Mutual support groups place those who are struggling with addiction into a group of peers who can offer their insight and encouragement during recovery.
Groups are typically attended solely by people who share the same, or similar, issues, but may also be attended by their family and friends. Attending a mutual support group is free, with the only requirement being your participation.
Research has shown that recovery is made easier when support groups come together, especially when attendees make an effort to participate in the meetings. By offering practical advice that has worked for them, individuals are able to further their own progress by helping others.
People join mutual support groups because they want to not only take responsibility for their own recovery, but to also pass on what they have learned to people who are now in the same position.
As opposed to traditional counselling sessions, support groups are run by the members of the group. If there is a group leader, they will be someone who has experienced the same issues you face, and has volunteered to offer their insight.
The majority of the time, they are not trained professionals. Therefore, some people who attend group meetings opt to also undergo private counselling with a health professional.
Support groups typically meet once a week, but there will be resources available if you need help between sessions. It is possible for family and friends to join you, but it is always advised that you check with someone in the group about this before you bring anyone with you.
Mutual support groups only work if everyone gets involved. This doesn’t mean that you need to speak in every session; active listening, such as smiling, nodding, and otherwise offering encouragement to others are all considered participation.
The first meeting can be daunting, and you may not feel comfortable joining the conversation right away. It is recommended that you attend at least three sessions before you decide whether the group is right for you, as it can take time to settle in.
Research does strongly indicate that attending support groups regularly can improve the chances of recovery, and make relapse less likely. Many people who have been sober for years attribute their success to their continued attendance and participation in group meetings.
12-step meetings, designed by Alcoholics Anonymous’ founder Bill Wilson in 1935, are probably the most common and widely-known model for mutual support groups – around 74 percent of treatment centres follow a 12-step programme.
At almost 100 years old, the 12-step model has been well-practised, and both founders (Wilson, known as Bill W., and physician Dr. Bob) had been alcoholics themselves, so they understood what needed to go into an effective treatment plan.
While the exact 12-steps may vary from group to group, the core principle is that each individual takes responsibility for their own recovery, and that sharing your experiences with others is a key element of that. Members thereby learn from listening to each others’ stories and hold each other accountable during recovery.
The traditional 12-step programme is spiritual in nature, asking members to put trust in a power greater than themselves (whatever they may personally define that as) but many non-religious people have still found meetings to be hugely beneficial.
12-step groups operate “closed” and “open” meetings, with “closed” meetings only being available to those who are addicted to a certain habit.
“Open” meetings welcome those who are not considered to be experiencing addiction but may have concerns about their habits, such as those who drink moderately. A requirement for attending closed meetings is a willingness to admit your addiction, and a genuine desire, or need, to stop.
Most 12-step meetings will start off with a prayer, or the reading of a passage in non-religious groups. Then the meeting is opened up for members to share their experiences with addiction, offer support, and request advice on their current step.
The 12 steps, in general terms, are:
The spiritual nature of some of these steps have made the 12-step model ideal for faith-led recovery services, but they can put non-religious people off from trying 12-step groups. There are meetings available where the steps have been amended to have less focus on the external higher power.
AA is one of the best-known mutual support groups, and is geared towards those with a heavy, unhealthy reliance on alcohol, who are seeking abstinence.
It is the original 12-step programme and, due to its effectiveness, the programme is almost identical today to when it was first introduced in 1935. AA meetings involve members sharing their experiences with alcohol addiction, and each member will typically have a sponsor who helps them stay on the path to recovery between sessions.
Learn more here: https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/
Like AA, NA is a non-profit society of people who have had major struggles with drugs. The sessions are group-led, rather than being hosted by a healthcare professional. Members share their stories and support each other in their recovery.
Meetings are open to those with any drug addictions, and the only requirement is that the members must have a genuine desire to stop abusing drugs.
Learn more here: https://ukna.org/meetings/search/
SMART is a 4-point programme that aims to help people with substance and behavioural addictions. Unlike the 12-step programmes, the SMART Recovery philosophy is that engaging in addictive behaviours is a choice, rather than a disease, and they work to empower people to make the choice to stop.
Women for Sobriety is a non-profit organisation, founded in 1975, that helps women to recover from substance abuse disorders. It welcomes anyone who self-identifies as female and is seeking abstinence from drugs and alcohol.
Al-Anon run mutual support groups for family members of those suffering with alcohol addiction. They offer open, judgement-free spaces where people can go and share their stories of living with someone who has a dependence on alcohol.
When choosing a support group, consider whether you will benefit from a structured group, driven by a leader, or if you would find a less formal setting more helpful. There are online options, such as forums, if you do not feel comfortable meeting face-to-face, but many find that in-person group meetings make them more accountable.
Once you have decided that you want to explore the support group route, finding the right group may take time. To find out about support group options: