Whatever you are experiencing in your life, knowing that you are not facing it alone can help you to cope with the changes in your circumstances.  Whether you are dealing with loss of a loved one, illnesses or any kind of life change, connecting with others in similar situations can help.  These are called Community Support Groups.  

Community Support Groups bring people together through a common ground-this might be cancer, chronic medical conditions, bereavement or care-giving. Support groups provide an opportunity for people to share their personal experiences and feelings, coping strategies, or firsthand information about diseases or treatments.  If you are suffering from the disease of addiction or alcoholism, these support groups are lifesaving.  

A Community Support Group for addiction or alcoholism often fills the gap between clinical treatment and the need for emotional support. A therapeutic relationship with a substance use professional or other medical personnel may not provide the needed emotional support, and family and friends may not understand the impact of a disease or treatment. A support group among people with shared experiences can function as a bridge between clinical, medical and emotional needs.

Structure of Community Support Groups

  • Community Support Groups are independent of any organization and run entirely by group members.
  • Formats of support groups vary, including in person meetings, Zoom or other online communities.   A peer — someone who shares or has shared the group’s common experience — often leads the support group.  Some support groups may offer educational opportunities, and most will have literature available for free or at cost.  
  • Support groups are not the same as group therapy sessions. Group therapy is a specific type of mental health treatment that brings together several people with similar conditions under the guidance of a licensed mental health care provider or qualified substance abuse treatment professional.  
  • Community Support Groups are free; most appreciate donations to pay for room rental, coffee or refreshments, and often pass a basket for collections.   There is no requirement to pay any fees.  Literature is usually available; books are normally at cost or donated.  

Benefits of Community Support Groups

Support groups means that the group has a shared goal:  recovery from substance abuse and addiction.  The 12 Step groups break down their meetings by drug of choice (alcohol, heroin, cocaine, etc.)  Women for Sobriety, Celebrate Recovery, Smart Recovery, Y12SR, Refuge Recovery, etc. do not make this distinction.  All of the Community Support Groups discuss feelings, worries, everyday problems, and focus on learning to live without the use of psychoactive substances.  MARA (Medication Assisted Recovery Anonymous), recognizes that many people in recovery are assisted with a medically managed medication, such as methadone, and offer this specific support group.   Participating in a group provides you with an opportunity to be with people who share your common purpose and understand your trials and stresses.

Benefits of participating in a Community Support Group may include:

  • Feeling less lonely, isolated or judged
  • Reducing distress, depression, anxiety or fatigue
  • Talking openly and honestly about your feelings
  • Improving skills to cope with challenges
  • Gaining a sense of empowerment, control or hope
  • Improving understanding of a disease and your own experience with it
  • Getting practical feedback from peers who have walked your walk
  • Learning about health, economic or social resources

Drawbacks of participating in a Community Support Group may include:

  • Disruptive group members-Community Support Groups are self regulating, and do not usually deny admittance to anyone
  • Conversation dominated by griping
  • Lack of confidentiality-While confidentiality is highly valued, the fear of seeing someone you know exists.  (Medical Professionals, firefighters and police usually offer specific groups to these professionals as a result)
  • Emotional entanglement, group tension or interpersonal conflicts
  • Inappropriate or unsound  advice
  • Competitive comparisons of whose experience is worse

Pros and Cons of participating in a Community Support Group may include:

  • Benefits of online groups include:
    • More frequent or flexible participation
    • Opportunities for people who may not have local face-to-face support groups
    • A degree of privacy or anonymity
  • Risks of online support groups include the following:
    • Communication only by written text can lead to misunderstanding or confusion among group members.
    • Anonymity may lead to inappropriate or disrespectful comments or behaviors.
    • Participation online may result in isolation from other friends or family.
    • Online communities may be particularly susceptible to misinformation or information overload.
    • People may use the online environment to prey on people, promote a product or commit fraud.

