice is made of our own free will or is mandated, a logical analysis goes into finding the right group.
When we feel more connected to those in the group and agree with the overall vision, purpose or mission, we’re more motivated to attend and stay committed. Individuals may find some groups helpful where others aren’t, but that shouldn’t keep us from exploring the possibilities.
Whether a professional has chosen the group for us or we are choosing it ourselves, these are the points of analysis:
- Become familiar with support groups that meet the needs of the individual. Study their philosophies and review their information, whether it be on their website or through print material.
- Figure out which groups have active local chapters and are easily accessible.
- Attend open meetings to find out more about the group and ask any applicable questions.
- Establish contacts within the group to help with the ease of transition.
The hardest part of finding an appropriate support group isn’t in finding it. The hardest part is in staying committed, attending meetings and opening ourselves up to the process. Fortunately for recovering addicts, alcoholics, friends or family, there are a variety of support groups that make embracing the process a joyful thing.
What is Al-Anon?
Al-Anon is a support group for friends and family members of those with a drinking problem.
Founded in 1951, it’s based on the idea that people with shared experiences can benefit by discussing their problems and fears. Members don’t give advice — they offer support and validation for the many feelings dealing with addiction can spur.
Al-Anon is an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous, a group for those with alcohol problems. However, they are run separately and don’t hold joint meetings.
Alcoholism remains the No. 1 addiction problem in America and quite possibly across the globe. Alcohol support groups are the most numerous type of support group available. The most common of these is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Worldwide, AA has more than 2.1 million members and 115,358 active groups. These are the kind of numbers that eclipse the population counts of many major U.S. cities. Whether it’s in the biggest metropolis or the smallest town, there’s usually an AA meeting to be found.
Alcoholics Anonymous describes itself as an international fellowship of men and women who have a drinking problem. It has a few basic tenets that govern how it operates and principally remain:
AA support groups are located in almost every city and state in the country and have a large international presence. This allows anyone who’s in recovery from alcoholism to find a location to attend meetings whether at home or on the road.
The primary structure of all Anonymous groups is based on the 12-step process, which includes:
- Admission of powerlessness over our alcoholism or drug addiction.
- Recognition of our own higher power as a source of strength.
- Doing a thorough review of our mistakes, possibly with the help of a sponsor.
- Making amends for any mistakes or wrongs of our past.
- Learning how to build a happy, sober life free of unhealthy habits and bad behaviors.
- Doing what we can to help fellow drug addicts and alcoholics reach the same goals.
Alcoholics Anonymous was formed in 1935. This was before the war on drugs; it was a time when the only scourge on sobriety was the one that survived prohibition.
It wasn’t until 20 years later, when drugs like cocaine and heroin began hitting the scene, that the next Anonymous group was formed. By 1953 the world welcomed one of the first of all support groups for drug addicts: Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
12 Steps of Al-Anon
Like AA, Al-Anon offers a 12-step program, which acts as a spiritual guide along the path to recovery. These 12 steps can provide guidance and comfort for family members who find themselves struggling.
Just because drugs weren’t a huge problem between 1935 and 1953 doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. It was during this time that the tradition of welcoming drug addicts into AA meetings was born. Thankfully, it’s a tradition that remains today.
Despite the welcoming atmosphere at AA meetings, many addicts feel that having the fellowship of other recovering drug addicts is essential. Though both have devastating consequences, alcoholism and drug addiction are still two different things. This is where NA fills the void. It’s the largest of all support groups for drug addicts.
Like AA, NA follows the 12-step process of recovery and adheres to the same basic spiritual principles of a higher power that gives strength. The change in terminology from alcoholism to drug addiction is the primary difference between both groups. The philosophies, structures and basic teachings are the same for both.
Whether it’s for drugs, alcohol, gambling or any other compulsion that there is an Anonymous group for, all follow these basic tenets.
- All in attendance deserve respect.
- Attendees can voluntarily share personal experiences or remain silent.
- Some meetings have speakers that share their own experiences or insights.
- Attendees only use first names and, outside of a meeting, attendance is not disclosed.
- Money is gathered voluntarily and there are never compulsory fees.
- Though meetings are held in public spaces, which may include religious buildings, no specific affiliations are ever assumed.
Both AA and NA have been in existence long enough to earn the label of tried-and-true. These are often the first support groups people turn to while in the beginning stages of recovery. They help us form a bond with our fellow man and many people remain part of their chapters decades into their sobriety.
Even though Anonymous groups have a spiritual facet that advises members to seek out their own higher power, for some this may get too close to a religious line. Fortunately, there are groups out there that provide a similar benefit, but do it through a more secular method of delivery.
