The Benefits Of Group Therapy During Addiction Recovery

If you need treatment for alcohol use disorder or another form of addiction, consider the benefits of group therapy, one of several treatment approaches used in the treatment of substance use disorders. Addiction is a progressive disease that affects every part of a person’s life.1 Addiction treatment program therapies are designed to address different aspects of addiction and allow you to work through complex issues at the root of your substance misuse.

What Is Group Therapy?

Group therapy is a type of talk therapy that involves you and others participating being guided by a single therapist, typically a licensed mental health professional who is trained in conducting group therapy.2

Group therapy is often considered a cornerstone in alcohol treatment programs.3 Group members come from varied backgrounds, yet, you have at least one thing in common with other group members—your addiction to alcohol or drugs.4

A therapy group is a reflection of your life and personal issues. Group therapy offers the opportunity to put differences aside and engage with, support, and help each other. Different perspectives from others may help you see your problems with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD) in a new light.2

Group therapy allows you to interact with others in a safe and controlled environment. This can be a beneficial way to learn new skills that can help you transition out of a treatment environment. Group therapy provides additional information to those going through treatment and the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences, challenges, and successes.2

A therapy group for AUD can provide a safe place to process your feelings and receive support, encouragement, and assistance from your peers. Group therapy allows you to benefit from interacting with other group members and not just from interacting with a therapist.5

Professionally Led

A professional with a specific treatment plan leads most common types of groups. Everyone in a group is typically at approximately the same point in recovery.6 For example, all members of the group may be in early recovery or all nearing the end date of an inpatient program.

Professional therapists can focus on such issues as:3

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What Are the Benefits of Group Therapy?

There are several specific benefits of group therapy in an alcohol use disorder treatment program, including the following. Following are some of the important benefits.

Structure

One of the primary benefits of group therapy in an addiction recovery program is the ability to structure a group according to myriad factors.3 For example, a group may be composed of only women or men to address specific issues related to gender. If the treatment facility deals with AUD and other substance use disorders, a separate group for AUD, polysubstance use disorder—or addiction to more than one substance—and other SUDs like opioid use disorder allows you to more easily relate to the experiences of group members.

Groups can also be designed around dual diagnosis, which is a combination of a mental health disorder and an AUD or SUD. For example, a group within an alcohol treatment program could be composed of members who also have a diagnosis of depression or another mood disorder.3

There is power in addressing other issues at the same time as alcohol addiction or drug dependence. Life is challenging for everyone, and you may have multiple issues that challenge you.3 A treatment program does not have to ignore other critical issues while focusing on the addiction only. Part of the treatment process is preparing to transition back to your daily life after intensive treatment.

Increased Interactions

Your addiction to alcohol may have caused you to spend more time alone. Many individuals with substance use disorders experience isolation out of shame or embarrassment, to hide their substance misuse or its effects, or to avoid interpersonal issues like arguments with loved ones. The separation from your family and friends may actually contribute to continued substance misuse.3

Entering treatment is a challenge to connect with other people. You may have felt that you are alone in your addiction and that people in your life do not understand the challenges you face. Group therapy can help you realize that you are not alone and that others have similar history, fears, and interpersonal struggles.3

Sense of Community

In addition to helping reduce isolation, group therapy in an alcohol treatment program can help establish a sense of community. Being a part of something larger than oneself is an essential part of a healthy life. When you share with others, it increases your feelings of personal strength and unity with others who have similar experiences.3

This environment can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Research indicates that a sense of belonging influences motivation for recovery and reduces the risk of relapse.6

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Accountability

Entering treatment and being involved with group therapy creates an opportunity to become accountable for your actions.3 Addiction is influenced by internal and external factors, and progresses through a series of choices.

Many individuals with substance use disorders find it difficult to identify where to place responsibility for the circumstances that led them to seek treatment. Some feel an overwhelming sense of toxic shame and a sense that every thing that has ever happened to them is their fault, while others may struggle to accept responsibility for any of their actions, especially those for which they feel guilt or regret.

