Why Group Therapy Is So Effective in Treating Substance Abuse

group therapy

The disease of addiction is a very complicated, alienating condition that causes profound changes in one’s personality, behavior, patterns of thought, and physical health. No person ever intends to become addicted to alcohol or drugs and in fact, most substance abusers underestimate the ever-present potential of becoming addicted to the substances one is abusing. Believing that they’ll be able to remain in control of their substance abuse, individuals fervently chase that initial level of intoxication that tempted them to recreationally abuse dangerous substances. Over time, the substance abuse becomes increasingly frequent and the dosage escalates as the body begins to adapt to the continuous presence of intoxicants. Oftentimes the reality that addiction has occurred doesn’t even dawn on individuals until they begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms in between fixes; at this point, the substance abuse behavior becomes compulsive rather than voluntary and requires treatment in order for individuals to overcome the dependency they have developed.

Much like the development of addiction, treatment and recovery can take many different forms and varies according to the needs and preferences of each addict. Addiction treatment programs come in many different flavors—such as programs for women or faith-based recovery—and address the very specific recovery needs of different groups of people. However, there are a number of treatments and therapies that tend to be a central part of virtually all types of recovery programs, including individual counseling and group therapy. In terms of the latter, many have often wondered why substance abuse group therapy has become and remained such prominent part of addiction treatment, especially with addiction being such a personal disease from which one suffers on a very individual level. The following will define group therapy, particularly as it pertains to addiction and recovery treatment, and explain why group therapy has remained such an asset to the rehabilitation process.

What Exactly Is Group Therapy? What Is the Purpose?

When we think of counseling and therapy, the image is often of a patient lying on a sofa while a therapist sits nearby, listening to the individual discuss his or her feelings, childhood, relationships, and so on. Although individual counseling and psychotherapy are an essential part of most types of treatment, there are other forms of counseling that can be vital for different reasons. As its name would suggest, group therapy is a form of treatment that involves a group of patients rather than a single patient. There are some key similarities and differences between group and individual therapy, which serve to illustrate the different uses or applications for each. For instance, individual therapy can involve discussing essentially any of the patient’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs, or experiences with an essentially limitless scope; however, group therapy is often more topical in nature with therapist or leader directing a discussion concerning particular feelings or experiences that the group would likely share. This allows the individuals in a group session to share and benefit from the different perspectives that exist between them.

According to the American Psychological Association, participating in group therapy is an ideal way of helping individuals to diversify their thoughts and beliefs. It’s also been found that, due to the most topical nature of group therapy, it’s an effective tool for teaching skills such as anger management, coping with one’s emotions, problem-solving, conflict resolution, dealing with trauma, relaxation, life skills training, and a variety of other useful skills. Additionally, group therapy is a great way of establishing and developing a peer support network, which has been shown to be helpful due to individuals often being more receptive to advice or perspectives offered by those they perceive as being equal to them.

group of people holding hands

Group Therapy & Addiction Treatment

There are many specific benefits of characteristics of group therapy that have made it particularly valuable in the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction. Oftentimes addicts begin the recovery process with some reluctance due to either being legally obligated to begin a rehab program or at the insistence of concerned loved ones. This tends to make many addicts resistant to treatment, especially in the beginning. Since group substance abuse therapy has a different atmosphere than individual therapy and isn’t one-on-one between the individual and the therapist, group therapy is usually perceived as being a lesser form of treatment with many of the individuals who would be resistant to individual psychotherapy being more receptive to participating in a group setting.

Additionally, addicts sometimes feel judged or belittled by counselors and treatment providers while participating in individual treatment, which is another situation that can cause reluctance. This is part of the reason why twelve-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, which are led by group members rather than counselors, have remained so popular and successful. It’s been found that addicts benefit from listening to the experiences of their peers, learning effective coping strategies as well as how to alleviate feelings of guilt or shame from their peers rather than from a counselor. In other words, while counselors and therapists teach information that they learned from textbooks, peers convey information that they know is effective due to their firsthand experience.

In instances of reluctance to treatment, group therapy has been an instrumental tool for helping addicts to reach the point of actually wanting to over the disease of addiction. Shared experiences—particularly the hardships that individuals experienced while in active addiction—can resonate among those individuals who are reluctant to recovery, causing them to imagine themselves in those situations and leading them to consider decreasing or even ceasing their consumption. Since addicts frequently perceive the information obtained from peers as being more valuable and accurate, group therapy is often a conduit for individuals to begin considering their need for recovery. However, group therapy remains useful at all stages of treatment, beginning with the acceptance of one’s need to overcome addiction and continuing through the learning and development of relapse prevention skills and actionable strategies for maintaining one’s sobriety.

Free Yourself From the Chains of Addiction with Recovery Hub

Much like addiction, recovery is not a straight line. Instead, recovery occurs in many different ways with a variety of tools used at one’s optimal pace. Although the disease of addiction can easily become life-threatening, anything that an individual may need to regain his or her sobriety is just a phone call away. If you or someone you love is suffering from chemical dependency and would benefit from learning more about group therapy or other forms of treatment, call Recovery Hub at 888-220-4352 for a free consultation and assessment. Our team of recovery specialists is waiting for your call.

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