Cross Talk in Addiction Support Groups

Contributor: written by Vermilion Behavioral Health Systems clinical team member Heather Wilk, MA, NCC, LPC.

conference-table-593355_640Those who partake in support groups can gain so much from what they offer. Especially for individuals who are working to maintain a drug-free lifestyle, support groups have the ability to help people remain steadfast in their commitment to be sober.

In addition to the encouragement and backing that can be felt from others who have endured similar struggles, addiction support groups, more specifically, can do the following for their members:

  • Improve self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Teach new and effective skills for coping in a healthy way
  • Reduce feelings of being alone
  • Offer a forum to discuss the stress involved with resisting drugs and/or alcohol
  • Provide a setting to celebrate triumphs with others who can relate to the importance of achieving certain goals or reaching milestones in sobriety

These benefits are what make addiction support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), effective options for individuals who want to remain sober in a non-sober world.

Supplementing Treatment with a Support Group

When a person is considering joining an addiction support group, the aforementioned benefits are often made known prior to entering a group of this kind. Especially if a person has gone through chemical dependency treatment for a substance abuse problem, the advantages for supplementing treatment or continuing progress after treatment by being part of AA, NA, or another addiction-focused group are frequently discussed as a way to encourage potential members to attend.

Even with this knowledge, however, those contemplating joining a group may often wonder what these types of groups will be like, worry that they will have to share personal stories right away to a large group of people, or have expectations for how to conduct themselves when surrounded by others who are working on their recovery.

While these concerns and apprehensions are very normal and valid feelings to have prior to joining a support group, they can be alleviated once a person becomes more comfortable within a group. However, once engaged in a group, a concern that could arise if group members are not mindful of it is the issue of crosstalking.

The Issue of Crosstalk

meeting-593301_640Crosstalk, something that can happen in support groups from time to time, occurs when an individual provides feedback or comments on what is being said by another member of the group before that group member has finished sharing his or her thought.

Generally speaking, this type of behavior is frowned-upon by group leaders and is frequently off-putting to group members.

Crosstalk can come in the forms of:

  • Interruptions
  • Unwarranted advice
  • Crass judgments
  • Moral-driven criticisms
  • Abusive insults

Additionally, praise or words of encouragement can be considered crosstalk, of which does have the potential to cause harm to the person speaking or to other group members if those words of encouragement interrupt the individual who was initially speaking.

Infringing on People’s Willingness to Speak

Anonymity is cornerstone to groups like AA and NA and is often what allows individuals to feel as though they can speak freely at meetings. Crosstalk from other group members, while it does not take away from the anonymousness of meetings, can infringe upon people’s feeling that they can speak openly when it occurs.

Sharing personal stories pertaining to one’s own struggle with addiction can be an intimidating feat, ripe with fear of judgment from others. To build up the gumption to talk about one’s self and the circumstances that led to attending an addiction support group can take time. Should another person crosstalk during that spurt of courage, it can be disheartening to the speaker and feel as though something was lost in that moment.

Addiction support groups, in general, are designed to be a forum in which people can own their struggles via storytelling and process how far they have come since hitting bottom. They are not to be used as question-and-answer sessions in which addicts feel as though they have to explain themselves or justify their pasts.

Giving Other Support Group Members Support

diner-336499_640When group leaders curb crosstalk or when it does not occur at all, groups like AA and NA can, as it has been stated, be very beneficial to those working on their recovery. Group members, even when they may feel compelled to do so, should abstain from crosstalk in order to allow other members the respect they deserve when discussing their own struggles.

There is much to be said for having a place to talk about one’s history of addiction with others who have traveled a similar road and instances of crosstalk, ideally, should not tarnish this aspect of addiction support groups. It is imperative for members to listen, respect, and empathize with other members, as doing so can foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie.

Lastly, by listening to other people’s journeys, it can help those who may be struggling with their recovery come to the realization that treatment is needed again in order to solidify sobriety. Fortunately, group members can learn about effective treatment options that have worked for others and can select a program that can guide them towards a truly drug-free life.


About the Author:

“Cross Talk in Addiction Support Groups” was written by Vermilion Behavioral Health Systems clinical team member Heather Wilk, MA, NCC, LPC. Heather has several years of experience working in the field of mental health as a psychotherapist and has her Master’s degree in Community Counseling from Concordia University – Chicago.


About Vermilion Behavioral Health Systems:

Site Description: Licensed to operate 78 beds, Vermilion Behavioral Health Systems is a free-standing provider of comprehensive behavioral healthcare services. Located in the heart of Acadiana, this center is the largest and only provider of inpatient care for adolescents in the region.

Vermilion’s innovative programs offer treatment for a wide range of behavioral health conditions and features programming options at various levels of care for young people, adults, and senior adults. By implementing treatment methods and evidence-based therapeutic techniques, Vermillion’s exemplary treatment has solidified its reputation as a center that offers high quality mental healthcare.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

Have you experienced crosstalk in a support group? What steps were taken to remedy the situation?

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addiction. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 31st, 2015
Published on AddictionHope.com

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