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SierraGirl's avatar

How do support groups help? Groups such as Al Anon, ACOA, CODA?

Asked by SierraGirl (199 points ) September 19th, 2009 from iPhone

How do support groups help when they aren’t allowed to give advice? I haven’t given any enough time to see though. I just started going to an ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) and (CoDependents Anonymous) group and will hang in there this time. I just don’t understand how going can help me change behaviors I have had for 35+ years.

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16 Answers

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Support groups aren’t about giving direct advice, it’s about sharing experiences and learning from others going through the same things and how to deal with the challenges of your particular situation.

Changing your behavior is a must but that has to come from within. Others in the group will support you in this but if you don’t change your behavior, you’ll keep running into the same problems.

Best of luck to you.

hearkat's avatar

The AA model of 12 Steps is the foundation for many groups, which have helped countless people. Like pretty much any undertaking (especially where self-help is concerned) you get out of it what you put into it. So nothing will help you change unless you are willing to work at making those changes, and to be patient with yourself as you humanly err along the way.

Groups are a bit tricky, because it can be tough finding ones with the right vibe that really resonates with you. Any that you are considering, attend 2–3 meetings to get a real sense if the group and how it works.

I attended a couple Al-Anon meetings when I was married to an alcoholic. Personally, I wasn’t ready to open up to a group, and I was probably judgemental towards the others there, because I used arrogance as a defense mechanism back then. I have since learned that there is mire that all people have in common than what makes us different.

Fluther is a sort of group therapy, too!

YARNLADY's avatar

Support groups are designed to help by affirming your feelings and your reactions through sharing similar experiences with others. When you observe that they have been through the same things and felt the same things, and not only survived, but improved, it gives you hope. By observation and discussion, you can discover some tips and ideas on how to go about reaching your goalsl.

Zuma's avatar

@SierraGirl They won’t help and they can’t help. Twelve step programs begin with the premise that you are damaged goods; that you are powerless over your “disease”; and that you must undergo what amounts to a religious conversion and turn your life over to a “higher power” instead of taking control of your own life as a rational moral person.

Their success rate is about 5%, which is about the same rate as people deciding to on their own. You would be much better off with a program like Rational Recovery, which is highly critical of 12-Step programs. I strongly urge you to read the link, since it goes into much further detail than I have gone here as to how 12-step programs are self-defeating and can actually be an impediment to recovery.

You might also benefit from an assertiveness training program if you have lived in the shadow of someone’s addiction and have had to defer your own authentic needs and desires.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Zuma You are missing a point when you say ”Their success rate is about 5%, which is about the same rate as people deciding to on their own”. The two groups of people are not the same. The ones who were successful in the support group were not the ones who were successful on their own. The groups work for some, and not for others.

Zuma's avatar

@YARNLADY There aren’t “two groups.” In any group of addicts, 5% can be expected to get better all by themselves. So, in order to say that a 12-step (or any other) program “works” it has to have a recovery rate that exceeds the background recovery rate by a statistically significant margin, and it most emphatically doesn’t.

As the rational recovery folks argue that it is the person’s decision to quit once and for all, not the 12-steps rigmarole or the group “support,” that keeps a person abstinent. AA and it’s ilk are religious cults masquerading as self-help groups. They do no measurable good and they may do actual harm insofar as they provide rationalizations that keep you from taking responsibility for your addiction. There are, in any case, plenty of other alternatives.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Zuma Your points are correct, but you still are counting in the people who are actually helped by the support groups with the people who recover on their own. There are, indeed, two types, those who do benefit from support groups (and I am not limiting this to the 12 step groups) and those who recover entirely on their own.

These people are not one and the same. Some will be helped by the support groups, and others will not.

Zuma's avatar

@YARNLADY I am a research scientist and one of the main things I do (when I do what I do) is measure treatment effects of this sort.

There simply is no plausible mechanism by which the 12-steppers and natural quitters would spin off into two mutually exclusive groups. Hence, there is only one group here: people who decide to quit once and for all because are done with drugs and/or alcohol. These people don’t presort themselves into two groups; they join12-step groups in the same proportion that they exist in the population. If they just so happen to quit while a member of a 12-step group, it does not mean that that it was the 12-step rigmarole that cured them, or that they are in any way different from people who quit on their own. What you are committing here is a form of post hoc fallacy.

