Self-help groups, also known as mutual help, mutual aid, or recovery support groups, play a vital role in substance abuse treatment in the United States, and research has shown that active involvement in support groups significantly improves the likelihood of remaining clean and sober.
In a self-help group, the members share a common problem, often a common disease or addiction. Self-help groups can occur in a wide variety of forms, from two individuals sharing experience and coping strategies, to small groups gathering in community meeting rooms, to large, incorporated organizations offering information, support and advocacy services.
Recovery from alcoholism and addiction is an ongoing life event requiring long-term support and treatment and recovery support groups are extremely helpful for persons suffering from substance use disorders and for their families and friends.
Those who attend often find a deep sense of fit – a sense of finally connecting with others who suffer the same difficulties. Within this community of like-minded individuals, recovery support groups help a person to reach for recovery and take responsibility for his or her alcohol and/or drug problems.
AA: The Original Self-Help Program
The original model for self-help groups is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), founded in 1935 by a New York stockbroker named Bill W. (William Griffith Wilson) and a physician from Akron, Ohio, Dr. Bob (Robert Holbrook Smith). It is now estimated that over 2 million people worldwide attend more than 115,000 groups in over 170 countries. AA has come to be known as a “twelve-step group” because its program for sobriety involves twelve suggested steps for recovery. (For more information, see listing below.)
How It Works
Meetings generally follow the same format for most self-help groups: a member will share his or her “story” (what it was like, how he or she came to the program, and what it has been like since then). This is then followed by sharing from other members.
Groups are very helpful, not only in maintaining sobriety, but also as a safe place to get support and discuss challenges. Connecting with others who know first-hand what you’re going through can help reduce feelings of isolation, fear, and hopelessness. Staying motivated and positive is much easier when you have others you can turn to and lean on to help you get through tough times.
Members of these groups are of all races and religions and all that is necessary is to admit that there is a problem, that it is out of control and that you want help and/or support. Meetings are free and there are no membership requirements beyond a desire to recover, though for some groups, meetings can be “open” (anyone can attend) or “closed” (attendance is limited to people who want to stop drinking, using drugs, or engaging in the behavior the group is focused on).
Research has consistently and clearly demonstrated that active involvement in self-help support groups significantly improves a person’s chances of long-term recovery and these free support groups exist in most communities – in practically every village and town across America. Last year alone, more than 5,000,000 people across the nation attended self-help/recovery support groups.
The following represents only a partial list of some of the most widely available self-help/recovery support groups:
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) www.aa.org
An international fellowship of men and women who come together to share their experience, strength and hope with the purpose of staying sober and helping other alcoholics to achieve sobriety. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Services and materials are available in Spanish, French and English.
Al-Anon/Alateen offers hope and recovery to all people affected by the alcoholism of a loved one or friend, whether the person you are concerned about is still drinking or not. Support for friends and families.
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) www.adultchildren.org
Adult Children of Alcoholics is an anonymous Twelve Step program for people who grew up in an alcoholic or otherwise dysfunctional home.
Cocaine Anonymous (CA) www.ca.org
A fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other so that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from their addiction; the primary purpose is to stay free from cocaine and all other mind-altering substances, and to help others achieve the same freedom.
Crystal Meth Anonymous www.crystalmeth.org
Crystal Meth Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other, so they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from addiction to crystal meth. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using.
Dual Recovery Anonymous www.draonline.org
An independent, twelve-step, self-help organization for people with a dual diagnosis of chemical dependence and an emotional or psychiatric illness. Dual Recovery addresses how both illnesses affect all areas of life.
Marijuana Anonymous (MA) www.marijuana-anonymous.org
Marijuana Anonymous is a 12-Step fellowship that addresses the common problem of marijuana addiction. There are in-person and online meetings. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using marijuana.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA) www.na.org
NA is a fellowship of men and women who come together for the purpose of sharing their recovery from drug abuse. NA members are working together in a spirit of unity and cooperation to carry their message of recovery. The only requirement for membership is the desire to stop using.
Nar-Anon Family Groups (Nar-Anon) www.nar-anon.org
Nar-Anon is a twelve-step program designed to help relatives and friends of addicts recover from the effects of living with an addicted relative or friend.
Nicotine Anonymous www.nicotine-anonymous.org
Nicotine Anonymous is a 12 Step Fellowship of people helping each other live nicotine-free lives. Nicotine Anonymous welcomes all those seeking freedom from nicotine addiction, including those using cessation programs and nicotine withdrawal aids.