Part of recovery is learning to be accountable for your own behavior, accept that you are not responsible for others’ behavior and cannot change it, and to externalize the shame you may feel about events that you could not control.

This is a complex process that often begins with identifying and accepting responsibility for your own choices, including the decisions you made that led to the development of your substance use disorder. You may need to process the fact that, at the time, some of these decisions seemed harmless or even right and that you could not have anticipated where they would lead, but that you are still responsible for making them.

The first step in making lasting changes is to see that you have power in your own life. While many factors can contribute to addiction, making new choices can help you recover. Your peers can hold you accountable in a caring, non-judgmental way that provides you the strength to develop self-accountability.3

Psychoeducational Opportunity

Many addiction treatment programs teach about the disease of addiction and how alcohol and other substances affect your body and brain.1 Knowledge of these effects is essential for many individuals to understand their behavior when under the influence and to find the personal motivation for recovery.

Education covers the impact that alcohol has on you in the following areas:1

  • Physically
  • Emotionally
  • Interpersonally

Psychoeducational groups focused on interpersonal effects of substances often also provide tools for you to strengthen relationships and rebuild those that have been damaged by addiction.

Recovery Skill Training

Group therapy offers the opportunity for you to establish and strengthen behaviors that are critical to living sober. Group therapy for alcoholism that focuses on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can provide insight into managing your thoughts and feelings.7 CBT’s foundational principle is learning to identify how certain thoughts influence your actions. You can develop new coping skills overcome previously difficult challenges.

Recognizing irrational thoughts and how they contribute to substance use can allow you to learn how to shift these thought patterns and, in turn, alter the associated behaviors.7

Recognizing Triggers

Group therapy can assist you in recognizing triggers that may contribute to your substance misuse. Dealing with triggers is an essential part of recovery. Sharing your experiences and listening to others discuss their challenges can give you insight and new methods for recognizing your triggers.7

How Is Group Therapy Different Than Peer Support?

It is important to distinguish between group therapy in a recovery program and a self-help peer support group. An addiction support group is a type of group that you join on a voluntary basis, often following formal addiction treatment. Group therapy is typically led by a licensed professional, while a self-help group may have a volunteer facilitator with some nonprofessional training or may even be led by a peer member from the group.2

An example of a peer support group is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). This type of group offers ongoing assistance and support to help you maintain your sobriety.

Group therapy and support groups complement each other. While in treatment, group therapy focuses on evidence-based therapy for alcoholism. You can develop new adaptive behaviors and attitudes that can help you overcome your addiction and begin to live a sober life.

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Some addiction treatment programs include peer support group sessions in their programming as a tool to help you transition out of an intensive treatment environment. These peer groups may differ in format from community peer groups. Attending AA while attending an outpatient program or after addiction treatment can allow you to interact with others also in recovery. Here you can practice the skills you learned in rehab.

While peer groups are a helpful tool for many individuals with alcohol use disorder before, during, and after treatment, formal addiction treatment—including group therapy—can offer the long-term tools necessary for recovery.

If you or a loved one struggles with an alcohol addiction or dependence on another substance, please call 800-839-1686Who Answers? for professional assistance finding treatment services.

Resources

  1. American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2019, September 15). Definition of addiction.
  2. American Psychological Association. (2019, October 31). Psychotherapy: Understanding group therapy.
  3. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2005). Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 41. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US).
  4. Mayo Clinic. (2018, October 19) Prescription drug abuse.
  5. Yalom, I. D., & Lesczc, M. (2005). The Theory And Practice Of Group Therapy, 3d Ed. New York, NY: Basic Books.
  6. Lunde L.H., & Skjotskift S. (2012). Group therapy for drug addiction. Tidsskr Nor Laegeforen, 132(2), 132–3.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 01). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition).

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