There is no one singular pathway to recovery and that is reflected in the wide variety of support groups and networks that exist today for various substance abuse disorders and compulsive disorders. They come in many formats and some cater to a specific niche. There are support groups geared towards addicts who use heroin, addicts who use cocaine, those who drink alcohol and just any addict in general. There are support groups for the compulsive gambler, people with an internet addict and even groups that are geared to those with co-occurring disorders. Let’s go over a few of the more better known support groups and detail what they offer as well as their differences.
With so many organizations and groups out in the world there is bound to be one that speaks to somebody and they can relate to. When speaking about fellowships in recovery many people will think about Alcoholics Anonymous. This is fair since they are one of the oldest organizations dating back to 1935 when the founder, Bill Wilson, began helping other alcoholics obtain the experience he had gone through. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is based off a twelve-step program (the first twelve step program in fact). The core of AA is based off these twelve steps and the belief in a higher power. The main idea of the steps can be best described as trying to instill a “spiritual change” in the alcoholic. This “spiritual change” or “awakening” occurs over time by working through the steps with a sponsor. The purpose of the group started as recovery from alcoholism but today it is applied to all forms of addiction. The organization holds meetings where self-identified alcoholics share their experience, strength and hope with others. AA encourages its members to help fellow alcoholics and provides a supportive community for those seeking sobriety. The meetings that the group holds can be open and allow for anybody to attend, though some meetings are designed to cater to specific groups such as: males, females, specific age groups, specific cultures and sexual orientation.
Another group that sprang from members of AA is that of Narcotics Anonymous. It was founded by substance abuser named Jimmy Kinnon (better known as Jimmy K due to the principles of anonymity). In the earlier days of Alcoholics Anonymous, those abusing other substances besides alcohol were at time excluded from meetings. Jimmy K was able to adopt the twelve steps of AA into his new organization with permission from Bill Wilson. While calling themselves “Narcotics Anonymous” this fellowship has taken to treat their substance abuse as a disease known as addiction. The members of Narcotics Anonymous (NA) identify themselves as addicts and believe that addiction is a progressive disease with no known cure, that the disease affects every aspect of the life of an addict. Members of NA believe that even after one puts down drugs that the disease still impacts their life in a variety of ways. It could manifest in anger, risk taking, lying, cheating, etc. While the program of NA is very much like that of Alcoholics Anonymous it puts emphasis on the fact that it is a nonreligious program. Where AA believes in a higher power in the religious sense, Narcotics Anonymous believes that an addict’s higher power can be anything so long as it is powerful enough to get them to stop using drugs and that working their twelve-step program will help them sustain their recovery. The two groups of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are very similar with the main differences stemming from their respective literature.
Another fellowship that is based on the twelve steps is Adult Children of Alcoholics. This group was formed in 1973 and is a support group geared towards those who were raised in families where substance abuse occurred. The goal of Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA) is what they refer to as “emotional sobriety”. Essentially, ACoA’s purpose is to provide help and peer-support to adults who were affected emotionally by their upbringings in families where drug or alcohol abuse played a role. In the addict household, family dysfunction is common. The members seeking support have experienced a wide range of issues related to their childhood due to one or more family members substance abuse. It is a therapeutic program used to help people cope and come to terms with the issues they face in adulthood which were rooted in their childhood.
Not all support groups for addicts are based on twelve-step programs. The group formerly known as Refuge Recovery, now known as Recovery Dharma for instance is based on Buddhist practices to help gain recovery from addiction. Recovery Dharma utilizes meditation, self-inquiry, and practicing altruism to facilitate this. Another organization does not spring from a twelve-step program is SMART Recovery. The SMART stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. SMART Recovery is based on science as it relates to addiction. SMART Recovery takes aspects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing to deal with substance use disorders. Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery does not require a sponsor to take you through their program. The organization puts an emphasis on the fact that the individual is ultimately the one responsible for finding their path to recovery from substance abuse.
One of the newer support groups with a growing membership that sets out to cater towards both substance use disorders as well as mental health disorders is the Depression and Bipolar Alliance. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) exists to help those with mental health issues find fellowship and peer-support. It is estimated that around half of those with Substance Use Disorder also have another mental disorder. DBSA has meetings for those with various mental disorders as well as co-occurring disorders. They offer a mixture of meetings that include twelve-step groups for people with a dual-diagnosis that may benefit more from the companionship of an addict who also is diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder that is similar to their own. While the group mainly brings together those looking for peer-support with depression and bipolar disorder, they also hold meetings for those with other diagnosis.
These fellowships and organizations serve many functions. They bring people together and form connections that those in early recovery can use for peer support. They let people hear experiences of others who have had similar afflictions and allow addicts to know that they are not alone. When somebody suffers from a substance use disorder, they can begin to feel isolated which results in only furthering them deeper into their addiction.