Most people have heard the term support group. Some may have belonged to various support groups, while others have never participated, but wonder exactly what they’re and what they do.
Generally speaking, support groups exist when people get together to share their concerns about a particular issue. These types of groups mostly focus on particular health problems, such as types of addictions and diseases like multiple sclerosis, breast cancer or diabetes.
Support groups differ from group therapy, in that group therapy assists those with similar mental health diagnoses, and participants gather under the supervision of a mental health professional. Anyone with an interest in gathering a group of people with concerns about a certain disease or condition can form a support group. Support groups can be led by laypersons or by professionals such as nurses or social workers.
With today’s technology, support groups come in many different forms, such as internet or telephone as well as in person. While support groups are often gatherings of people talking about their experiences, they can also focus on education. For instance, an oncologist who specializes in the treatment of breast cancer may be the guest speaker at a support group for those with breast cancer.
Benefits of Support Groups
No matter what the type of support group, they allow people with similar concerns to gather to discuss their problems with one another. By sharing with one another, people are often able to give each other advice to help them cope with their problems. Some of the most apparent benefits of support groups are:
- Getting the opportunity to share your ideas about treatments and available physicians
- Being able to understand the implications of your condition as well as how to handle the roadblocks you may encounter
- Gaining knowledge about the treatment that may be available to you
- Receiving tips on how to handle the anxiety and depression that you may be feeling as you learn to cope with your condition
- Having the opportunity to share your feelings without fear that you will be judged
- Learning how to better cope with any diagnosis or condition
- Getting the opportunity to release yourself from the isolation you may feel so that by sharing with others you won’t feel as if you’re alone in your condition
- Achieving a sense of control that you will be able to face your diagnosis or condition
Where Should I Look if I am Interested in Joining a Support Group?
It shouldn’t be too difficult to find a particular support group in the area where you live. One of the first places to look is to do an internet search. You can also ask your health care professional, especially if they’re the specialist you see for a condition. A therapists or pastors are other people that may be able to assist you in finding a support group. Look in your local newspaper or in the online version, as many support groups will advertise there. If you know of anyone who shares your condition, ask them if they belong to or have heard about a support group. In addition, you should consider contacting a state or national organization that provides support for your disease or condition. They may know whom you should contact to find a local support group.
Why Should I Join a Support Group?
Assume that you have recently received a diagnosis for a serious disease, whether it is a physical illness or a type of addiction. After you think you may have come to terms with your diagnosis, you probably still have many questions. You feel very alone in your situation. Moreover, while friends and family have offered their well wishes, thoughts and prayers, you’re starting to feel more isolated than ever. One way to reduce that isolation and possibly start to feel more in control of your diagnosis is to join a support group where you can share your experiences with others in a similar situation.
By leaning on others who know exactly what you’re going through, you will become stronger and be better able to cope with the changes to your life because of your diagnosis. Additionally, your support group may have speakers who will educate you about your condition, so that you can seek out the best care and understand how to care for yourself as you fight the disease. And though your support group is a starting point, it should be used in conjunction with (or as a supplement to) medical treatment that you receive for your condition.
What Types of Help do Support Groups Provide?
If someone recovering from an addiction and is in rehab, it is important that they leave behind their old associations whose influence could cause them to relapse. This is why a support group is an important part of recovery.
By joining a support group, you surround yourself with people whose situation is similar to your own. Just like you, they’ve had to rid themselves of their old associations who encouraged them to continue with their addictions or enabled them to do so. You and everyone in your support group can stick together and avoid the elements that caused you to continue with your addiction. Your focus and that of those in your support group can be to keep clean and sober.
If you attend meetings of your support group regularly and keep in contact with your sponsor, you will quickly realize that just as your previous associates would pressure you to engage in addictive behavior, your support group and sponsor can pressure you into staying sober and avoiding addictive behavior.
