Support Group Dynamics & Alcohol Abuse

Contributor: Hugh C. McBride, BA, clinical content team member, Vantage Point

Two men in living room talking about Support GroupsWhen individuals are working towards overcoming an addiction to any type of substance, it is, in most cases, a lifelong recovery process. For clients who are working to overcome an addiction to alcohol, the odds of achieving long-term success can be strongly influenced by their participation in effective support groups.

Support groups can take many forms and serve myriad functions. Some groups are led by a professional or other expert, while others are established and operated solely by people who are in recovery (or who are dealing with the particular topic that the support group exists to address).

Support groups can range from informal gatherings to highly structured meetings, with participation limited to a few core members or open to anyone who chooses to attend. Some support groups are designed to run for a limited number of sessions, while others are intended to be perpetually ongoing.

The Growth of Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is probably the most widely known and respected participant-run support group, with thousands of meetings held every day throughout the world. In the decades since the first AA meeting in 1935, the group’s 12-Step model and meeting structure has been adapted by similar organizations such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Overeaters Anonymous (OA).

In the early 1990s, the Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) organization was created to provide a science-based alternative to the emphasis on a higher power that is integral to the AA/12-Step recovery model.

Shared Experience, Knowledge, and Understanding

Whether part of an established effort like AA or SMART, or developed as a self-contained, standalone entity, support groups share the common goal of using shared experiences, knowledge, and understanding to help individuals who are trying to maintain long-term recovery.

And while the structure and functioning of each support group will be influenced by the individuals who participate, certain objectives, practices, and dynamics are common among the majority of support groups for alcohol abuse.

How Support Group Meetings Work

Leadership with educationMost support groups will have a leader or facilitator. In a support group for recovering alcoholics, the leader will likely also be in recovery. This person will take care of issues such as getting the meeting started and introducing the speaker (if there is one), but his or her most important role will be to encourage and maintain a safe environment for all participants.

One fear that many people have about attending support groups involves being forced to disclose information that they would prefer to keep private. While the open exchange of stories and experiences is an integral part of an effective support group, it is important to know that it is up to each participant to determine what he or she shares with the rest of the group.

The purpose of a support group is not to force or pressure participants into revealing information that they are not yet ready to discuss.

Feeling Comfortable Enough to Share

Many participants discover that listening to others and reflecting on their stories and experiences can be profoundly beneficial, and can help them become confident enough to share information about their own struggles and successes. Anxiety about speaking in a group is an almost universal experience, but within a few sessions, people often find that they feel comfortable enough to begin sharing.

Peer-oriented support groups for alcoholism and related issues can be sources of three types of benefits:

    • Practical help – For alcoholics, practical information can include how to talk to family members, friends, or colleagues about recovery; how to recognize, avoid, or deal with triggers before they lead to relapse; or how to access support services within the community.
    • Emotional help – Simply being in a room with other people who are dealing with a similar issue can provide the emotional assistance of easing feelings of isolation. For people who are new to recovery, it can be reassuring and motivational to see the progress and stability of those who have achieved years or decades of sobriety, or who have experienced a relapse without allowing it to completely derail their recovery. Also, by sharing personal insights and experiences, support group participants can get the emotional boost of realizing that they have value and can make a positive difference in the lives of those with whom they come into contact.
  • Information – All progress begins with and is sustained by education. Support groups can be excellent sources of information on a wide range of recovery-related topics. The better a person can understand the disease of alcoholism and the fundamentals of the recovery process, the more likely it is that he or she will be prepared to pursue success and overcome the obstacles and setbacks that will inevitably occur.

Support Group Leaders

Lady that leads Support GroupsAn effective support group is similar in many ways to a successful team. In effective support groups, participants are invested in the process, actively participate, are open-minded and willing to accept both deserved praise and constructive criticism, resist the urge to form cliques, and address conflicts in healthy and productive ways.

Support groups can be an essential component of a long-term recovery plan. But for many people, successful participation in a support group cannot occur until they have received the professional help that will stop their self-defeating behaviors and put them on the path to recovery.

For this reason, anyone who is dealing with alcohol abuse or addiction should consult with a counselor, therapist, or other appropriate expert to determine the type and level of treatment that is best suited to his or her unique situation.

Once a person has identified and begun the effort to overcome the addictive behaviors that have sidetracked his or her health, he or she will then be able to reap the greatest benefits from participating in a support group.




About the Author:

This blog was written by Vantage Point clinical content team member Hugh C. McBride. Hugh has several years of experience researching and writing on a wide range of topics related to behavioral healthcare. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Grove City College.

About Vantage Point of Northwest Arkansas:

Vantage Point of Northwest Arkansas is a comprehensive residential treatment program for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors who are struggling with mental health disorders and substance abuse/addiction.

The children and adolescent program is designed for clients ages 5 to 17, the adult program cares for clients ages 18 to 54, and the senior program is for ages 55 and above. The center accepts both male and female clients, and is designed to promote crisis resolution, positive self-awareness, social skills, and personal growth in an atmosphere of compassion and confidentiality.

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 March 21, 2015
Reviewed and Updated by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 12, 2021
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