Potential Problems in Addiction Support Groups

Contributor: Seven Hills Hospital clinical team member, Erica Smith, MA, NCC

traveller-349963_640When an individual is struggling with a substance use disorder and abusing drugs and/or alcohol, addiction support groups can be an extremely beneficial way of receiving encouragement for continued sobriety and lasting healing.

These types of groups offer individuals an avenue of reprieve from the turmoil that they experience each day as the result of trying to remain sober, prevent relapse, and adhere to the tasks of daily living without the use of drugs or alcohol.

By taking part in these addiction support groups, people are afforded the opportunity to be surrounded by other individuals who have gone through similar experiences and face comparable challenges in their lives as the result of their chemical dependency concerns. With the receipt of this ongoing support and encouragement, individuals are more likely to remain successful in their recovery journey.

Addiction Support Groups and Problems That Arise

Unfortunately, however, there are problems that can arise within the dynamic of a support group setting. When these problems develop, it can hinder the positive processing that would normally occur within the group.

The reasons why such problems arise will inevitably vary, but are likely to result from either the presence of discrepancies among the expectations of various group members in regards to what the purpose of the group is or what topics will be discussed or as a result of individual participant problems.

The various personalities of the individuals who take part in support groups will ultimately work to add both positive and negative aspects to the group dynamic as a whole. In most cases, the benefits far supersede the detriments, but when there exists certain negative personalities, it can taint the overall therapeutic aspect of the support group.

Giving Unsolicited Advice in Addiction Support Groups

Girl sharing in Addiction Support GroupsOne example of a type of person who can work to hinder the progress of a group, albeit possibly without realizing that he or she is doing so, is someone who consistently feeling compelled to give advice. These types of people may truly feel as though the advice they share is meaningful and that it will help their fellow group members but, in reality, it actually alienates them.

People in support groups often find solace in the fact that they are surrounded by other individuals who have shared similar experiences, making them feel less alone in the struggles and challenges that they are facing.

But when someone takes it upon him or herself to offer advice, other members of the group may feel as though they are being talked down to, or may stop feeling as though they are equals and instead feel like they are outcasts because they, themselves, do not have advice to share. Not only this, but when someone constantly feels the need to share advice, a wall of resentment will likely begin to form between him or her and the other members of the group.

Constant Interruptions

Another type of person who may impose conflict onto the support group setting is someone who constantly interrupts other members of the group.

Again, these individuals are likely not intentionally trying to create problems, but the habit of interrupting others when they are speaking will inevitably create hostility and irritability, and will begin to push group members apart.

The Unspoken Understanding

walkThis can also hinder the feeling of sanctuary that these support groups offer for many people. People often come to view support groups as a safe environment where they can share their inner thoughts and struggles and be met with an unspoken understanding by others who have shared similar experiences.

Once someone begins interrupting the stories that are being shared or comments that are being made, that sense of safety and unspoken understanding can slowly begin to deteriorate as these individuals come to feel as though what they have shared is not seen as being important by others.

A Deterioration of Camaraderie

This not only causes a deterioration in the sense of camaraderie that may have developed among group members, but it can also cause some individuals to experience setbacks in their recovery process as a whole.

Whenever individuals who are struggling with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol do not feel heard or feel demeaned or disrespected by their peers, sadly, their first reaction can often be to return to their drug of choice.

The Encouragement of Deviant Behavior

There are many other types of personality conflicts that can arise among the members of a support group and, when they or the aforementioned do, it is up to the group leader to mediate and ensure that the group itself gets back on track so that everyone taking part in it can fully benefit from the process.

Outside of individual participant concerns and personalities, another problem that can arise within the support group setting is the unknowing encouragement of deviant behavior. While this is the polar opposite of the actual goal for support groups, when individuals are sharing their personal stories of drug use, it can work as a trigger to other group members.

For example, someone who has been working on recovering from an addiction to heroin may hear another group member share a personal story about his or her use of heroin and the circumstances surrounding it and it may trigger that individual to want to use again. This probability should be discussed among group members and a plan of action for such an occurrence should be devised.

Learning About Different Treatment Types

person walking on a pier pleased with Addiction Support GroupsBecause preventing relapse is an ongoing part of recovery, individuals who are taking part in support groups can benefit from learning about and sharing with one another the various types of treatment options that are available that can be of benefit when the compulsion to use their drug of choice returns.

Whether that compulsion has returned because of something that occurred during the group itself, or if it returned simply because that is the nature of addiction, individuals can always restart their recovery process by engaging in one of the many types of treatment programs that have been designed to help individuals who are facing an addiction to drugs or alcohol.


[1] http://griefwords.com/index.cgi?action=page&page=articles%2Fsupport_group.html&site_id=7

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64223/

About the Author:

This blog was written by Seven Hills Hospital clinical team member, Erica Smith, MA, NCC. Erica has several years of experience working in the treatment field as a clinical therapist and has her Master’s degree in Clinical Counseling from the American School of Professional Psychology.

About Seven Hills Hospital:

As a leading provider of psychiatric and substance abuse treatment, Seven Hills Hospital offers services for adolescents, adults, and older adults who are in need of compassionate care in order to overcome the struggles they are facing.

The team of highly skilled therapists, board-certified psychiatrists, and around-the-clock medical staff ensure that everyone who receives treatment at Seven Hills Hospital receives the most optimal care possible so that each and every one of their needs are met and concerns are addressed in a comprehensive manner.

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

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on April 1, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 7, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.