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​Support Groups

Find the best support system tailored to your needs.

What are drug and alcohol support groups? Support or “self-help” groups can be a vital part of the recovery process for people who misuse drugs or alcohol. These groups are designed to provide a supportive space for people who have faced the same challenges or had similar experiences. In a support group, people can share their stories, receive encouragement, and hear about ways to manage their recovery.

Self-help groups include programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery as well as family, church, and community networks. In addition to support groups for people dealing with substance misuse, other groups offer support for their family members and friends. These groups provide advice and encouragement for people whose lives and relationships have been disrupted by substance misuse, as well as those who want to be helpful in their loved ones’ recovery.

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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), founded in 1935, is one of the best-known support groups. Its 12-step format emphasizes the importance of God or a higher power in the healing process, but it also has been adapted for nonreligious settings. The first step is admitting that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol and need help overcoming it. Other steps, such as making amends for pain or harm you may have caused and committing to continuous improvement, aim to help people become whole, shaping a way of life that relieves the urge to drink.

AA and affiliated groups that follow its principles, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous, are found across the country. There are more than 50,000 AA groups nationwide and thousands of Narcotics Anonymous locations worldwide.

While self-help groups are not intended to be a substitute for formal counseling, many addiction treatment programs encourage joining a support group as part of a recovery plan. The traditional 12-step group:

  • Meets on a regular basis, usually weekly, although some gather only as needed.
  • Is led by its members, who share their personal stories to help one another solve problems.
  • Relies on every member’s participation, which can involve talking, listening, or silent gestures of encouragement.
  • Advises participants to team up with a veteran member to be their sponsor: a mentor who can provide individual support and guidance whenever it’s needed.
  • Restricts meetings to members, or in some cases allows family and friends to attend.

SMART Recovery, which got its official start in 1994, is a popular alternative to traditional 12-step programs. It’s based on a four-step process that uses cognitive therapy — changing one’s thinking to manage emotions. The program’s four steps help participants change behaviors that trigger substance misuse:

  1. Building and maintaining motivation
  2. Coping with urges
  3. Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
  4. Living a balanced life

Because recovery is an ongoing process, self-help groups provide support both during and after treatment to help individuals remain drug- or alcohol-free and live healthy lifestyles.


If you need help confronting a problem with drugs or alcohol, a support group might be a good place to gather strength and encouragement to begin the recovery process. While not intended to replace formal mental health treatment programs, group therapy offers a variety of benefits:

Social Support

  • Twelve-step programs focus on encouragement and accountability for people who want to kick their drug or alcohol problem.
  • Regular meeting times and assigning sponsors help participants maintain their momentum and avoid relapsing into old habits.


  • Feedback from group members can help you put the dangers of drug or alcohol misuse into perspective and face your problem realistically.
  • Sharing your experiences can help you face and work through your personal problems without turning to drugs and alcohol as a way to avoid facing them.
  • In SMART Recovery, trained volunteers work with participants to identify specific behaviors they need to change to avoid misusing drugs or alcohol. They also teach self-control through cognitive and motivational therapies that use thoughts to manage emotions.

Tailored Approaches

  • No matter where you live, you probably can find numerous support group options in your area by searching online.
  • Meetings can take many forms. Some are open to participants only; others allow their family members and friends to attend. And similar groups are tailored for the spouses, partners, or children of people who have substance use problems.
  • There is no one way to approach 12-step programs. You can focus on the steps that work best for you and repeat certain steps if needed.
  • SMART Recovery determines which strategies are most effective and continually updates them, based on research from mental health and medical providers. Recovery plans are matched with individual needs.


While drug and alcohol support groups aim to offer the comfort and compassion of people with similar experiences and perspectives, they differ from other treatment methods that some people prefer. Here are some reasons:

  • Support groups may be anonymous but not private. People who are reluctant to talk about their challenges in front of other people or worry that they will see someone they know in the group may be more comfortable with individual counseling.
  • Twelve-step programs have spiritual or religious overtones. Their distinct philosophy, rooted in spirituality, applies to the whole person, not just substance misuse. Some people respond better to a more focused or clinical approach.​


Al-Anon Family Groups, 888-425-2666

Adult Children of Alcoholics, 310-534-1815

Alcoholics Anonymous, 212-870-3400

Cocaine Anonymous, 310-559-5833

Narcotics Anonymous, 818-773-9999

Secular Organizations for Sobriety, 323-666-4295

SMART Recovery, 440-951-5357

Women for Sobriety215-536-8026

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