Addiction support groups, also known as self-help groups (SHGs), mutual help groups, and recovery fellowships, are an important component of substance abuse care—so much so that they are a go-to source for addiction help more than all other mental health professionals combined, according to research. That may be because participation in SHGs, (and especially 12-Step groups, as the most studied of these groups), is associated with better treatment outcomes for substance use disorders. In multiple studies, for example, 12-Step group attendance has led to higher rates of abstinence and fewer drug or alcohol-related consequences.
But 12-Step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) do not work for everyone, and there are alternatives. This article will educate you on the full lay of the land regarding addiction support groups, from the more familiar 12-Step types to lesser-known options.
12-Step Groups: AA and NA
As a household name in recovery, 12-Step groups like AA and NA are the most widely known and attended addiction support systems in this country. As many as 9 percent of adults in the U.S. have been to an AA meeting at some point in their lives, by one report. Today, there seems to be a 12-Step group for just about any addiction or struggle, as evidenced by this list of the 10 strangest 12-Step groups.
The “12 Steps” signify a spiritual program for recovery that members are encouraged to practice in conjunction with their “Higher Power”—“God as we understood Him,” in the words of Step 2. Members are also encouraged to “work the steps,” regularly attend meetings, get a sponsor (a more seasoned member whom they can go to for accountability and guidance), sponsor other members, and engage in service to others struggling with drugs or alcohol.
The 12 Steps outline a process for spiritual transformation that includes:
- Admitting your powerlessness over drugs or alcohol
- Coming to believe that a power greater than yourself can restore you to sanity
- Turning your life over to this same God of your understanding
- Taking an honest moral inventory of yourself
- Admitting the exact nature of these wrongs to God, to yourself and to another person
- Being willing and ready for God to remove these shortcomings, and asking God to do so
- Making amends to the people you have wronged when it is safe to do so
- Staying in ongoing relationship with God through prayer, quick admission of wrongs, pursuit of God’s will and sharing the same message with others
Even though 12-step programs use the same ideology, there many differences with how individual groups are composed. Micah Robbins, a Beach House team member, has two posts to help you find the best support group to help with your recovery – AA Meetings: Different Strokes for Different Folks & 12 Step Meetings: Different Strokes for Different Folks
SMART Recovery Groups
SMART stands for “Self-Management and Recovery Training,” and as the name suggests, participants in these groups learn tools for changing addictive mindsets, emotions and behaviors, with a view to living a healthier and more balanced life. Meetings involve an educational component, in addition to a time of open discussion. By its self-description, SMART Recovery is a four-point program that offers specific tools and techniques for each of the program points:
- Building and Maintaining Motivation
- Coping with Urges
- Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors
- Living a Balanced Life
The organization’s approach is one of empowering participants to make positive life changes for themselves that support recovery. Daily online meetings, an online message board, and a 24/7 online chat room are some of the recovery-friendly benefits to participating.
Faces & Voices of Recovery
Faces & Voices of Recovery describes its mission as one of organizing and mobilizing Americans in recovery (of whom there are over 23 million) into community organizations and networks that advocate for policies, practices and public awareness initiatives that support the cause of long-term recovery. A comprehensive, user-friendly directory lets prospective members connect with “mutual aid” groups on the basis of their individualized needs. Occupational recovery mutual aid groups for doctors, lawyers, nurses and other professionals are available, for example. There are also recovery group options for those receiving medication-assisted treatment, those with co-occurring disorders and those looking for a faith-based support group.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety
Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is an international network of addiction support groups that view themselves as a secular alternative to spirituality-based recovery in the form of 12-Step groups like AA. Apart from this important distinction, its groups seem to operate along similar principles, as implied in a statement outlining the “General Principles of SOS”: that because addiction flourishes in isolation, the support of others is essential to recovery; that the purpose of community in recovery is to help individual members take responsibility for their own sobriety; and that groups should be self-supporting and the anonymity of members honored. SOS also explicitly endorses a scientific approach to achieving abstinence. You can find a meeting in your area here.
LifeRing Secular Recovery
LifeRing Secular Recovery (LSR) formed as a spin-off from SOS and describes itself as “an abstinence-based worldwide network of individuals seeking to live in recovery from addiction to alcohol or to other non-medically indicated drugs.” Like SOS, LSR believes recovery should proceed from human efforts as opposed to divine intervention. Peer members can trade self-help tools and strategies for recovery in both face-to-face and online meetings.
On the other end of the spectrum is Celebrate Recovery (CR), which is a deliberately Christ-centered recovery program that applies the 12 Steps through an explicitly Christian worldview, via quotations from the Bible, the addition of “Eight Recovery Principles” based on the so-called Beatitudes of the New Testament, and the expressed belief that Jesus Christ is the only true “Higher Power.” Celebrate Recovery first began as a ministry of the California-based Saddleback Church, and today holds meetings all around the country. A group locator on their website can help you find a CR meeting in your area.
Women for Sobriety
Women for Sobriety (WFS), a service to women in recovery from alcohol and other addictions, began as the first national self-help recovery program for women alcoholics. WFS’ founder, Jean Kirkpatrick, was a sociologist who believed women with drinking problems needed a different treatment approach than men. A 13-point program for emotional and spiritual recovery, WFS’ New Life Acceptance Program, embodies the organization’s abstinence-based approach. By its own description, WFS embraces elements such as positive thinking, nutrition-based health, meditation and metaphysics to help women overcome addiction.