If the 12-step rigmarole had any curative value whatsoever AA groups would have a quit rate that is over and above of the natural quit rate of people deciding that they are done with their addictions. This is pretty standard scientific stuff. If you were measuring the efficacy of an antibiotic and the people you gave the pill to didn’t get better at rates higher than people recovering on their own, then you would have a pretty worthless antibiotic. You can’t come in after the fact and say the antibiotic worked because the people in the treatment group were somehow different from the control group.

A support group presupposes that you are incapable of making it on your own, which rather tends to undermine the premise that you are sufficiently in control of your life that you can make a conscious decision to quit for good on your own. And if that kind of decision is what is necessary to stay quit, support groups may actually impede your recovery.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Zuma OK, so you are talking about statistical analysis, and I am talking about real people. Statistics don’t tell you whether the people who are helped by the support groups would have been able to quit on their own.

hearkat's avatar

@YARNLADY: Statistics say whatever their researcher/publisher wants them to say!

wundayatta's avatar

Support groups can help people achieve their goals. I’ve been in several. They told us that infertile couples who participate in fertility support groups are more likely (I don’t remember how much more likely) to have children than infertile couples who don’t. Similarly, people with bipolar disorder have found support groups to be very effective in helping people stay healthy. I believe that there is evidence showing that cancer patients in support groups survive longer than those who don’t.

Support groups that I’ve been in have provided advice. We help each other think through our issues and provide information that the other people may not have. In my current bipolar support group people seem to be pretty open. Not always at the beginning, but if they come long enough, they start to open up. It can be very helpful to be around people who have the same problems you do, and who understand.

I don’t know about the data regarding 12 step programs. I don’t know if there are non 12-step programs for people dealing with alcoholism. I don’t know what the definition of quitting is that @Zuma is talking about. However, I am pretty sure that support groups—even those of the 12 step kind—have other benefits besides helping folks to quit.

They may help people stay away from alcohol longer, even if they don’t help them quit permanently. They may help individuals build friendships and raise their self-esteem to some degree, depending on how they work. They may just help folks feel less isolated, or like they are the only one with this problem. I think that’s useful.

The group may not help you change behaviors you’ve had for 35 years. However, they still might be helpful to you. It doesn’t sound like they do any harm, anyway.

And you don’t have to go to a 12-step support group. There are other kinds. Hell, you could go to a book group and get the same benefit, I’m sure. Maybe even better, since you wouldn’t necessarily be hanging out with other people who have the same issues. Although there would probably be more temptation.

Frankly, I think that alcoholism and other addictions are signs of an underlying pathology. I believe that if you deal with that, you’ll be much more able to break free of alcoholism. I’d spend my time trying to understand the pain that drives you to drink, and then see if I could find a way to deal with that pain that does not involve alcohol, or doesn’t involve as much alcohol.

Therapy is good for that. There may be other medications that would help, if you have some kind of mental illness. There are other support groups that can help you deal with underlying issues that have no specific focus on alcohol issues. To me, alcoholism is a symptom, not the problem. If you only deal with the symptom, you can’t get rid of the need to drink. If you deal with the problem for which you use alcohol to medicate, then you might have a better chance of kicking the addiction.

As always, I could be wrong. I’m just an amateur. I’ve never been addicted to substances. I do feel I am addicted to certain activities—fluthering among them. At least fluthering seems to have a better cost/benefit ratio than alcoholism does, but I don’t know that for sure.

Zuma's avatar

@daloon There might be benefits to joining a cult that masquerades as a support group, but probably not. You wouldn’t go to a support group for, say, bi-polar disorder that requires that you begin from the premise that you are damaged goods; that you are powerless over your condition; and that you undergo a religious conversion just so you can get yourself up to a point where you can muddle through one day at a time.

See the links “harm” and “alternatives” above, for what I am getting at.

YARNLADY's avatar

@Zuma Answering a valid comment with words that are deliberately chosen for their shock effect does not lend credence to your point.

Zuma's avatar

@YARNLADY My point is in the links, which you obviously haven’t read.

ItsAHabit's avatar

AA provides peers who do not drink and do not promote it. Thus, it provides social support for abstaining from alcohol.

ItsAHabit's avatar

Actually, there is a lot of evidence that Alcoholics Anonymous and similar 12 step programs are no more effective than not participating in any type of such program.

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