Beyond AA: Anonymous Support Groups
Anonymous support groups are an essential component of a recovery plan. Talking about your addiction struggles and recovery with other people prevents feelings of isolation that can quickly lead to relapse. Anonymous support groups also help you gain control over your life. They promote a high level of personal accountability, offer support and advice without passing judgment and help you gain a deeper perspective on your problems.
A recent review of peer support systems found evidence that support groups provide many benefits, helping to:1
- Reduce substance use
- Improve engagement in treatment
- Reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis infections
- Ease cravings
- Increase self-efficacy
Treatment and aftercare plans include participation in a support group to help improve the outcome of addiction rehab.
Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the most popular anonymous support groups for people in recovery from an addiction. AA is a 12-step program that’s based on spirituality and turning your life over to a higher power. The 12 steps are designed to lead to a spiritual awakening, and they culminate in the promise to carry the message of recovery to others struggling with alcohol addiction.
Are Anonymous Support Groups Really Anonymous?
Recovery support groups are, by nature, anonymous in that last names generally aren’t used and members agree that what happens during a meeting doesn’t leave the meeting. They’re also anonymous in that many support group meetings take place online, with each member participating under a username of their choosing.
But while names aren’t used, you often get to know the members of your group very well, and it’s likely that you’ll form a strong bond with at least one of them. The bonds you form can help you through rough spots in recovery and offer a strong cheering section that’s always on your side.
Alternative to 12-Step Support Groups
Twelve-step programs like AA aren’t suited to every belief system or personality. If you don’t feel comfortable with the fundamental framework of a support group or share the core beliefs that define it, it likely won’t be of much help to you.
But don’t let that stop you from getting the support you need for successful recovery. A number of anonymous support groups offer an alternative to the 12-step model and are just as effective as AA for helping you along on the road to recovery.
SMART Recovery is a support group that offers tools, techniques and strategies for each of four program points:
- Building and maintaining motivation
- Coping with urges
- Managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors
- Living a balanced life
Daily meetings are held online and in person.2
Secular Organizations for Sobriety
Secular Organizations for Sobriety is an international non-profit support group organization that takes a science-based approach to recovery that encompasses self-empowerment. SOS believes that sobriety is separate from spirituality and religion and therefore doesn’t involve a higher power.
You can find an SOS meeting or join one of many online groups for daily support and inspiration.3
LifeRing Secular Recovery
Like SOS, LifeRing Secular Recovery draws on personal growth and empowerment instead of a higher power for successful recovery. Meetings are focused on developing, refining and sharing strategies for ongoing abstinence and a purposeful life. LifeRing can help you find or start a local in-person meeting, or you can engage online through meetings, forums, and one-on-one communication via email.4
HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol
HAMS stands for Harm reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support. The 17 elements of HAMS offer strategies for making positive changes based on your goals, starting right where you are. You can pick and choose your elements or you can move through all 17 in any order. Elements include:
- Setting goals
- Ranking your risks
- Making an action plan to achieve your goals
- Learning to cope without alcohol
- Learning to believe in yourself
HAMS offers numerous ways to get support, from chat rooms and a Facebook group to email support and live meetings.5
Choosing the Right Group for You
By doing a little “shopping around,” you can learn about the various anonymous support groups and choose the one that speaks to you. An addiction counselor or mental health professional can help you decide which program might be most beneficial for you, based on your needs and preferences. The most important thing is to engage with your support group on a regular basis. A higher level of engagement translates to a better chance of long-term sobriety.
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