Support Group Etiquette

Contributor: Heather Purdin, M.Ed., RYT, writer for Addiction Hope

Heart racing, mind pacing even faster. Oh, I remember walking into my very first support group!

“Will they like me? What am I supposed to say? I’m so embarrassed.”

Luckily, I was welcomed with absolute compassion.

If you have decided to attend a support group, I congratulate your courageous decision.

Here are some support group etiquette tips that will ease worry and prepare you for your first group.


If nervousness strikes as you walk into the room, remember each one of those brave souls once walked into their first support group too. One beauty of support groups you quickly learn: you are never alone. You deserve compassion too.


Anonymity equates to a sense of security and environment of trust, both crucial to a successful group atmosphere. All groups require members agree to maintain confidentiality, essentially adhering to the idea, “What is said here, stays here.”

If you see someone outside of the group, it’s fine to acknowledge them with a wave and hello. However, it would be inappropriate to tell someone else where you met. Many community support groups pass around confidential member contact lists to increase connection and reduce isolation between meetings.


Attractive man breathing outdoorWhen attending a group for the first time, aim to arrive at least 15 minutes early so you aren’t feeling rushed finding the location. Otherwise, arrive a few minutes early so group can begin promptly. Latecomers can be distracting, especially when sharing something vulnerable.

Sometimes, though, we need group more than ever when running stressed and behind. Use discretion and follow the group’s protocols for entering late.


Participation is always voluntary. People have a right to just listen and others will become frequent speakers. Practice asking for what you need and share discussion time accordingly.

Some groups invite back and forth interaction and others have a “no cross-talk” policy where only one person shares at a time. Practice active listening and save questions to avoid interrupting. We can get so interested in our questions that we stop hearing. Ask someone if they are open to receiving advice before offering it. Sometimes, people just need to be heard.


Unfortunately, competitive cultures can develop in addiction support groups. Members may begin reminiscing old “war stories”, sharing details from the worst of their “glory days”. If you feel the group is leaning toward glamorizing addiction, either share this with the leader or raise it as a community issue.

Advocate for protecting the group’s recovery spirit.


Man using smartphoneSupport groups are great “living laboratories” for setting healthy boundaries. Assertive communication skills need practicing, and support groups are an ideal and safe environment.
When dealing with sensitive issues like mental health and addiction, disagreements are bound to arise.

That doesn’t necessarily make one person right and the other wrong. The practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), or compassionate communication, helps remind us it’s OK that we all have needs and emotions – and sometimes they clash.

It’s extremely important to remember we each have a unique path to recovery. As healing for you as anyone else, choose to encourage rather than judge.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What steps have you taken to strengthen a support group you’ve attended?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on March 21st, 2015
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