12 Step Groups

12 Step groups are so named because it is believed that  12 steps exist to recover.  It is recommended to obtain a sponsor (a person who has ‘worked’ these steps and remains in recovery to serve as a mentor to you.   As summarized by the American Psychological Association (APA), the process involves the following:

  • admitting that one cannot control one’s alcoholism, addiction or compulsion;
  • coming to believe in a Higher Power that can give strength;
  • examining past errors with the help of a sponsor (experienced member);
  • making amends for these errors;
  • learning to live a new life with a new code of behavior;
  • helping others who suffer from the same alcoholism, addictions or compulsions.

How to Join a Support Group

For most support groups, all that is required to join is a desire to begin recovery. Most people join a support group by simply walking in the door of a meeting near them. No invitation is required and there are no dues or fees. For members, there is often a voluntary collection.

That said, there are “open” meetings for members and non-members as well as closed meetings for members and prospective members only. Depending on the type of meeting, you might come across some of the following codes that indicate a more exclusive support group or additional services offered:

(ASL) American Sign Language

(BS)   Book study

(CF)   Child-friendly

(D) Discussion

(G) Gay/lesbian

(M) Men only

(P) Participation

(SP) Speaker

(SS) Step study

(W) Women only

(WA) Wheelchair access

The 12-Step Support Group can be an important part of recovery. In the beginning, 12-Step meetings provide a foundation of support that helps you navigate the challenges of early recovery. A personal sponsor becomes a central supporter and the first contact when you need help. Since 12-Step meetings occur every day in nearly every city and town in the country, you’ll never be without support.  At the very least, the 12-Step model provides support, encouragement and accountability to overcome addiction.

As you progress through the 12-Step model, you work to develop the mindset, emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that promote greater spirituality and long-term success in recovery. Along the way, you can make lifelong friends and share in the successes of others in recovery, always with an eye on your own ongoing sobriety.

The 12 Step model emphasizes the powerlessness of the individual in battling addiction, and some have found this approach to be less effective for women.

Research indicates men and women begin drinking for different reasons. While men tend to drink to feel more powerful and to decrease inhibition, women are more likely to drink from a place of numbing or pain reduction. They do not report feeling more powerful while drinking. As a result, women tend to see improved outcomes with cognitive behavioral therapy over the 12-step program, as well as groups such as Women for Sobriety.

Another con of the 12-step program, especially for humanists or atheists, is the program’s fundamental adherence to the belief of a higher power. While this higher power is sometimes interpreted as the program itself, this reliance on outside power to guide the process may not be a comfortable notion for everyone.

Other drawbacks of the 12-step program involve the lack of emphasis on physical recovery. Addiction comes with adverse health effects and withdrawal symptoms that are not addressed by the 12-step model.   In addition, it is not as common in this day and age to have only a single addiction.  The 12 step model has evolved to encompass nearly every type of psychoactive drug, but how do you ‘choose’ one over the other to claim as your primary substance of choice?  I have watched some people berated for including their polysubstance use in introducing themselves; this is just never O.K.  

Some are also uncomfortable with the very public nature of 12-step programs in asking participants to acknowledge their addiction in a group setting. For someone with a co-occurring mental disorder, the experience of talking about their drug or alcohol use in a group setting can increase symptoms of the disorder.

Another drawback to the 12 step recovery groups, which primarily affects both youth and women, is particularly acute at meetings where large numbers of people are court-mandated to attend. Since these programs quite rightly do not exclude anyone who has an addiction, some of those in attendance may be actively criminal or sexual predators.  This means that at any given meeting, the odds of running into someone who is not only not “working the program” but who may actually be dangerous are greater than they would be at, say, your average coffee shop.  While it would be lovely if everyone who claims to want to help you at a meeting were pure of heart and the rooms were a truly safe space, the reality is quite different. Too many victims of rape, domestic violence, and even murder have met their perpetrators at meetings—and too many have put their trust in him or her because of that fact.

Despite these adverse situations, the 12 step support groups remain the largest sober support groups in the world.  Each group is different and adapts a culture from within the group itself.  The beauty of the 12 step groups is the sheer volume of groups to choose from.  A 7:00 am sunrise group has a completely different personality than a midnight bar time group in the city.  

Finding the right group for you is as individual as you are.  The link below will bring you to a page that has greater details to a large selection of different types of Community Support Groups, general information and links to their website.  

As always, my hopes are for your hopes and dreams…..T