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Community can make all the difference in recovery and sober living.
Getting sober can be one of the most powerful decisions you can make for your health and future. Every person’s journey in substance use disorder recovery is unique.
Recovery might require learning to navigate new thought patterns and triggers. This means recovery could be an isolating experience for some.
Opening up and asking for support from loved ones may feel challenging or unsafe due to shame and social stigma. But connecting with an understanding, compassionate community can make a positive impact on recovery and long-term sobriety.
A support system is a network of people who provide practical or social support. There are broadly two types of support systems: those geared toward personal relationships or recovery.
Personal support systems may include:
- family members and relatives
- members of organizations you’re a part of, like churches or clubs
For personal support systems, it may be a good idea to spend a little time thinking about the people in your life whom you trust as a source of support.
Recovery support systems are groups designed specifically for those in substance use disorder recovery, such as:
- 12-step programs
- recovery and treatment programs
- in-person and virtual support groups
Some people might choose to only use recovery support systems on a short-term basis during their active recovery. Others may incorporate recovery support systems into their lives for many years.
There’s no right or wrong way to approach finding support from others during recovery and sobriety. It’s all about trying different things and discovering what works best for you.
For those in recovery and beyond, a support system can help keep you on a well-balanced path in a number of ways.
Having a substance use disorder and starting recovery might feel isolating, which may affect your relationships with family and friends.
Making connections with other people during the recovery process can help define a new chapter in your life. For example, it could be an opportunity to repair any relationships hurt by past substance use.
However, some people may have been encouraged to use substances by the people around them, including friends and family.
According to a 2010 article published by the American Psychiatric Association, research indicates that substance use — among other health habits — may “spread” through social networks.
This is why a healthy support system during recovery can make a world of difference.
You may be able to set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself with people who have a positive impact on you.
When it comes to support systems specifically designed for those in recovery, there are several types and options to explore.
It may take time and effort to find the support group that serves your needs best. You may have to try out several types before finding one that works for you.
Some of the most well-known recovery support groups are 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
Founded in the 1930s, AA is a peer-to-peer fellowship that encourages recovery from alcohol use disorder via a structured, spiritually focused 12-step process.
The first step is for a person to admit that they are powerless over alcohol, and that alcohol use has made their life unmanageable.
Other steps in the process include:
- making amends
- surrendering to a higher power
AA members typically attend face-to-face meetings where members share their experiences and discuss their progress through the steps.
AA’s sister program Narcotics Anonymous (NA) follows the same framework, but is designed for those recovering from other substance use disorders.
These programs are often considered a first-line treatment for people in recovery. They’ve helped millions of people achieve sobriety.
However, it’s important to remember that 12-step programs are not for everyone. Some people may find the religious language at the core of AA and NA alienating.
Alternative recovery programs
Many alternative recovery programs are secular. These options may be a better fit for some, especially those alienated by AA and NA’s religious language:
- Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) Recovery. A research-based approach focusing on self-empowerment, SMART Recovery offers in-person and online meetings.
- Women for Sobriety. Founded in 1976, Women for Sobriety is a recovery program geared toward women that’s based on the idea that behavior can’t be changed without first addressing underlying thoughts.
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (S.O.S.). Specifically designed to be an alternative to 12-step programs, S.O.S. offers in-person, peer-to-peer support for members to discuss progress and hold each other accountable through recovery.
In addition to 12-step and alternative recovery programs, there are a number of support groups that are less structured.
A support group is any group of people that meets, either in person or online, to discuss a particular aspect of mental health or emotional well-being.
Support groups exist to provide peer-to-peer support, and to allow people to voice their experiences to others who can relate. These groups exist for a number of reasons and life circumstances, like:
- mental health conditions
- grief and loss
- caregiver support
Whether a 12-step program or a support group is a better fit will depend entirely on your preferences.
If you’re not sure where to start, making a list of recovery organizations and groups that sound interesting to you might be a useful first step. Attending trial meetings could help you decide which groups feel right for you.
It may make sense for some people to attend a 12-step or formal recovery program first and then transition to a support group. But many people who have been sober for years continue to attend AA meetings.
Making friends through a 12-step or recovery program is also common. You may even form a personal support system outside your group with the connections you make.
Each person’s recovery experience is unique. You can take all the time you need to build a support system that’s right for you.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many traditional groups like AA have started to hold regular virtual meetings. But there are also support groups that have always existed purely online.
If attending in-person meetings is a challenge for you, there are plenty of online and virtual options:
- Reddit forums. On recovery subreddits like r/stopdrinking and r/redditorsinrecovery, Redditors can anonymously ask for advice, share their experiences, and find support.
- Soberistas. This is an international online community specifically for women in recovery from alcohol use disorder.
- Sober Recovery. This is an online forum for anyone recovering from substance use disorder.
- In The Rooms. A free online recovery tool, In The Rooms offers more than 100 weekly virtual meetings, ranging from a 12-step approach to more wellness-focused paths.
In addition to online and virtual groups, there are also many apps designed to help support sobriety and recovery. Some free options include:
- Connections. The first evidence-based app, Connections provides social engagement, medical referrals, virtual therapy, and progress tracking.
- I Am Sober. You can connect to a recovery community and track your process while learning new habits.
- Sober Grid. The largest app-based “sober community,” Sober Grid offers a personalized resource for tracking and sharing your recovery process.
- SoberTool. In addition to tracking recovery progress and money saved, SoberTool sends users motivational messages.
- Recovery Box. This app was created to offer users a creative, personalized approach to recovering from substance use disorders and eating disorders.
- Tempest. A “digital alcohol treatment program” in an app, Tempest offers expert-led lessons, a supportive community, and other tools to help people in recovery from alcohol use disorder.
Recovering from substance use disorder takes courage and determination, and it’s important not to underestimate that as you move through the process.
Building a support system that works for you may feel overwhelming at first. You may not connect with every group or feel like you fit in at every meeting. You might discover that some people in your life may not be able to support you in the ways you need.
Taking it one step at a time can help you focus on finding the right support system for your recovery process and sobriety.
It may be beneficial to try engaging with multiple groups to find what works best for you. You may find virtual or online support groups suit you better than in-person ones, like Redditors in Recovery.
If you feel you may benefit from help beyond support groups, visit Psych Central’s guide on finding mental health support.