I think it’s safe to assume that most individuals who have an addiction issue, at some point in their lives, would have never considered attending a support group to get help. Even after you begin your recovery, it can be difficult to seek help, and sometimes, even more, difficult to accept the help that is offered to you. I want to take the time to explain to you exactly what a peer support group is, what it is not, and the most valuable ways that it can benefit you, whether you have mental health or substance use challenges.
Five Ways Support Groups Can Benefit You in Your Recovery
What A Support Group Is
A peer support group is a gathering of people who have come together to discuss experiences surrounding a similar topic. They are usually nonprofessional and non material. Support groups are created to help people enduring difficult times be able to understand they are not alone in their burdens and provide them with a sense of community. Additionally, these groups offer individuals the opportunity to share out loud the struggles they are facing, which has psychological advantages of its own, that we will discuss later on.
What A Support Group Is Not
These groups are not clinical or professional sessions. They are not meant to cure you of your illness or addiction. They are also not a place in which you will be judged, shamed, or ridiculed for your struggles or the subsequent problems you have been involved in. The people in your support group, usually, are all people who have experienced difficulty with the same issue you are facing. You can rest assured that a support group is not a place to feel ashamed or embarrassed. A support group is exactly that, support.
Here are some ways in which a support group could benefit you in your recovery.
1. Develop Connections With Others
Johann Hari, a British-Swedish writer, argues that addiction has less to do with chemical imbalances and more to do with the lack of purpose and support in one’s life. A support group allows you to make a personal connection to others who understand the struggles you face and leave you feeling much less isolated than before.
2. Learn Better Coping Methods
Support groups are more than just sharing stories of trauma and experience. Often facilitators and participants help each other discover healthier and more successful coping mechanisms than the ones they may be used to.
3. Expressing Your Emotions
Talking to others about your troubles can be difficult. However, whenever you are experiencing intense emotions, your amygdala is taking control. That is the fight or flight response that causes you to make rash, sometimes less logical decisions. (Ravenscraft, 2020) Research done at UCLA found that “affect labeling” or expressing your feelings with words can lessen this response of the amygdala and lead to less stress when facing difficult situations. (Liberman et al., 2007)
Joining a support group can give you the resources you need to set goals in your recovery and have others hold you accountable for those plans. It can be difficult to commit to anything in the throes of addiction or mental illness but, having peers to talk you through the hiccups and the goals you have set can be an amazing way to keep you on track.
One of the most powerful things that can happen in a support group is listening to and sharing successes. Hearing how someone has overcome adversities that seemed so unbearable at the time can be exactly what you may need to know that there is hope. Nothing is impossible when it comes to recovery and it will become apparent when you see just how much your peers have conquered in their lifetimes.
Now that you understand how beneficial joining a support group can be, I encourage you to give it a shot. Whatever it is that you are going through, addiction, recovery, mental illness, abuse, remember that others are going through it too. There is strength in numbers.
Historically, when people attend support groups, depression, functioning, psychotic symptoms, and overall mental health improve significantly. The more you attend, the more improvement in your mood and growth you will experience! (Journal of Affective Disorders; December 2012, Science Behind Peer Support). A study from GROW in Australia, which also offers peer support groups found that participants experienced an improvement in personal value, a sense of belonging, and a growing network of friends. They also found that many participants believe the groups significantly contributed to their recovery! Group support works – everywhere!
More Good News:
RPSV offers free weekly virtual support groups for anyone who may need emotional support. We also offer one-on-one virtual support with a Peer Recovery Specialist. Learn more today! Join us virtually in 2022 and grow! (You can also join any of our recovery centers in-person of course. Learn more a rpsva.org.)