Illegal drug use in the United States is on the rise. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 24.6 million Americans – 9.4% of the population aged 12 and over – used illicit substances in 2013. This is a major shift from 2002, when just 8.3% of the population was estimated to have used illegal drugs. The rise in drug use has not been limited to younger generations. The same NIDA study reported that drug use is also on the rise among aging baby boomers in their fifties and early sixties.
These startling trends underscore a need across the country for effective addiction treatment. As those struggling with substance abuse evaluate their recovery options, they should strongly consider the numerous advantages of a substance abuse program that incorporates group activities into the treatment plan.
Group Therapy Enhances Recovery
A deeper understanding of our biology reveals that human beings are profoundly social creatures – the part of the brain that governs higher social functions, the neocortex, is considerably larger in humans than other mammals of similar size. We are genetically hard-wired to reach out to others, establish relationships and allow these relationships to influence our own lives.
Group treatment activities are able to tap into these natural social instincts to encourage introspection, self-discovery and healthy interactions with peers. As a result, those struggling with drug addiction can greatly benefit from the unique interpersonal dynamics that characterize group therapies.
Groups Share Strategies
One of the ways that incorporating group activities into a treatment program assists those struggling with addiction is by introducing these individuals to peers who are fighting the same battles. In particular, group members that have more time in the program can provide tips to those who are new to recovery. For example, more seasoned patients can coach newcomers on strategies to successfully avoid or respond to triggers, phrases, and circumstances that encourage recovering individuals to relapse.
Exposure to people with similar struggles may initially seem inconsequential, but the mere presence of others in the recovery process has considerable, far-reaching advantages. Dr. Ben Johnson (a clinical psychologist, assistant professor at the Warren Albert Medical School of Brown University, and director of Rhode Island Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Coaching) emphasized the subtle yet meaningful impact of group interaction for patients struggling with drug abuse.
“Hearing from other people about how you come across can be very powerful. You get a wider range of perspectives on your situation, and that can help you deal with your problems better,” said Johnson. “Patients often push themselves harder when they see what others are doing.”
Groups Establish Trust
The most effective drug abuse recovery programs go above and beyond simply addressing the physical impacts of addiction. After all, those who struggle with addiction must grapple with more than physical dependency. Users often face a long list of social consequences as a result of their substance-focused lifestyle. Unless patients in drug rehab programs can also rebuild and recover their social skills, these individuals will be less likely to reconnect with friends and loved ones and subsequently more likely to return to substance abuse.
It’s normal for those participating in a drug abuse recovery program to experience intense feelings of shame, denial, depression and anxiety in response to their experience. In some extreme cases, patients may even have difficulties maintaining a stable understanding of their own identity.
The presence of other individuals in recovery – those who can relate directly to the patient’s struggles and can offer knowledgeable input – helps to create the judgement-free environment necessary to support an individual’s recovery from addiction. Individuals are more likely to speak honestly and address their personal issues objectively after establishing a sense of trust with fellow group members.
Groups Maintain Accountability
The process of overcoming addiction is extremely difficult. The journey becomes even more arduous when those struggling with drug abuse lack a consistent source of accountability. After all, the process of recovery requires participants to engage in multiple behavioral modifications in order to end their dependence on illegal drugs. Such a project requires support from individuals who are willing to call out an individual if their personal goals go unmet or if they participate in harmful behavior that is counterproductive to recovery.
According to a report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, this feedback is more likely to be received positively coming from a person that the patient recognizes as an equal. Alternatively, input and correction from friends and family are likely to inspire anxiety in the individual struggling with addiction.
In these scenarios, the individual is best served by group recovery activities. The input they receive from peers in the group is less likely to be interpreted as judgement or an insult. Accountability in substance abuse recovery is essential, and group members going through the same struggles offer an effective, reliable source of that accountability.
Groups Offer Encouragement
Constant encouragement is a necessity during the recovery process. It’s not uncommon for those struggling with addiction to feel discouraged in the midst of their journey, especially when dealing with the physically and emotionally exhausting effects of withdrawal. An individual’s recovery group can act as an important source of support during the ups and downs of addiction treatment. Praise and motivation provided by those facing the same recovery challenges are often more meaningful to patients than the support of friends and family.
Group members can offer encouragement in the form of practical advice as well. The American Association of Psychology noted that groups can provide an important soundboard for those struggling with addiction. Patients with a group to bounce ideas off of are more willing to share their strategies for living a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, receiving positive feedback from the group in response to those ideas empowers patients to execute their plans and focus on recovery.
Finally, group members learn new perspectives as they engage with others who are very different from themselves and find that they are connected by the circumstances that led them to substance abuse. This diversity of experience is a benefit unique to group addiction counseling. Exposing patients to the experience of those with different backgrounds and perspectives helps individuals to feel less isolated in their addiction struggles. Likewise, patients participating in group therapy have more opportunities to develop effective strategies for improving recovery and resisting relapse – the presence of numerous unique perspectives encourages new and innovative solutions that the patient could not devise on their own.
Groups Build Hope
Fear of the unknown is a major obstacle for those working through their substance abuse and aiming toward recovery. It’s not uncommon for users to have very little context for imagining a life beyond substance abuse. For instance, it is impossible for patients to predict how friends, families, romantic partners and employers will respond to their efforts toward recovery. The fear of rejection is often a powerful influence in the lives of those struggling with drug abuse. This anxiety, coupled with a fear of the unknown, can act as a shackle on patients while they work to end their dependence on drugs.
Group addiction counseling can address the fear of the unknown directly. Patients who participate in group therapy are able to learn more about the successes of others and internalize those victories as a source of personal motivation. Additionally, patients with reservations about how to live their lives beyond addiction can get input and feedback from fellow group members who have already begun the transition to a healthier, drug-free lifestyle.
This type of feedback offers comfort and encouragement to patients who may be struggling with hopelessness and discouragement. By interacting with peers who are further along on their recovery journey, patients are more likely to internalize the idea that the same success is possible for themselves.
Get Help with Battling Addiction
Recovery from drug abuse is not a simple process. The impacts of addiction affect each individual differently. As a result, the most effective way to treat each individual differs from patient to patient. Group addiction counseling is unique in its ability to address multiple aspects of a patient’s addiction struggles while providing support and encouragement from numerous sources.
Combining tailored, individualized treatment with the many benefits of group therapy is a powerfully effective response to the web of interrelated symptoms that characterizes substance abuse. If you or a loved one need assistance to end dependence on drugs or alcohol, you should strongly consider a treatment center that incorporates group addiction counseling into its treatment regimen.