The disease of addiction thrives in isolation and loneliness. Whether you are the one experiencing addiction, or you are faced with watching a loved one battle this enemy, you are likely all too familiar with this. That is why finding the right support group is so essential to your recovery, whether you are the one getting clean or are the one who loves someone who is fighting addiction. Fortunately, when it comes to finding support, you have a wealth of options. This is important because the process of recovery is as unique as you are. No two people will walk the same path to healing and sobriety and, because of this, it’s essential to seek out the type of support that best suits your experience, your needs, and your goals.
You may, for example, choose an in-person group with regularly scheduled meetings, or you may opt for online programs which allow you to call up help on-demand, or you may choose a hybrid format that combines both in-person and virtual meetings to ensure you always have the help you need when and how you need it.
But your choices aren’t limited only to the platform through which you’re going to find support. You can also choose specialized support groups where you may feel more comfortable or where the services offered are more attuned to your needs and experiences, such as same-sex support groups or programs specifically designed for family members and loved ones of those experiencing addiction. This article describes some of the major types of support groups to help you design the recovery network that works best for you.
Of course, the classic example of addiction support is the in-person meeting. Often, these groups are defined by the type of addiction(s) a person may be experiencing, from alcohol use disorder (AUD) to narcotics and opioid addictions to other forms of addiction, such as gambling or sex addiction. Frequently, those who have been admitted to a hospital or rehab to begin their recovery will participate in residential support groups before transitioning to either outpatient support programs or independent groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Celebrate Recovery, or Refuge Recovery.
A large and growing body of research supports the efficacy of these in-person groups, both residential and non-residential (1). Among their myriad benefits, perhaps the most significant is the role that such in-person groups play in helping those facing addiction begin to cultivate a new “sober” identity (2, 3, 4).
In addition, studies show that these in-person support groups are highly effective in helping those in recovery discover a sense of community (5), while regaining a sense of personal responsibility and accountability, not only to oneself but also to one’s support group. In-person support groups, for instance, help those in recovery regain a sense of belonging, purpose, and life priorities (6, 7). By engaging in such groups, you have ready access to an entire network of people who are not only walking the same path but who can also have the perspective and objectivity to recognize signs of potential trouble even when you can’t. And that means that your in-person support group can provide an important bulwark for maintaining your sobriety, not only by intervening when signs of trouble emerge but also by working to motivate and inspire, to remind you of the priorities and incentives driving your recovery when your disease makes you temporarily lose sight of them.
Online and Hybrid Groups
In-person support groups have a lot to commend them. After all, it’s difficult to “hide” from an in-person group. When you don’t show up at meetings, your support network will notice. You are likely to have at least a few members in the group, a sponsor or special friend, who knows how to contact you. If your group is based in your hometown, the odds are pretty good that you will run into other group members from time to time. In other words, you can’t easily “disconnect” from an in-person support group and retreat into the isolation of your illness.
As important as this sense of connection, access, and accountability may be, in-person support may not be right for every person. For some, the anonymity offered by online support groups is essential, particularly for those who are battling the sense of stigmatization and shame that, sadly, still frequently characterizes addiction (8, 9).
Importantly, however, though online groups offer anonymity for those experiencing addiction or who are supporting a loved one through addiction, a substantial body of research shows that members of these online groups still enjoy a strong sense of community, which they perceive as highly beneficial to their recovery. For example, a range of recovery apps is available not only to offer targeted support, including evidence-based advice to support abstinence when cravings arise, but also to provide immediate access to sponsors, peers, and clinicians in real-time whenever and wherever personalized support may be needed. That means that online support groups function as a sort of rehab in the palm of your hand, and that’s going to substantially increase the likelihood that you will reach out for help at the first signs of trouble before the relapse spiral can begin (10, 11, 12, 13).
In addition to wholly online platforms, it’s also possible for those in recovery to enjoy the best of both worlds through a hybrid approach that incorporates both in-person meetings and digital support. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) continues to emphasize its traditional model of in-person support, but it has supplemented this highly effective program with a range of online options to ensure that users always have access to an array of support options, including sobriety trackers, readings and prayers, access to online community forums, or one-on-one virtual support.