Your support group and your sponsor can be the people that are your anchor when you feel as though you may slip back into your addictive behavior. When you’re faced with life’s difficulties and are tempted to go back and engage in your addictive behaviors, just reach out to members of your support group, and they will help talk you through tough times.
Though you likely joined your support group during rehab, it is a great resource to continue to use after you leave. By continuing to participate, you can maintain that positive influence if you feel like you may slide back into your addictive behaviors.
While there are a number of support groups that help with addictions, one of the most prominent is Alcoholics Anonymous or A.A.
A.A. is an international organization that helps people of all ages and backgrounds struggling with alcoholism. It is not a professionally run organization, has no political affiliation and supports people of all backgrounds. Anyone who wants to do something about their drinking problem can join A.A. A.A.’s structure comes from the twelve-step principle. These twelve steps are spiritual concepts that, if practiced, can assist someone who has a compulsion and help them become happy and healthy.
A.A. originated in the 1930s and was based upon the religious principles found in the Oxford Group, a religious group that utilized the principles of self-improvement by looking at oneself, admitting when one has done something wrong and changing principles and attitudes to correct those wrongs. Meditating and praying were a large part of the movement.
Rowland H. was a wealthy Rhode Island man who had consulted with a prominent psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, to help cure him of his alcoholism. Medically, Jung said there was nothing that he could do to assist Rowland, and referred him to the Oxford Group.
Working with some of his friends, Rowland started an early version of a support group. Together, the men were able to help one another and address their drinking problems by using the philosophy presented by the Oxford Group.
One of Rowland’s former drinking buddies was Bill W., who had previously been a very successful as a stockbroker on Wall Street. Due to his excessive drinking, his career suffered, and despite his attempts to get medical treatment for his alcohol addiction, he continued to drink. When Rowland introduced Bill to his support group, Bill underwent a very cathartic experience that spiritually lifted him out of depression. He was finally able to stop drinking and devoted the remainder of his life to helping others overcome alcoholism.
As the principles of A.A.’s founder are still prevalent today, one of the most important aspects is anonymity. It is considered to be a very important principle to those in A.A., and gives credit to the fact that those who assist others in their recovery should not be touting themselves as heroes. They focus on their own humility when they’re able to help with someone else’s or their own recoveries.
If you’re interested in finding an A.A. group in your area, you can visit A.A.’s website, and conduct a search by location or zip code. This will take you to a page with further information and phone numbers to contact to get more information about in-person groups in your area as well as online groups. This method of searching for local A.A. groups applies to any area, as you just need to enter information about your address into the search box on the website, and that will take you to a list of numbers you can call to find local meetings.
Narcotics Anonymous first started in the 1950s, and didn’t have much growth for the first twenty years of its existence. However, it has grown rapidly since the 1970s and 1980s. Currently, NA has almost 67,000 meetings each week in almost 140 countries. There is no cost for membership, and NA uses a twelve-step program to assist its members in maintaining a life free from drugs. While the name, Narcotics Anonymous, may imply that you would need to be addicted to drugs to join, that is not the case. NA can be for anyone, whether their addiction is to drugs or to alcohol
NA has no political or religious affiliation, and is open to people of all backgrounds. One of NA’s top goals is to reach a time when anyone in the world will be able to hear the message of NA in their own language and in their own cultural environment to assist them in their recovery. Currently, there are over 22,000 members worldwide.
NA publishes a number of pamphlets and books to address the questions that people may have about the group. One such pamphlet, Welcome to Narcotics Anonymous, talks about the feelings that new members may have at their first meetings. While they may be afraid to talk about their feelings and concerns, the pamphlet encourages them to keep coming to meetings and learn by listening to others speak about how they are able to maintain their sobriety and clean living. There is a great focus on reaching out to others and continuing to go to meetings, as NA understands the benefits of support groups in recovery. It is important to keep in contact with people who are there to help if you feel the urge to start drinking or using drugs again.