Narcotics Anonymous for Family Members
Narcotics Anonymous for family members is referred to as Nar-Anon. Like Al-Anon, it’s aimed at those who live with or are friends with someone battling addiction. Nar-Anon is specifically geared toward loved ones of those who abuse drugs.
As with Al-Anon, it relies on a 12-step program to assist those who attend meetings. Though many of the steps emphasize spirituality, Narcotics Anonymous isn’t a religious organization and neither is Nar-Anon. It simply advocates using spiritual feelings to deal with problems.
The emphasis at Nar-Anon is on finding constructive ways to deal with the pain and frustration a family member’s addiction can cause. The group encourages attendees to make friends and learn about themselves as they discuss their family situations.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety
For those seeking fellowship without a spiritual aspect, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) fits the bill. This is an international organization that takes a more scientific approach to self-empowerment, abstinence and recovery from alcoholism or addiction.
Founded in 1985, SOS adheres to similar nonprofit, nonprofessional principles of managing support groups. Chapters are local and there are no associated fees or obligations. In some cases, SOS groups will meet in the same facilities that Anonymous groups do.
The primary difference in SOS groups is that rather than focusing on a higher power, they focus on the individual. They teach that each of us has the power within us to overcome our addiction or alcoholism.
Some might ask: Isn’t that power within us our higher power? Whether it is or isn’t, the point is achieving successful recovery, whether it be through a higher-power based Anonymous group or a scientifically based SOS group. Nothing should be discounted.
SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training)
Another program that emphasizes a self-help version recovery is the SMART program. The SMART process encourages abstinence from drugs and alcohol through methods of self-empowerment and self-directed change.
The main thrust of the SMART method relies on principles of cognitive behavioral therapy. It offers specific tools that follow a process that empowers the self and helps to initiate self-directed change. This is a program focuses on a four-step process that helps addicts and alcoholics develop coping mechanisms that stamp out cravings and triggers.
The four-step process includes:
- Discovering techniques that enhance abstinence.
- Uncovering techniques that reinforce positive emotional coping mechanisms.
- Focusing on problem-solving techniques that manage thoughts, emotions and behaviors.
- Maintaining a proper life balance of healthy momentary and enduring satisfactions.
While there are a good number of support groups that address the needs of the recovering alcoholic or addict, what of the needs of their family? We’re not the only ones affected by addiction or alcoholism. Fortunately, support groups for families of drug addicts exist that help our loved ones recover right alongside us.
Al-Anon and Nar-Anon
Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are mutual support groups. Those that choose to share at meetings are treated as equals. No one is there to give advice or provide direction to fellow attendees.
Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meet these five needs:
- Support groups for drug addicts’ spouses
- Support groups for alcoholics’ spouses
- Support groups for mothers of drug addicts and alcoholics
- Support groups for fathers of drug addicts and alcoholics
- Support groups for friends and other family members of drug addicts and alcoholics
Those in attendance are free to ask questions, share their stories or pass if they don’t feel like sharing in that moment. The beauty of these meetings is that each one is different from the other. Members are encouraged to run the meetings as they choose, provided they follow the guidelines of promoting Al-Anon and Nar-Anon unity.
The focus on a higher power is also absent from Al- and Nar-Anon groups. The attendees’ religious beliefs, or lack thereof, are not up for discussion.
At their simplest level, Al-Anon and Nar-Anon meetings are there to provide a level of support and confidentiality. Anonymity means those in attendance will respect the confidentiality of what is said during the meetings.
Support groups structured on the basis of continued sobriety and recovery, from those affected to their families, are but one kind. We must remember that a support group could represent any type of meeting of like-minded people working towards a similar goal.
Whether we’re an addict, alcoholic, or friend or family member of one, support groups advance the healing process. The majority of treatment programs will mandate at least one support group as part of the recovery process.
It’s not easy to sit in front of a group of strangers and lay bare our deepest feelings. The idea of sharing intimate details about a hard time in our lives seems incredibly daunting. However, it’s in a room where there aren’t any preconceived notions, judgments, or assumptions that opening up becomes easy and cathartic.
The support of our peers is crucial to our own recovery, whether addict, alcoholic, friend or family member. For more information on how support groups play a crucial role in our clients’ success, contact 12 Keys today.
Nar-Anon Support Forum
One excellent service offered by Nar-Anon is the Nar-Anon Support Forum. This is an online message board where people can communicate with others facing similar situations, all from the comfort of their own homes. Users must register to use the site.
This is especially beneficial for those who aren’t comfortable in a group environment. It can be easier to say things online that one is not comfortable saying face to face.
Finding Help for a Loved One
Upon seeking help for themselves, many family members or friends of those struggling with addiction want to find assistance for their loved one, too. They hope to guide them toward a path of recovery and support them along the way.
If you need help finding the way to that path, 12 Keys Rehab can help. Contact us today to learn about the options we have for those suffering from drug addiction.