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Mutual support groups are an important part of recovery from substance abuse and addiction. Mutual support groups exist for the person in recovery and for their families or significant others. This section will help you become familiar with the different types of mutual support groups available, and make informed referrals to such groups.

Learn More About Mutual Support Groups

Mutual support groups are nonprofessional peer groups comprising of members who share the same problem and voluntarily support one another in their recovery. Formal treatment is not provided in groups of this nature.

These groups provide social, emotional, and informational support for persons throughout the recovery process. Mutual support groups help individuals take responsibility for their addictions and for their sustained health, wellness, and recovery.

The most widely available mutual support groups are 12-Step groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.

12-Step Groups

12-Step groups emphasize abstinence and provide tools for living based on a set of principles. 12-Step groups rely on the fellowship of shared experience as part of a lifelong process of recovery. Participants will work through the 12-Steps and regularly attend meetings. A sponsor is an integral part of the 12-Step program, as well as a critical form of support and encouragement.

Read all 12-Steps

12-Step Meetings

Although meeting formats vary somewhat, the vast majority of 12-step meetings have similar structures. Meetings can be open or closed. Anyone can attend an open meeting, but attendance at closed meetings is limited to people who want to stop drinking and/or using drugs.

The beginning and end of each meeting usually has a 12-Step reading and/or a prayer.

The main part of a 12-Step meeting consists of the following:

  • Members sharing their stories, including the effects their addiction has had on their lives, and what they are doing to stay abstinent
  • Study of a particular step or other doctrine of the group
  • A guest speaker

12-Step programs are not necessarily for everyone. Some people are uncomfortable with the spiritual emphasis and prefer a more secular approach. Some also disagree with the theory that addiction is a chronic disease, thinking that idea becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that weakens the ability to remain abstinent. Others may prefer gender-specific groups.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Alcoholics Anonymous is the oldest and most well-known 12-Step recovery group. AA was founded in 1935, and today there are more than 100,000 AA groups worldwide and nearly 2 million members.

Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Chemically Dependent Anonymous are 12-step groups that focus on general drug abuse. Other groups, such as Cocaine Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous, focus on abuse of specific drugs.

12-Step groups are available for persons with co-occurring substance use and mental disorders as well. These include Double Trouble in Recovery and Dual Recovery Anonymous, among others.

The AA model has been adapted for people with dependence on drugs and for the family members of those in recovery. These include Families Anonymous, Al-Anon, Alateen, Nat-Anon, and Co-Anon.

Non-12 Step Alternatives

For those who seek an alternative model to the 12-Step programs, these do exist. These groups typically do not advocate sponsors or lifetime membership. While these groups do offer alternatives to the 12-Step model, the availability of in-person meetings is more limited than are 12-Step program meetings.

Women for Sobriety (WFS)

WFS is the first national self-help group solely for women who want to stop using alcohol and drugs. This program is based upon a Thirteen Statement Program that encourage emotional and spiritual growth, with abstinence as the only acceptable goal. WFS does not emphasize God or a higher power, but daily meditation is encouraged.

Meetings are led by an experienced, abstinent WFS member and follow a format, which includes the following:

  • A reading of the 13 statements
  • An introduction of members
  • A moderated discussion

SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training)

SMART Recovery is based on the assumption that addiction is viewed as a learned behavior that can be modified using cognitive-behavioral approaches.

Its four principles are the following:

  • To enhance and maintain motivation to abstain
  • To cope with urges
  • To manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
  • To balance momentary and enduring satisfactions

At meetings, attendees discuss personal experiences and real-world applications of the SMART principles. SMART Recovery has online meetings and a message board discussion group on its website.

Secular Organization for Sobriety/Save Our Selves (SOS)

SOS considers recovery from alcohol and drugs an individual responsibility separate from spirituality and emphasizes a cognitive approach to maintaining lifelong abstinence. Meetings typically begin with a reading of the SOS Guidelines for Sobriety and personal introductions, followed by an open discussion of a topic deemed appropriate for the members.

The meeting format may differ quite a bit from group to group. SOS also provides online support, which include SOS International E-Support Group and SOS Women E-Support Group.

LifeRing Secular Recovery (Originally a part of SOS)

LifeRing is now a separate organization for people who want to stop drinking and using drugs.

The principles of LifeRing are the following:

  • Sobriety
  • Secularity
  • Self-help

LifeRing encourages participants to develop a unique path to abstinence according to their needs and to use the group meetings to facilitate their personal recovery plan. LifeRing meetings are relatively unstructured where attendees discuss current issues, obstacles and successes, while some focus on helping members create a personal recovery plan. LifeRing has a chat room, email list, and an online forum that provide additional support to its members.

Our Mission

We have a responsibility as family members, friends, employers, colleagues, physicians, educators, religious leaders and neighbors—to reach out to help those suffering with this disease and lead them back to substance abuse-free lives. The earlier we reach them, the greater our likelihood of success.

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