Group Therapy for Alcohol Addiction

Group therapy is an increasingly popular treatment method in professional counseling and arguably one of the most effective treatment methods in the addiction recovery field.

For addiction treatment, group therapy can decrease the isolation that often results from addiction, while allowing group members to witness the journeys of their peers who are seeking sobriety. Group therapy provides a space to work through past traumas, unhealthy thinking patterns, and addiction triggers, which then allows for growth toward long-term sobriety and improved mental health.1

If you or your loved one are considering treatment for alcohol addiction and are looking for more information on what that looks like, group therapy may be a helpful starting place as you begin your journey to sobriety.

In this article: 

What Is Group Therapy?

Group therapy consists of a group of people, led by a licensed professional in a relevant counseling field, who meet to work on a common therapeutic goal. There are multiple types of group therapy. Groups may meet at different locations—including as part of alcohol addiction rehab programs—with different members, and for different reasons. Each group focuses on a different skill set to achieve the group’s therapeutic goals.2

Some types of group therapy that you may find include:

  • Psycho-educational groups
  • Skills development groups
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) groups
  • Interpersonal process group psychotherapy
  • Support groups

If you are considering group therapy to work toward recovery from alcohol addiction, you are encouraged to look for a group that focuses on the common goal of long-term sobriety. Other groups may touch on addiction and will support you in maintaining your sobriety. However, general groups and groups focused on other mental health issues may not provide you with as much support in your recovery journey as groups whose sole purpose is alcohol addiction recovery.1

Alcohol addiction recovery groups are available to provide all the types of group therapy listed above. Finding the right fit for you depends on what stage of recovery you are in.

Psycho-educational groups are those groups that focus on understanding alcohol use disorder (AUD) and the cycle of addiction. These groups are more educational and informative about the addiction itself, rather than therapeutic or goal-oriented.1

Psychoeducational groups may be open to loved ones of those suffering from AUD. This group setting may help family members and friends better understand the challenges facing someone with AUD.

Skills development groups are wonderful for those seeking sobriety with motivation to begin making changes immediately. These groups teach actionable skills to break the cycle of addiction and work toward the goal of long-term recovery. The leader of these group focuses on understanding your triggers, your cravings, and the best ways to work through circumstances that may threaten your abstinence.1

Cognitive-behavioral therapy groups have a deeply therapeutic focus, as they will be using the therapeutic technique called cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT. In a CBT group, the group leader helps members to recognize and reorganize thinking patterns and behaviors that may have led to the development of AUD and which and pose a risk of leading to relapse in the future.1

Interpersonal process group psychotherapy is another type of group therapy with a deep therapeutic focus. These groups allow space for each group member to recreate their past in the present moment with the support of the other group members so they can rethink their previously ignored or overlooked relational and life problems that may have contributed to their alcohol addiction.1

Support groups are perhaps the most well-known and commonly attended groups in the addiction treatment field. Support groups include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Support groups do not have a professionally licensed facilitator and are not an official form of therapy. In a peer support group setting, members hold each other accountable, challenge each other’s excuses, and support each other with constructive criticism to work toward their goal of long-term sobriety. Different support group types may have specified formats, such as 12-step meetings.1

If a healthcare professional has recommended that you seek group therapy to overcome an alcohol addiction, they may also advise you on the type of group therapy most compatible with your needs, background, personality, and recovery goals.

Group Therapy Vs. Community Support Groups

If you or a loved one feel that you would benefit from alcohol addiction group therapy, be aware of the difference between group therapy and community support groups. Community support groups are typically used as a supplemental support for individuals in treatment, but may also be used to bridge treatment gaps with traditional therapy is not accessible. These meetings, like AA  meetings, are not official forms of therapy.

You will know that a program is group therapy and not a community support group if it has the following characteristics:

  • Led by a trained professional therapist
  • Has an appointed facilitator
  • Holds a formal hierarchy
  • Has a screening process before joining
  • Focuses on member’s differences and similarities
  • Works toward therapeutic goals
  • Helps each member to process internal conflict1

Arguably the most essential component of a group therapy program is that the group is led by a professionally licensed therapist. This facilitator may have one or more specialties specific to addiction recovery, as well as academic and experiential knowledge and insight that will benefit each member as they work toward their sobriety. The facilitator will also be able to offer specific group therapy activities based on the needs and desires of the members and the type of therapy being used in the group, such as CBT or dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT).3

