Last Updated on October 31, 2022 by Dr. Alberto Solà

Going to a support group for the very first time can be a very daunting task, but fact of the matter is – it’s probably going to be the absolute best thing for you.  Whether you have been through a structured rehabilitation program, or if you got clean and sober on your own and need some extra support, or if you aren’t sober yet but would like to see what kind of help is out there for you, support groups can be an amazing tool to help you succeed on your recovery journey, now and into the future.  It’s likely that you are shy, embarrassed, or anxious about going to a group, but everyone feels that way at first.  Surely, no one is excited to sit in a circle and talk about their feelings initially, but after a few sessions, it’s almost certain that you will be glad that you went.

So, what can you expect when attending a support group meeting?  What is the true purpose of a support group? How can you find a good support group, and how do you know you found the best one for your situation?  Read on and find out. 

Structure & Purpose of Support Groups

The first thing you need to know is that a support group is not the same as group therapy.  You may also be able to benefit from group therapy, but these are two different things.  Group therapy is run by a medical or psychological professional, like a psychologist, psychiatrist, doctor, or therapist.  The goal of group therapy is to move forward on issues you are facing and find solutions to those issues with professional help.  It’s just like traditional one-on-one therapy, but it is in a group setting, with hopes that the participants, who have similar issues, will learn and grow from each other.  It is process oriented, and therapeutic.

Support groups are similar but different.  Anyone can attend – they do not have to be chosen by the leader, and the leader is not always, nor even usually, a medical professional (although they can be!).  Support groups are just that – groups that offer support.  For the purposes of this post, we are discussing support groups for drug and alcohol use, abuse, and addiction, but there are support groups for all kinds of things, including grief, disease, post-partum depression, parenting challenges, infertility, divorce, job loss, homosexuality, gambling addiction, and many more.  Support groups meet regularly, and are usually ongoing for long periods of time.  They provide help, community, camaraderie, and of course support to people who are going through difficult times.   It allows people to express their struggles, validate their feelings, and can help them feel normal despite their challenges.

It’s hard to say what exactly to expect when attending a support group meeting, because they are all a little different, but in most you will sit together with attendees and one person will be a facilitator.  The facilitator may introduce a topic to encourage attendees to speak, or he or she may just open the discussion up to anyone who wants to speak on any topic.  You may be asked to introduce yourself, but you will not be forced to speak.  Many people are mostly silent for their first few meetings before they become comfortable enough to participate directly in the discussion.  Most groups suggest no cross talk; participants aren’t supposed to talk to each other directly about things that have been expressed, although they can relate and sympathize and empathize within the group as a whole.  Through this, everyone feels that they have an equal voice in the group, and don’t feel the pressure to defend their feelings or experience in any way. 

Benefits & Risks of Support Group

There are so many benefits to being a part of a support group, especially if you attend regularly.  First and foremost, one of the most important benefits of attending support group meetings is the constant reminder that you are not alone.  In a support group, you not only have the opportunity to express your feelings, but you get to express your feelings to others who are going through the exact same thing, and likely have similar feelings.  You can gain helpful information and strategies to cope that you may not have thought about before.  By meeting and talking with people who are further along their recovery journey than you are, you can find hope, and through talking out loud about all the thoughts and emotions inside you, you can experience increased self-understanding as well.

Although the benefits certainly outweigh the risks when it comes to support groups, there are some potential risks of which you should also be aware.  Since every group is different, and is made up of varied people with different personalities from different backgrounds, you may find that you don’t mesh well with the other participants, and this can even set you back a bit instead of helping you move forward.  You may find that some people want to compete with others over who has the worse situation, and some people may monopolize the conversations within.  Further, it’s assumed that everything you say in group is confidential, but there is nothing guaranteeing that will be the case; if you live in a small community where everyone knows everyone else, a breach of confidentiality can be devastating.  And, since there may be no medical professional present, some of the medical information you receive may be inaccurate or entirely faulty.       Still, despite these risks, the benefits of a support group most certainly outweigh the drawbacks, and many of these problems can be avoided by simply choosing the right group for you, and moving on and trying another one when the first one (or more) does not work out. 

How to Find the Right Support Group

If you are looking for a support group, there are many ways you can find one.  You can ask your doctor, clinic, therapist, or local hospital, or you can reach out to local rehabilitation centers and non-profit organizations to see if they have any they can recommend.  Before joining, you should find out when, where, and how often the group meets.  You may want to find out if the facilitator of the group is a medical professional or simply one of the group’s participants, and if it’s the latter, you will likely want to know if he or she has been through any training related to leading the group.  You’ll want to know if the support group is free to attend (most are), and if it isn’t, how much will it cost?  What is a typical meeting like? How many people usually attend?  Is this support group based on a twelve-step program, or on something else?

You can likely call someone to get these answers before even walking in the door.  The person you speak with initially may be the facilitator or someone else, but it’s important that the person seems welcoming and genuinely interested in helping you.  If a cure or definite solution to your problem is offered, or if the cost to attend is quite high, those are probably red flags.  True support groups would never promise success nor charge you a large amount to be a part of a supportive, community based setting.

Try any new support group for a few weeks.  If it doesn’t feel like a good fit for you try another one.  It might take a while to find one where you feel right at home and are able to open up, but once you do, you will make friends and feel supported, and both of those things are vital when moving forward on the path to a life of long-term health, happiness, and sobriety.  Good luck! The path to recovery is long and challenging, but with determination, support, and new direction, it is highly possible and likely to succeed for the long term.  At Clear Sky Recovery, we want to help you take the first step.  We offer ibogaine detox at our facility in Cancun, and we are confident it can help to interrupt your addictive behaviors and change your outlook about your future.  Our intake specialists are standing by to answer any questions you may have, and to help show you the ways in which ibogaine can help you in your unique and personal situation.  Please call us today!