Self-Help Groups for Alcoholism

Alcoholism or alcohol addiction is a very common disease that affects both adults and adolescents. When a person has alcoholism, they are unable to control how much or how often they drink due to very strong compulsions and the physical and mental symptoms they deal with if they try to stop.

Furthermore, when people do get sober and start to recover from alcoholism, the relapse rate is around 40-60 per cent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse or the NIDA.

It is generally recommended that people with alcoholism start at a rehabilitation centre to go through detox and get sober, but afterwards, in order to avoid relapse, continuing treatment with a self-help group can be important.

Additionally, when one member of a family has alcoholism, it tends to affect everyone in their life, especially their family. Just like there are self-help groups for those with alcoholism, there are self-help groups for those in their lives.

Different Types of Self Help Groups

There are a few different twelve-step groups, but the most popular is Alcoholics Anonymous or AA. AA is overall one of the most popular support groups for those who are in recovery from alcoholism.

The main goal is to help people form connections with people who struggle with addiction as well so that they can all support each other in staying sober.

At meetings, people are able to work through potential stressors and triggers to avoid relapse. AA also connects people with sponsors, or people further along in the recovery process, to support them and provide insight and hope.

AA and other twelve-step programmes ask members to admit that they do not have control over their drinking habits and then turn themselves over to some sort of higher power, but each person chooses a higher power that they want to believe in.

For some people, that is Jesus, for others, that's mother nature or even science. After completing that step, a person slowly works through the other twelve steps, which each should help him or her stay sober. These steps include things such as working through triggers and making amends with other people.

SMART recovery is a fairly common alternative to AA and twelve-step programs. SMART is a non-profit that promotes self-empowerment to help people get recover from addiction and get over addictive behaviours. Individuals who take part in SMART Recovery support each other through times of stress and encourage each other to remain abstinent from drugs, alcohol, and other problematic choices and habits. SMART Recovery offers face to face meetings, online meetings, 24/7 chat rooms, and online message boards. All of these different sources work together to help people remain sober by changing negative thoughts and creating new, positive habits. Rather than twelve-steps, the SMART Recovery programme is based on four main points. The first point is obtaining and then maintaining motivation. The second point is learning to manage urges. The third point is about handling emotions, thoughts, and behaviours. Finally, the fourth point is about finding a balance in life. SMART Recovery provides both tools and various exercises that people can do on their own time to work through the four points and eventually achieve and maintain long-term recovery. The meetings provide time for important check-ins and then work time. In the end, an offering plate is usually passed around because SMART Recovery is a self-sustaining group.

Women for Sobriety is another programme run by a nonprofit; only this one is specifically to support women who are dealing with alcohol addiction. Women for Sobriety is based on 13 different statements designed around acceptance, positivity, responsibility, and emotional growth.

The end goal of this programme is to help women change their negative thoughts into healthy, positive ones that promote recovery and a happy lifestyle.

They focus so much on thoughts because they believe that thoughts are directly related to actions, so if women learn to control their own thoughts, they will control their actions. While they are in the programme, women are expected to practice the thirteen statements every day.

They are asked to spend time thinking about and reflecting on the statements every morning as soon as they wake up and then thinking about the different positive effects that practising the thirteen statements had upon their day each night.

Beyond that, they are supposed to practice meditation, healthy eating strategies, and other holistic forms of healing. Meetings are once every week for about ninety minutes and led by a woman that has been sober for a while.

At the beginning of each meeting, women introduce themselves and have to say at least one positive thing about themselves.

S.O.S is a secular support organisation, which means that it is a nonprofit organisation with no ties to any other outside group. Anyone can join S.O.S as long as they wish to be free from both drug and alcohol abuse and are committed to remaining abstinent from both.

Though membership to the group is free, donations are promoted because they run off of them instead of outside funding. Just like with most other recovery groups, membership is kept confidential in order to maintain people's privacy.

One of S.O.S's main points is that it is not connected to any other secular or religious programme and that it continues to evolve with new research as they are not connected to any singular theory or belief related to addiction. The main commonality between S.O.S and other groups is that they encourage members to take responsibility for their own thoughts, decisions, and actions.

S.O.S meetings generally consist of announcements, celebrations of any sobriety anniversaries, and then discussion time and group interactions. At some point during the meeting, they typically do pass around a collection place, and generally, homework or practice techniques are assigned to the group at the end.