Addiction has never been and will never be a one-size-fits-all condition. Every person who experiences addiction experiences it in their own way, from facing the addiction firsthand to walking through the fire with a loved one. Fortunately, there seem to be nearly as many different types of support groups as there are variations in the disease experience itself.
There are, for example, support groups designed specifically for new mothers seeking to remain sober while parenting a young child. There are support groups for at-risk adolescent children of parents with SUD. There are even groups for members of the LGBTQA community and for racial, ethnic, or religious groups. Among the most prevalent of these specialized support groups are single-sex groups, such as Women for Sobriety. While studies show that all support groups, even non-specialized groups, are highly effective for those in recovery, groups tailored to special populations can offer an added level of support that enhances the already significant efficacy of these programs (14, 15, 16, 17, 18).
An Overview of the Major Support Groups
Since there are so many options when it comes to in-person, online, hybrid, and specialized support groups, it can be helpful to identify and differentiate between some of the major groups currently operating nationwide. This section provides an overview of some of these:
- Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the oldest, largest, and most popular support groups in the United States and around the globe. It offers in-person group support and recovery resources in communities across America for those impacted by Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). In addition, AA members can access an array of online recovery tools, from sobriety trackers to virtual “meetings” to enable those in recovery to access the help they need when and how they need it.
- Narcotics Anonymous (NA): Narcotics Anonymous (NA) was founded in response to the success of AA and uses a similar therapeutic model. Unlike AA, NA is tailored to individuals who are seeking recovery from drug use, including opioid addiction. NA provides in-person support groups in communities across the US and around the world. In addition, NA offers online support through virtual meetings and community forums. Like AA, members can also benefit from an array of recovery resources provided by NA, including educational materials and sobriety trackers.
- Celebrate Recovery: Celebrate Recovery is a 12 step program designed to provide recovery support for individuals experiencing addiction of any kind. The program is oriented around Christian teachings, principles, and practices and is designed for those seeking a more spiritually-focused path toward sobriety. Though the program has substantial online resources and support, from online community forums and virtual meetings to online recovery education resources, it also provides specialized in-person ministry. This includes specialized support for children and teens impacted by addiction, for incarcerated and previously incarcerated persons, and for members of Indigenous communities.
- Women for Sobriety (WFS): Women for Sobriety (WFS) is a peer-based support group founded, led by, and designed for women only. WFS provides in-person and telephone-based recovery support as well as a robust online presence for women experiencing any form of addiction. The program is secular in its orientation and was developed to address the unique needs of women in recovery. In addition to education and peer support, WFS also features the New Life Program, which is a more intensive therapeutic support program available to women regardless of their ability to pay.
- Refuge Recovery: Refuge Recovery is a support group rooted in Buddhist teachings and principles to support those experiencing addiction in any form. Refuge Recovery provides both in-person and online support group meetings. In addition, the program offers week-long retreats at least once annually. The program is also highly focused on recovery education, providing a wide range of videos, readings, and podcasts to support members’ recovery.
- Al-Anon: Al-Anon is among the oldest, largest, and most popular support groups designed for the family members and loved ones of those experiencing addiction. The program provides online and in-person education and support for relatives and loved ones of persons with addiction. The program also provides Ala-Teen, a specialized service for children and teenagers experiencing addiction within the family.
How Bayshore Can Help
At Bayshore, we are committed to the long-term recovery of our clients. And that means that we specialize in cultivating customized, whole-person treatment plans to support our clients’ sobriety both during their residency at Bayshore and in the days, weeks, months, and years following our clients’ return home. A central component of this is the implementation of strong support programs specifically tailored to the unique needs and goals of our clients and their families. Thus, in addition to our residential support groups, we also work with our clients to establish connections with the support groups that will be meeting our client’s needs once they return home. This means that, as a Bayshore client, you are never far from the individualized and expert support you need.