Self-help programs are support groups of individuals who have been affected by substance use disorders in order to facilitate community and accountability. Alcoholics Anonymous has the most name recognition of these groups, but there are other programs with different values and focuses who seek to do similar things. With a little searching, you can find a program and meeting that’s right for you!
What programs are out there?
There are a number of programs:
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a international program committed to helping members achieve sobriety/abstinence using their 12 Step program. AA has spiritual underpinnings, which can turn away some potential members. However, AA meeting styles can vary widely. Participants are given sobriety tokens or “chips” when they are sober for certain periods of time. Participants are also encouraged to partner with a fellow alcoholic, known as a “sponsor,” who has completed all 12 steps of the program to increase accountability. There are many “fellowships” within the 12-step pathway that are similar to AA: Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Overeaters Anonymous (OA), Gamblers Anonymous (GA), Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA), etc.
SMART Recovery is another self-help group. Like AA, SMART also has meetings for all sorts of addictive behaviors (alcoholism, gambling, narcotics, etc). In contrast to AA, SMART recovery focuses on teaching self-empowerment and self-reliance in order to make changes. Additionally it is a safe space for those who are utilizing medication management approaches and for those looking to moderate as opposed to completely abstain. They don’t use labels like ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic' in SMART meetings.
Celebrate Recovery is a Christian 12 Step program, somewhat similar to AA but more explicitly religious and Christ-centered.
Who leads these meetings?
Meetings are typically lead by members who have been in the program for a long time. If it’s a 12 Step meeting, they will be individuals who have completed the Steps. Meeting leaders will often start by saying a little bit about themselves and then facilitate a discussion amongst the members, sometimes focused around a specific topic or Step.
How much do meetings cost?
AA, SMART, and Celebrate Recovery meetings are completely free. Other organizations may differ, but those three represent the biggest providers. Occasionally, a hat will be passed around during the meeting to collect small donations, but donations are strictly optional.
How do I know if self-help groups are right for me?
Meetings might be right for you if you have just completed a more intensive program and you are looking for a robust care system to continue your recovery journey. They might also be a good fit if your symptoms are very mild, if you are not yet ready for a more intensive program, or if you cannot afford or take time off for a more intensive program. Meetings are also free and nearly ubiquitous, so they’re a good option for people in remote areas or for whom other options are cost-prohibitive.
Meetings are also a good place for family members and friends to learn more about substance use disorders and how they can help their loved ones. The “Al-Anon” fellowship and meetings are for friends and family of those in recovery.
How do I find a meeting?
You can search online meetings here:
You can also connect to one of our treatment experts by texting (312) 248-6218 who will help you locate a good fit!
My partner/family member/friend is struggling with a substance use disorder, can I go to a meeting just to see what it is like?
It depends! Meetings labelled as “Open” are open to anyone whether or not they are in recovery (family members, healthcare professionals, members of the public, etc). Meetings labelled “Closed” are limited to those in recovery. Al-Anon meetings are designed for those who want to learn more about AA and how to support a friend or family member who is attending regular AA meetings.
Can I go to a self-help group just to check it out? Do I have to say something if I go?
You may have to introduce yourself, but participation is completely optional. You will not be required to say something as these programs understand that sharing can be a daunting step. You are welcome to sit in on a group to see if it’s a good fit for you before opening up yourself or attending regularly.
Bottom Line: Free and nearly ubiquitous, self-help meetings are a great option for those seeking peer support and community.
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