Too often, people who have gone through alcohol or substance use disorder treatment decide they don’t want to participate in 12-Step groups. It’s understandable. Hopefully, completing a treatment program leaves you feeling confident and ready to enjoy life as a sober person.
After all, one of the goals of treatment is to give people the tools they need to maintain sobriety once they return to “real life.” Why would you need the help of support groups if you were successful in treatment?
The most straightforward answer is that addiction is a chronic disease like high blood pressure or diabetes. Chronic diseases require lifetime management. People with high blood pressure don’t take a single dose of medication and then stop. Even if they make healthy lifestyle changes and lower their blood pressure levels, they must continue to monitor their numbers and follow medical recommendations.
The same is true for people with alcohol and substance use disorders. There is no set time for when it is “safe” to stop participating in a recovery support group. Some people maintain their sobriety after only a few years of attending a support group, while others maintain active participation for the rest of their lives.
Why Do People Stop Going to 12-Step Groups?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates around 50% of people treated for a substance use disorder experience a relapse.1 That rate is comparable to the relapse rate of other chronic conditions, such as asthma and hypertension. Relapse is not a sign that treatment isn’t practical, but it is a sign that treatments need to be readjusted to meet a person’s current needs.
However, even though the risk of relapse is similar to that of other chronic illnesses, it can still be considered high. If participating in a recovery support group can lower the chance of relapse, why don’t more people do it? Some of the most common reasons people report for ceasing recovery meeting attendance include the following:
- They think they can do it on their own.
- They don’t like the religious element of 12-Step groups.
- They’re too busy.
- They feel embarrassed about attending meetings and talking in front of others.
These reasons are valid, and sometimes people do outgrow recovery meetings. However, the solution is not to simply stop participating. Adjusting your recovery plan to find a support group that meets your needs is a better answer.
Do 12-Step Groups Really Work?
A study conducted by the Stanford School of Medicine found that not only are support groups effective, but Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) 12-Step programs are the most effective.2 Support groups help members stay on track with their recovery goals. They provide accountability and connection with others who share similar experiences.
Additional benefits of attending a support group include:
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- Not feeling isolated
- Learning about new resources
- Greater motivation to stay in recovery
- Giving back and helping others
- Better mental health overall
- Learning new skills
- Better relationships with family members, co-workers, and friends
Support groups provide a place where members can practice the skills they learned in treatment. People recovering from long-term addictions may need to know or relearn how to communicate effectively and enjoy social events without the presence of substances. A sober support group provides opportunities to sharpen these skills with people with the same obstacles.
In addition, support groups give people new to sobriety a network for finding employment, a place to live, and other practical details. Participating in a support group is considered so integral to long-term recovery that virtually every treatment center requires clients to be active.
Are 12-Step Groups the Only Option?
Alcoholics Anonymous is the most widely known 12-Step program in the world.3 There are millions of members worldwide and thousands of local groups across the U.S. While it is highly effective, the format of AA does not appeal to everyone.
AA is partly based on accepting a Higher Power and the willingness to admit that the Higher Power, not the individual, is in control. The Higher Power does not need to be a deity, but faith is emphasized, and prayer is included in every meeting.
AA’s tenets appeal to many people, but not everyone believes in God or is comfortable participating in a group emphasizing the need to surrender personal will. Fortunately, AA and its offshoot 12-Step programs like Narcotics Anonymous are not the only options.
SMART Recovery is a free, utterly secular support group for people in recovery. The acronym stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. SMART is based on science and emphasizes the use of self-help tools.
SMART meetings are becoming more widely available alongside traditional 12-Step meetings at treatment centers and communities. You can also find SMART support meetings online.
Other Recovery Support Groups
Several other sober support groups are available nationwide, but it may be difficult for people living in less-populated areas to find in-person groups. Some of the better-known options include:
- Refuge Recovery: An abstinence-based group that applies the principles of Buddhism
- Secular Organization for Sobriety (SOS): Based on rational decision-making
- LifeRing Secular Recovery: Emphasizes personal power and mutual support
- Women for Sobriety: Appeals to women who may not feel comfortable in a mixed-gender support group
Your location may limit your choices for in-person support meetings, but online groups can be just as effective. If you don’t feel comfortable with the teachings of a particular group, it doesn’t mean that support groups aren’t for you. Keep searching. Attend different groups to find where you feel comfortable enough to give and receive support vital to your sobriety.
How Long Do I Have to Attend?
There is no cookie-cutter answer to how long a person must continue participating in a sober support group. It may help to ask yourself why you’re thinking about stopping. Is it because you’re thinking about relapsing and don’t want people to know? Or is it because you’ve genuinely outgrown your recovery group and don’t feel you’re benefiting from it anymore?
If you are experiencing any of these warning signs of a relapse, keep going to your support group:
- You are struggling to deal with difficult emotions
- You feel highly confident that you’ll never drink or use substances again
- You are avoiding sober friends and other commitments that support your recovery
- You’re visiting places where you used to drink or use drugs
- Friends and family members have expressed concerns about your behavior
- You’re letting self-care slide
- You have a generally negative attitude toward life
- You are minimizing the seriousness of your addiction or romanticizing the “good old days”
Remember that addiction is a disease of the brain. Even years after treatment, you may experience psychological cravings that tempt you to stop doing the healthy things supporting your sobriety.
Find Resources at Clear Life Recovery
For more information about addiction treatment and the value of attending a support group, contact Clear Life Recovery today. We offer a variety of addiction treatment programs in Orange County and can guide you through your options.