If you have been in recovery for any length of time, you will know – addiction is a lifelong disease. Aftercare is a crucial aspect in recovery, and support groups play a key role in it. However, finding the best one for you can be a challenge. Every person has different needs and comforts. Every person has their own approach towards addiction. It may take time to find the right support group, but it is time well-spent. Fortunately, there are many types of support groups available throughout the UK that cater to many different addictions and various demographics. Now, you have to decide which one is right for you.
What are the Benefits of Support Groups in Recovery?
Addiction support groups offer many benefits. First, they are a major source of peer support and can mean the difference between success and failure in recovery. Second, they are often free to attend, so you can care for your well-being no matter how small your budget is. Third, unlike one-to-one counselling, peer support groups allow you to hear other people’s experiences and learn from them. Fourthly, the example of other people doing their best in their recovery can be powerful and inspirational. Likewise, sharing your story helps them.
Lastly, a support group keeps you accountable for your actions. That is why many people fresh from rehab choose to complete ’90 meetings in 90 days’.
What Should I Look for in a Recovery Support Group?
When looking for a support group, you should first ask yourself several questions. This will help you identify what you’re looking for in a support group as well as where you will feel most at home.
Support groups rely on communication and honesty, and are meant to provide a comfortable space for every individual. If you’re not comfortable, you won’t attend the meetings. If you do not trust the group enough to be open with them, the support group ceases to be… well, supportive.
Before you decide which support group is right for you, answer the following questions:
- What do you expect from your support group?
- Do you prefer a religious or secular (non-religious) group?
- Do you favour a more scientific approach instead of the classic 12-step programme?
- Will you feel more comfortable in a mixed or single-sex gathering?
- Will you feel more comfortable in a demographic-specific group, such as one catering to the LGBT community or young adults?
- Are you ok with attending multiple groups or do you prefer to stick to just one?
Most fellowships or support groups have different types of meetings. An open meeting means that anyone can attend, even friends or family of a person with an addiction. A closed meeting is strictly reserved for people with an addiction only. There are also specialty closed meetings, which restrict attendance to people within specific demographic. Some examples of this are women only, Muslim only, or LGBT members only.
Now that you’ve established what you’re looking for in a support group, it’s time to find which one is most suitable for you.
Finding Different Types of Recovery Support Groups
There are many different types of support groups. Some are religious, some are not. Some cater to men or women only, while others are mixed. The group may take a philosophical approach, a holistic approach, or a scientific approach.
The 12-step fellowships are the most well-known support groups. Almost everyone has heard of Alcoholics Anonymous. Since AA’s inception, other fellowships dedicated to different addictions have been created, for example Narcotics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous.
All 12-step programmes are based on several guiding principles and take an abstinence-focused approach to addiction. The steps require you to accept being powerless over your addiction. They teach that a higher power can give you the necessary strength to overcome your addiction.
Some people shy away from the 12-steps because they believe them to be religious. This is not necessarily true. The concept of a “higher power” doesn’t have to be a God. It can be any person, group or concept that gives you a source of strength. For example, the AA community itself can be a higher power.
Having said that, there are religious people in these fellowships. Many people in recovery find comfort in the concept of spirituality. However, religious members don’t typically push their religion onto agnostic ones.
If you find the 12-step principles too spiritual or philosophical, you may feel better in a support group with a more scientific approach. One example of such a group is SMART. Their programme is based on CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and does not have a spirituality factor.
You will be taught that you have power over your choices, and that you need to find the motivation to change. SMART also teaches various recovery skills, such as how to cope with cravings, identify triggers and change your thoughts and behaviours. Ultimately, the goal is to learn to live a balanced life, by aligning your personal values with your lifestyle.
Aside from SMART, there are other similar alternatives, including SOS (Secular Organization for Sobriety) and LifeRing Secular Recovery.
Specialty Support Groups
If you find that the standard support groups are not right for you, you may want to look for one that is more specific.
Religious Support Groups
If religion is important to you, there are support groups that cater to a specific faith. For example, Life Recovery Group holds several meetings for those of the Christian faith around Bristol. Most of these groups are not part of a large network like AA, but can be found locally. It can be helpful to ask a local church of your faith if they hold meetings or can refer you to one nearby.
Women’s Support Groups
While most groups welcome both men and women, there are some support groups aimed at women in recovery. This can be helpful because women often face different problems than men in recovery. Some women also find the regular meetings too male-heavy, so they do not feel comfortable sharing personal details.
These women-only groups are becoming increasingly popular, and address issues that are specific to women, alongside addiction. Women for Sobriety was started for this very reason, and has spread internationally.
Women-only support groups can be independent or found within fellowships.
LGBT Support Groups
There are also numerous groups for the LGBT community, to address the specific problems they face in their addiction recovery process. Many fellowships hold LGBT or other specialty group sessions, but there are independent services as well. For example, in London, there are several LGBT-focused groups for different situations.
Other Support Groups
Likewise, it is possible to find support groups that cater to any demographic, occupation or age group.
If you have a dual diagnosis, you may find it helpful to attend a group that is focused on mental health as well. Mind has an extensive network throughout the UK.
When It’s Right, but Also Wrong
Just because the support group reads right on paper, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. For example, just because you’re a woman, doesn’t mean you should attend a women-only group. It all comes down to where you feel the most comfortable.
You may have a period of group-hopping, where you sample a meeting here, a meeting there. This is quite common to do. Because attending one meeting doesn’t obligate you to attend the rest, you are not required to come back to the same group if you do not feel comfortable.
Finding your ideal recovery support group can take some time but it is worth the effort. Having the right supportive environment will greatly benefit your recovery. While you’re searching for the right space, you should keep a couple of things in mind:
You Are Not Limited to Your Addiction
While most support groups are addiction specific, there are support groups that welcome people with any addiction. Some are also open to family members or friends attending as well.
In addition, certain addiction-specific fellowships are not restricted to that addiction. That means if you have a cocaine addiction, you can still attend an AA meeting, provided that it is an “open meeting”.
If you are in an area that does not have a support group specific to your addiction, it is perfectly fine to attend another peer-support session.
You Can Attend Multiple Meetings
Attending multiple support groups is quite common. For example, many women who are part of Women for Sobriety continue to attend AA meetings as well.
Being a member of multiple groups can also be helpful if you have more than one addiction.
Where Do I Begin My Search?
If you have just finished a rehab stay, it is standard, as part of aftercare, to be given a list of local therapists or support groups. If this was not your case or you are looking for something different, there are many resources available that will help you.
A visit to a local addiction clinic can be extremely helpful. Not only do they often hold their own peer-support sessions, but they can also refer you to other local options. Castle Craig Hospital for example, hosts weekly meetings of AA, NA and GA to which outsiders are welcome. Addiction services can be found via the NHS directory or on Talk to Frank. Talk to Frank also lists various support groups as part of their service search.
Other places to ask include your GP’s or counsellor’s office, or your local church. It can also be useful to attend any support group near you, even one irrelevant to your addiction, and ask them for references.