In order to find a meeting, visit NA’s search website. This will enable you to enter your location and then will provide a list of meetings in your area. Note that meeting times are subject to change so you should check back periodically. If you live in Florida, simply enter your address or zip code information, and this will enable you to find the meeting locations in your area.
Al-Anon formed in 1951 to help family and friends who are coping with a loved-one with a drinking problem. Though Al-Anon originated through A.A., they’re completely separate programs and hold separate meetings. Al-Anon has a very large membership base with over 2.1 million members in the world and over 115,000 groups. Like NA and A.A., Al-Anon is also non-political, racially diverse and self-sustaining.
Though not a support group per se, the U.S. Government has created an agency to manage the effects of substance abuse. Under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal government created the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), an agency that combats the effects of substance abuse and mental illness in the cities and towns across the country. In order to lower the effects of these types of abuse and illnesses, SAMHSA has tried to increase the availability of services and make them easier to obtain.
SAMHSA provides support for recovery programs across the country, because SAMHSA believes that peer recovery support groups enable the persons with mental illness or addiction to have relationships and network with others in order to gain support and friendship. With this support, a person is able to become more resilient to face challenges and cope with future adversities. SAMSHA also emphasizes that the support group can be a simple as becoming more involved with family members who are encouraging of their recovery efforts, rather than retaining friendships with those who supported their addictive behavior.
SAMSHA also emphasizes the importance of attending support groups alongside, before and after any other recovery efforts such as rehab or treatment. Additionally, SAMSHA recognizes that there may be greater obstacles for recovery for those with certain social and economic disadvantages, and therefore provides support to programs that address the issues of cultural differences, to ensure that people of all backgrounds have access to the necessary treatment and support.
Is a Support Group Alone Enough for Recovery?
Though support groups are great to help someone recover from addiction, they are no substitute for a quality rehab program. Support groups should be used in addition to treatment and following treatment to reinforce the behaviors that you learned at treatment but will not be enough alone to help stop the addictive behavior.
The medical complications of withdrawal are one significant reason that you need to go to rehab rather than just a support group. Withdrawal symptoms range from uncomfortable to life threatening, depending on the individual situation. Someone going through alcohol withdrawal will likely experience the symptoms of delirium tremens and definitely need medical assistance to ensure that they detox safely. Not only will a medical professional be able to help you detox safely — they will be able to help make you comfortable during the process, is sometimes drawn out and painful. The discomfort felt during withdrawal can be exacerbated if you try to monitor yourself without any professional assistance.
Those trained healthcare professionals who monitor the detox and rehab for someone addicted to drugs can provide care and treatment through the use of:
- Psychiatric services
- Therapies that include modification of behavior
- Therapies for addiction
- Detox that is monitored by a professional
- Professional counseling
There is no way to tell whether or not people have been receiving formal treatment at the same time as A.A. However, there is research that shows that people who help themselves and receive treatment are two times as likely to retain sobriety.
Where Should I Look Next?
Now that you understand the importance of support systems in recovery and the necessity of combining them with rehab in order for recovery, it is important to look at what types of rehab would be the best for you. At JourneyPure Emerald Coast, the approach starts with the view that recovering from an addiction is similar to recovering from a very long illness. Unlike a physical disease, addiction also has components that make it more complex to treat. As such, treatment should involve counseling by professional therapists and counselors who have had extensive training in working with people suffering from addiction. Treatment at JourneyPure Emerald Coast encompasses detoxification of the body as well as working with an addiction therapist who will help you through behavioral therapy. You will also learn how to use holistic treatment to help you use your self-empowerment skills.
It is important to note that the concept of curing an addiction to a prescription drug is not an accurate depiction. It is a continual process of recovery that will include many ups and downs, as well as new learning experiences, as you discover things about yourself that you never knew. You’ll begin to have a sense of pride in yourself for taking an initial step towards the recovery process. The moment that you decide to take a step forward and embark on a rehab program is the moment that you begin recovery.