An article by Renee W.
I will never forget those well-meaning people who had no clue how to help me. When I tried to put my alcohol addiction into words, it all came out like a jumbled mess, but the blank stares and the innocent but naïve comments from others made it worse.
“Why can’t you just stop?”
“Why not look at a picture of your kids when you feel like drinking?”
“When you feel like drinking, why not find something else to do instead?”
These people were well-intentioned, as I said. I am not resentful towards them today. But I do know one thing to be true: they just didn’t understand. They didn’t get it.
That’s OK though, because I found my tribe who does get it, and they have made the biggest impact on my alcohol addiction recovery.
These groups of individuals have experienced similar struggles, and they are my lifeline. They offer camaraderie, empathy, and support, and this has made all the difference.
Addiction is lonely
Addiction is a lot of things, but above all, it is a profoundly isolating experience. As people sink deeper into the clutches of substance abuse or compulsive behaviors, they often find themselves distancing more from family and loved ones.
Naturally, friends and family grow weary, too. They may simply become invisible against the backdrop of the addiction. The result, though? A profound sense of loneliness that further fuels the cycle of substance abuse.
Not surprisingly, loneliness becomes a formidable barrier to recovery. Many individuals struggling with addiction cannot or do not want to ask for help for various reasons, including:
- The stigma surrounding addiction
- The fear of judgment
- The fear of rejection
- The fear of condemnation
All of these fears are legitimate, of course, but the result can be a paralyzing fear that keeps a person trapped in their addiction.
So, what’s the answer?
The loneliness of addiction is complex, but peer support groups step in as a powerful antidote to isolation.
Peer support groups as a powerful antidote to isolation
It took me a while to connect with others in recovery. Years of isolating and a strong “nobody understands me” mentality proved hard to break through. However, when I started connecting with others who were in recovery from addiction, I felt something I hadn’t known possible: hope.
How does this work, exactly?
There is something magical about knowing that other people have not only been through what you’ve been through but also think the way you do.
The brain of an addict works differently from a non-addict. Research has repeatedly shown that connective abnormalities are present in the addict’s brain areas that relate to reward processing and decision-making.
For me, simply knowing I wasn’t the only one in the world who thought and acted like I did was a real game-changer.
Here are some other reasons why peer support groups become such powerful tools in addiction recovery:
1. Shared experiences
One of the most compelling aspects of peer support groups is the shared experiences among members. Everyone in that group has something to offer because they have walked a similar path, grappling with the same struggles and fears.
I was battling alcoholism, and I was surrounded by others who battled alcoholism. Being around others “like me” became motivating and reassuring. The shared background naturally eliminates judgment and shame while creating a safe and welcoming environment for individuals to open up about their addiction.
2. Empathy and understanding
Empathy is a powerful force in recovery. In a peer support group, you’re surrounded by people who get it. They have felt the same cravings, faced the same temptations, and endured the same heartaches that come with addiction.
I remember the first time I shared with a group what I was going through. I braced myself for reactions of judgment, and none came. Instead, nods of understanding. This kind of support validates and reinforces that my experiences are real and that my journey matters.
3. Accountability and motivation
It’s not enough to simply share experiences and feelings with a peer support group. Sharing with others is only the beginning. Accountability is the actual goal, though. When you’re part of a group, you’re not just accountable to yourself; you’re also accountable to your peers. This added layer of responsibility can be a powerful motivator to stay on track.
Knowing that others were rooting for me was what I needed when I first became a part of a peer support group. It created a sense of purpose and obligation toward my recovery goals. There was one group that met on Wednesdays at 8pm, and it was my favorite group. I made it to that group every single week for over three years straight. (Covid came along and broke my streak.)
4. A sense of belonging
One of the most fundamental human needs is the desire to belong. Since addiction leaves people feeling alienated and disconnected, peer support groups help counteract those feelings. Peer support groups offer a new community where you are truly accepted for who you are. This sense of belonging fills the void that the addiction once occupied.