LifeRing Secular Recovery is a group that is based on the belief that everyone has the power to control their addiction, and a person with an addiction has two selves, an addict self and a sober self. The goal of the programme is to weaken the addict self and strengthen the sober self.

However, unlike twelve-step programmes, people in Life Ring do not rely on higher powers, sponsors, or even steps to attain and then maintain sobriety, but rather they rely on individual strength and self-control.

Rather than providing people with certain steps or a specific process that they need to follow, LifeRing is a group of people who work to support each other and help each other find their own paths to recovery. They do this through face to face meetings or an online messaging service called ePals.

If you do choose to go to one of the face to face meetings, you can expect to spend about an hour there and that it will be facilitated by someone known as a convener. The convener's main job is to keep people on the topic and keep the conversation flowing and positive.

Moderation Management or MM is different than all the other programmes on this list because abstinence is not a condition of membership or meeting attendance.

The goal of MM is to prevent people from developing problematic behaviours or engaging in dangerous behaviours by encouraging people to partake in healthy habits and make responsible choices, which, according to them, does not always require complete abstinence.

Moderation Management is based on the idea that alcohol abuse is a choice and that the habit can be changed with intervention. Because they believe alcohol abuse is a choice, they allow members to choose whether they want to partake in complete abstinence or practice moderation.

About thirty per cent of their members to choose abstinence, but the other 70 per cent decide to practice some sort of moderation. The programme is based around nine different steps that are based on taking responsibility, recognising harmful patterns, and addressing the problems.

They do have one step which requires members to stay sober for a month, after which they can continue to remain abstinent, continue with MM, or move to an abstinent only group if they believe that would be better for them.

Why are Twelve-Step Programmes so Popular

Twelve-step programmes and more specifically, AA has become the most popular recovery programme.

The programme was first started in 1935 when alcoholics began to start working through twelve steps that were designed and published by the founding members. The twelve steps are:

  1. Admit that you are powerless over alcohol
  2. Believe that a higher power can restore order
  3. Make the decision to turn over your personal will to said higher power
  4. Make a moral inventory
  5. Confess to a higher power, to your self, and at least one other person your personal wrongs
  6. Ready yourself for the higher power to remove any defects of character
  7. Ask the higher power to remove the defects of character
  8. Make a list of all people you have harmed and become willing to rectify them
  9. Offer to make amends wherever possible, as long as it will not cause more harm
  10. Continue to take personal inventory and admit any wrongs
  11. Use prayer and meditation to strengthen your connection with your higher power
  12. Have a spiritual awakening

The programme quickly became popular due to endorsements and by the media and major figures. By 2012 there were 61,00 groups in the US and 1.3 million members. Globally, there were 120,000 groups and 2 million members.

Benefits of Self-Help Groups

1. Support

Self-help programmes put a lot of focus on group encouragement and accountability with other people. Having that kind of support with other peers who understand what you are dealing with can be extremely beneficial. Regular meetings and meetings with sponsors help people avoid relapsing and keep moving forward.

2. Empowerment

Feedback and encouragement from other group members can help people keep things in perspective and face problems, which leads to a sense of empowerment. It is easier to stay sober when you feel empowered rather than discouraged.

3. Tailored Approach

There are so many different support groups out there; chances are you will be able to find one that works for you. Not everyone’s addiction is going to look the same, and therefore not everyone’s recovery will look the same; finding an approach that is tailored to what works for you will increase your chances of staying sober and not relapsing.

How to Get the Most Out of Your Group

Below, we outline three tips to help you get the most out of your mutual support group:

1.  Be an active participant

In order to stay sober and have the most success in your support group, it is important to be an active participant during meetings. This means you need to share and talk about your experience instead of just listening to what other people have to say. It takes a lot of vulnerability and can be really scary, but it is important. Of course, going to speaker meetings where you are not necessarily supposed to talk is a really good way to start dipping your toe in the water if you are anxious about attending, but you need to eventually move on to discussion meetings.

2. Be committed

Once you join a group, attend on a regular basis because that is what will allow you to make the most progress and really work through the programme, whichever one you end up choosing. Of course, there is no magic number to how many times or how often you should go; just make sure you go regularly and stick to it.

3. Take the help offered by others

People in self-help groups tend to offer their support because they know that they needed it when they first started recovering from addiction. This may look like offering to meet you for coffee or giving you their phone number. It can be overwhelming at first, but take people up on their offers because the more help and support you have, the better it will be when things start getting tough.

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