Self-Help Support Groups
We embrace a 12-step, abstinence-based approach to recovery. Clients are encouraged to participate in self-help groups that they can continue to attend after treatment as a means of support in recovery. These may include 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Emotions Anonymous.
At our treatment center in Pennsylvania, we also offer 12-step alternatives like Refuge Recovery, a nontheistic, Buddhist approach to recovery. Refuge Recovery offers a systematic practice and process to help people move beyond the suffering caused by the cravings that characterize addictions. Core components of this approach include compassion and meditation.
A core concept of all 12-step programs is a deep-seeded belief in the efficacy of peers helping peers. The connection to a higher power doesn’t necessarily have to be religion. These programs are based on the philosophy that sharing common problems in a safe, supportive setting helps spur recovery. Clients are typically introduced to self-help groups while in rehab, which results in better attendance at meetings post-discharge.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) was founded in 1935 by New York stockbroker William Griffith Wilson (Bill W.) and physician Dr. Robert Holbrook Smith (Dr. Bob). AA is the model for many modern-day self-help groups. In addition to AA, other well-known addiction- or behavioral-related recovery support groups include Narcotics Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, Celebrate Recovery, Eating Disorders Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous. Evidence shows sharing common experiences helps peer group participants positively influence each other’s behaviors.
How Self-Help Support Groups Help
Extensive studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of 12-step groups for the treatment of substance abuse following professional treatment. Research has also shown reductions in alcohol and drug use among clients who participate in 12-steps programs. Active engagement in peer support groups has been shown to be a key predictor of recovery, as well as sustained recovery.
Since AA is the oldest self-help support group, many studies are available on its efficacy. A study on male residential clients in the VA system looked at AA meeting attendance for the 90 days prior to the 1-year follow-up. The more meetings attended, the greater the rates of alcohol and drug abstinence. In a smaller outpatient sample, more than 70% of those attending 12-step groups weekly for the 6 months prior to the 2-year follow-up abstained from alcohol. On the flip side, alcohol abstinence rates among those attending less than weekly were the same as those who never attended during that period.
Benefits of Self-Help Support Groups
It is believed the social component of AA meetings may promote therapeutic elements through group dynamics that impart feelings of hope, vicarious learning, behavioral modeling and altruism. One study theorized the chief strength of these groups might lie in their ability to provide free, long-term, easy access to recovery-related therapeutic elements. Moreover, the researchers thought the ability of participants to adaptively self-regulate attendance based on their perceived needs contributed to high satisfaction rates.
A recently published study on formerly incarcerated adults who transitioned back into the community showed a number of positive results from participation in a 12-step peer support program. Among the benefits were reductions in habitual craving and feelings of guilt or shame. These areas play important roles in a person’ ability to achieve and sustain abstinence from alcohol or drugs. Benefits include:
- Improved self-efficacy
- Decreased use of alcohol or drugs
- Reduced risky behaviors
- Increased self-esteem
- Enhanced confidence
- Improved coping skills
- Reduced shame and guilt
- Greater empathy and understanding
- Greater feelings of accomplishment