Finally, when I found a peer support group, I did not feel defined by my past actions and mistakes. I felt accepted exactly as I was. What a relief.
Types of peer support groups in addiction recovery
Various types of peer support groups are tailored to different addictions and needs. Some of the most well-known ones include:
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
Founded in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one of the oldest and most renowned peer support groups for those with alcohol addiction. It follows a 12-step program that emphasizes self-reflection, accountability, and spiritual growth.
Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
Similar to AA, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) is designed for those dealing with drug addiction. NA also employs a 12-step model and provides a safe space for sharing experiences and supporting one another.
SMART Recovery takes a different approach from AA and NA. SMART Recovery focuses on self-empowerment and self-reliance. This approach incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques and rational thinking to help individuals overcome addiction.
Dual Diagnosis Anonymous (DDA)
Dual Diagnosis Anonymous (DDA) is designed for those who face both addiction and other mental health challenges, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. DDA recognizes the complex interplay between substance abuse and mental health and provides a safe space for addressing both issues simultaneously.
Al-Anon and Nar-Anon
Al-Anon and Nar-Anon are groups specifically for the friends and family members of those with addiction. These groups offer a lifeline of support and guidance for people who are affected by someone else’s addiction.
The impact of peer support groups on recovery
I’ve discussed the importance of peer support groups and given you a little background on some of the most common ones. You may still be wondering how exactly they directly impact recovery, and that’s a great question.
Here are some evidence-based ways that peer support groups impact addiction recovery:
1. Reducing relapse rates
Research consistently shows that participating in peer support groups significantly reduces the risk of relapse. The structure and support from these groups help individuals develop coping skills and strategies to resist cravings and triggers. Then, there is the sense of community and accountability – both powerful deterrents to relapse.
2. Improving mental health
Addiction often goes hand in hand with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Peer support groups provide a dual benefit by addressing both addiction and many mental health challenges. The encouragement and guidance received in these groups can lead to improved mental health, as backed by several studies.
3. Enhancing coping skills
Addiction recovery isn’t just about quitting the substance or behavior. In fact, quitting is only the beginning. Rather, addiction recovery is about developing the skills and tools needed to cope with life without turning to substances or behaviors. Peer support groups offer a wealth of practical advice and tried-and-tested techniques for managing stress, cravings, and triggers.
4. Rebuilding relationships
It’s no secret that many people begin addiction recovery with strained or destroyed relationships. Peer support groups can help people learn how to mend and rebuild these relationships while establishing better connections with others. Additionally, the sense of belonging and support from the group can serve as the foundation for rebuilding trust with loved ones.
5. Boosting self-esteem
Low self-esteem is common among those battling addiction. Feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing take over the person, making it hard to feel good about themselves. Peer support groups work to counteract these negative self-perceptions by offering unconditional support.
As members achieve milestones in recovery, they receive praise and recognition from their peers. This positive reinforcement can be transformative, gradually rebuilding self-esteem and self-confidence.
What’s the bottom line?
As I mentioned at the beginning, peer support groups changed my addiction recovery experience. I felt known, accepted, and understood for the first time in my life. I suddenly felt freedom – the freedom to recover from my addiction, and that was only the beginning.
Peer support groups are an indispensable asset in the fight against addiction. They offer a lifeline to those who have been isolated by their struggles. I know this is true for me, but it’s also true for so many others I know.
My four favorite words:
There is always hope.
Reach out to Tikvah Lake today
Tikvah Lake understands addiction recovery. Our recovery center is run by passionate addiction experts who offer a comprehensive range of services that include peer support groups.
At Tikvah Lake Recovery, you will find a safe and nurturing environment to just be yourself and be accepted exactly as you are. We help individuals repair, rebuild, and regain their lives that they may think are lost forever from addiction.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, reach out to us today to speak with one of our addiction treatment specialists. We are here and ready to help.