What to Expect from an Opiate Addiction Support Group
By Anne Watkins
All drug addictions have an essential emotional element, and there are different ways of dealing with it. If you have a strong family support system to help keep you on track during your addiction recovery, consider yourself lucky.
During this period of change, you may have some powerful feelings to work through, and there are going to be times when you just want to let your feelings out without worrying about how a close friend or family member is going to react. Sometimes it can be liberating to share these feelings with a person or people in whom you’re not too emotionally invested, and it’s also nice to let your family off the hook a little bit. That’s where opiate addiction support groups come in.
Advantages of Opiate Addiction Support Groups
The first and most important advantage of going to a support group for opiate addiction is the emotional factor. For whatever reason, many people feel that they have to keep their feelings bottled up inside. Maybe you’re worried about burdening your family and friends, or maybe you’re just not comfortable letting them see that side of you. If this is the case, a support group can be the perfect solution. There, you’ll find a supportive, no-pressure environment where you can feel free to share your feelings when and if you wish.
Second, it can be therapeutic to interact with others who have been through the same things as you. At a support group, you’ll probably meet people who have been off drugs for years, and you’ll get to learn from their experiences. You’ll also encounter other newly recovering addicts who are going through what you’re going through right now. In your normal life, you may feel like an outcast, with no one to fully understand your problems. At a support group, you’ll finally get to feel that you’re not alone.
Third, support groups help you rebuild social skills that may have declined during your addiction. Drug addicts often allow all non-drug-related aspects of life to fall apart, and they end up losing the ability to do things like make small talk, listen to people, or share their feelings in an honest way. At an opiate addiction support group, sharing may feel awkward at first, but it will eventually get better. And as social bonds become stronger at your meetings, you’ll become stronger in life.
Fourth, support groups give you the chance to make new friends who are sober. Many recovering addicts feel that they no longer have a connection with their old friends, especially if these friends are addicts themselves. If this is the case, going to a support group will give you an instant community in which to forge lasting relationships.
Fifth, most support groups are free and anonymous. You’ll be asked to share your first name, but you’re under no obligation even to give your real first name. Of course, as time progresses, you may want to share more of yourself with people, but the initial anonymity is reassuring for many newly recovering addicts.
Finally, many support groups give you the chance to connect with a sponsor. A sponsor is an ex-addict who has been sober for a long time and who personally supervises your recovery. This person will bring all of his or her experience to bear in watching over you and being there should you need help.
What to Expect from the Group Format
Support group formats vary depending on the type of group you join. You may be familiar with groups like Narcotics Anonymous (similar to Alcoholics Anonymous), which is a nonprofit group for people who have a real desire to overcome addiction. Narcotics Anonymous uses the 12-Step program, which is specially designed to get you clean and sober in a way that is smooth and that helps you build a healthy level of determination to stay off drugs in the long run.
Some support groups incorporate a spiritual element. For some people this is no problem, while others are bothered by it. If you’re worried that a support group is going to try to proselytize to you, in most cases your worries are unfounded. Narcotics Anonymous, for example, does talk about a “higher power,” but they make a point of allowing you to define your higher power as you wish to define it.
Many groups have two types of meetings. There are open meetings, which are designed for new people or for people who are unsure about the whole support group thing. And then there are closed meetings, which are exclusively for people who are committed to the group and are most comfortable meeting only with other committed members. Many people start with open meetings and eventually sign up for closed meetings.
Also, if you’re looking for a specific type of group to meet with (for example, a women-only group or a teen group), most major metropolitan areas have plenty of specialized options.
A typical group format will have a period of discussion, often led by a group leader or a guest speaker. After that, there’s an open sharing segment, in which anyone who wants to speak about their feelings or their struggles can have an open platform. Many groups also have a time each week when they recognize members’ milestone achievements.
Online Support Groups
Some recovering addicts find online addiction treatment and support groups to be an appealing or convenient alternative to in-person groups. They’re perfect for people who live in rural communities or overseas, and they can be very useful sources of high-quality information. The most important thing is to find a support group that works for you and stick with it.