A professionally trained therapist will also have the necessary skills and training to help each member of the group work through their complex issues that may be contributing to their alcohol misuse. Resolution of these underlying or co-occurring issues is key for many patients seeking long-term sobriety.3

Establishing Group Members

A group therapy group can be either “open” or “closed.” With an open group, new members are invited to attend the group each week or at the discretion of the facilitator and current members may discontinue attending the group when they choose.3

In a closed group, members are chosen and established at the beginning of the group series, and new members are not be invited at any point during the active sessions. Active members may be discouraged from quitting the group before the full therapeutic series is completed.3

Knowing whether or not the group is considered open or closed may help you decide which group therapy sessions to join.

Often, there is a selection process the facilitator uses to choose the members of the group. The therapist can gauge which individuals will be a good fit for the group based on personal history, current struggles, and motivation for sobriety.2

Furthermore, the therapist may consider personality types when choosing group members to create a specific group dynamic. This will help ensure a smooth process where each member can benefit the group. This selection process is essential for a good group therapy experience as community and support within the group are pivotal to individual progress.2

When Do Groups Meet?

When and how often the group meets may be another consideration for you when beginning the search for a good group therapy program. The makeup of the group may differ based a number of factors—the schedule or experience of the facilitator, the age range of group members (e.g., adolescents vs. adults over 50), the therapy method employed, etc. While may group therapy groups meet weekly, the frequency and length of the meetings may depend on the topic being addressed and the members being served. Typically, group therapy for adults will be held once a week for two hours. For adolescents, meetings may occur more frequently with shorter sessions, possibly twice a week for an hour.

What Are the Benefits of Group Therapy?

Group therapy is useful on a practical level, as it allows one licensed professional to treat multiple people at the same time. It can be difficult to find individual sessions for alcohol addiction recovery and group therapy offers a way to increase the number of people receiving treatment.1

Group therapy also provides participants with real-world tools such as structure and discipline, which can be lost in addiction.1

Group therapy proves especially beneficial for addiction treatment as it works to overcome the isolation that addiction so often brings. When a person seeking sobriety sit in a group of others who are also working to overcome their alcohol misuse, they again engage in friendship and community. This community alone can help motivate people to continue down the path of sobriety. They are reminded of the positive impact that support can have on their self-esteem, self-image, and happiness.1

Attending group therapy for AUD recovery also offers the opportunity to witness the recovery of others, which can be inspirational to those newly seeking sobriety. With group therapy sessions, new members are able to see the tactics and skills used by seasoned members to achieve and maintain their long-term sobriety and new members are then offered confidence that recovery is possible.1

Group therapy also provides accountability to those seeking sobriety. This then creates a certain level of positive peer pressure for all members to continue sobriety so they can not only avoid the constructive criticism of the other group members and facilitator, but also maintain the group encouragement, support, and coaching.1

After attending the same group therapy sessions for a while, a sense of familial-like support begins. This sense of belonging and experience of family is an exceptional feeling for some who previously may not have had it. For those members who have previously not had family or a sense of belonging, alcohol misuse may have been their way of coping without those necessary supports. The group therapy family experience may then become a wonderfully healing community that helps fill that void.1

How to Get the Most Out of Group Therapy

Attending group therapy sessions is a great starting point, but if you are simply attending the session and not participating in it, you may not experience all the benefits possible.

Come prepared for the session. Complete any “homework” assigned in the previous session and prepare yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally to participate in the group therapy session for yourself and your fellow group members.

It not always easy to attend group therapy sessions and immediately begin sharing thoughts and feelings. Your group leader will be aware of this and give you the space needed to feel comfortable to share. However, you can expect encouragement for you to start participating by supporting others and sharing your story.

When you feel comfortable speaking to your own experience, share honestly. Your therapist can more effectively help you and your group members can more fully support you if they understand your reality.

Finally, trust in the process. Recovery is a journey, not an event. Sobriety is only achieved through patience with self, hard work, and appropriate treatment and support.

If you have questions about alcohol addiction treatment, please call 800-839-1686Who Answers? for more support.

Resources

  1. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2005). Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy. SAMHSA/CSAT Treatment Improvement Protocols, No. 41.
  2. Malhotra, A., Baker, J. (2021). Group Therapy. StatPearls.
  3. Corey, G. (2011). Theory and Practice of Group Counseling (8th ed.). Brooks Cole.

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