Understanding Support Networks in Recovery from Addiction
Support networks must be made a critical component of an addict’s recovery plan in order to prevent relapse and maintain and improve emotional, mental and spiritual health. Recovering addicts that do not have a support network often become depressed, withdraw from social interactions and eventually return to using drugs in order to self-medicate their emotional pain. Consequently, understanding how support networks can benefit a recovery program and what types of networks are available is essential for people who are battling the disease of addiction or alcoholism.
Support Networks: Why They Work
There are 8 primary reasons why support networks are crucial for people in recovery:
The power of fellowship is felt in nearly all groups that gather for a specific purpose; especially groups with powerful missions like those dedicated to the recovery of addicts and alcoholics. Humans are innately social creatures that need to be around other people that share the same goals and interests. And while there might not yet be enough scientific evidence to prove it, for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years mankind has recognized the power of fellowship; it’s a call that all humans respond to and this may be even truer for addicts that need to know they are not alone in their struggle.
2.) Friendly Observation
People in recovery sometimes struggle with issues of honesty regarding their desire to use or their actual drug use despite recovery efforts. Having a strong recovery-based support network serves as a safety net in this regard, as people within the group can recognize issues and signs of relapse or impending relapse among others in the group. In this way people can “keep an eye on each other.”
3.) Environment of Understanding
People in the general public often find it difficult or impossible to understand the true nature of the disease of addiction and fail to recognize how powerful it really is. By creating a recovery support network, an addict or alcoholic can ensure that the people they surround themselves with understand addiction and will therefore be less likely to judge, admonish or “feel sorry” for others that they know have a legitimate, neurological disease that requires a daily effort to overcome.
4.) The Power of Sharing
There is a great deal of power in sharing and we see this in many different ways in society, from the individual talking to a therapist, to those who take part in groups and organizations, to people who open up to their barber or stylist, we clearly see that sharing helps people. Sharing can relieve stress, create stronger relationships and allow people to “let go” of emotional and other pain that they otherwise would allow to fester and grow. And according to Dr. Barton Goldsmith, sharing with others helps give us new perspective;
“There will always be problems in our lives, but sometimes we don’t have the capacity to handle them all by ourselves. Getting a 360-degree view is impossible when all you can see is what’s going wrong. And talking with another person can give you perspective.” (Goldsmith, Barton, Ph.D. Talk About Your Problems, Please Psychology Today March 3, 2011)
When an addict has an “emergency”, it often means they are about to relapse. For some, this could prove fatal, so prompt action is required. Addicts that have good support networks are able to rely on people within them to come to their aid in the event that they feel drug use or a return to drinking is imminent. Additionally, a person in recovery may be empowered and enlightened when another addict asks them for help when they feel like using.
The confidence that a strong recovery-oriented support network can provide is significant. Many addicts report that just knowing there are people that they can talk to and others who are like them that they can turn to in the event of trouble makes it much easier to deal with the daily problems that often stress addicts and alcoholics out. When it comes to relapse prevention, confidence is one of the most critical components of recovery stability.
7.) Education and Resources
The more people an addict has in their networks, the more likely it is that new and useful information will be passed among the various members. And the more education and resources an addict has access to, the more likely it is that they will acquire the right combination of knowledge and tools not only to stay clean for life, but to help others do so as well.
Being part of a recovery-oriented network doesn’t mean that there’s no fun or entertainment involved. People in recovery can still do all of the fun things they want to do, provided others in the group want to participate. Fortunately there are many recovery-sensitive groups and organizations that arrange outings, events and so on in order to provide clean entertainment for its members. Remember; it’s as important to share a laugh with your networks as it is to share emotional pain.
Types/Components of Support Networks
Each addict’s complete support network structure is unique. Some addicts consciously build their support groups, while others are unsure of what groups and networks exist, how to join and what the benefits are. The following are 11 different components that in whole or in part make up the support networks of many people in recovery:
1.) 12 Step Programs
Groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous) have provided the fellowship and support necessary to help thousands of people maintain their recovery, “one day at a time.” Both groups are founded on the principle of the discussion and sharing of experiences, usually pre-empted by the humbling statement of;
“Hi, my name is so-and-so, and I’m an addict.”
Many rehab centers and drug treatment programs use 12 Step programs as a basis for the continued recovery program of their patients upon graduation. While these groups are not for everyone, they are convenient in that they can be found in virtually every area of the country.
2.) Recovery-Specific Groups
Recovery specific groups are those that gather for a particular purpose or activity in order to have clean fun together. Often there isn’t any structure to the groups in the sense of recovery-oriented dialogue or practices- in most cases these groups are just people trying to live normal lives but who all happen to be in recovery. Examples of recovery-oriented groups include the infamous 5th Chapter motorcycle club and Young People in Recovery.
3.) Connections Made During Treatment
When addicts complete drug or alcohol treatment together, they often form lasting bonds that become a key part of their support system. Of course, these relationships should only be maintained if they are healthy. These can be especially powerful relationships because the parties are essentially on the same “level,” and are likely going through similar experiences related to post acute withdrawal, issues re-integrating with society, etc.
4.) Recovery Forums and Websites
Recovery forums and websites provide an additional opportunity to develop relationships, discuss issues, share experiences, collaborate, meet and take part in activities together and much more. Forums are also an excellent way to gather information and resources and to easily develop a support system that might not be available in certain areas- especially very small cities and towns.
5.) Family & Friends
Family and friends that support the addict’s recovery are possibly the most important part of a strong support system. From old friends that bring understanding, history and loyalty to new friends that have been acquired along the path to recovery, often these individuals can provide more emotional support than others. The same is true of family members, but people in recovery must beware to limit relationships with family members that were enablers or those who do not support or take addiction recovery seriously. In many cases relationships with family members are cited as the cause of substance abuse, so it’s important to choose the family and friends that are permitted into a support network carefully and honestly.
6.) Spiritual & Religious Groups
Even if you don’t take part in organized religion, there are often groups within groups among these types of organizations. For instance, AA and NA 12 Step meetings are often held at churches or other spiritual gathering places. In fact, some religious groups sponsor these programs because their ideals are largely aligned.
7.) Rehab Alumni Associations
For addicts that attended and completed a rehab program, there may be an opportunity to join an alumni association for that particular treatment center. This is an excellent way to stay connected to the people who were influential in the early part of a person’s recovery, and to meet new people who are also living a life free from drugs or alcohol, one day at a time.
8.) Community Outreach Programs
Many communities have outreach programs for the disadvantaged, and this can include drug addicts in some cases. Programs can be as simple as the provision of a place to gather and meet, or it can include funding for specialized treatment, groups, therapy and other benefits. In order to find out if your community offers such programs, your town or city hall is an excellent place to start.
9.) Healthcare Professionals
Therapists, doctors, nurses, dieticians, massage therapists, chiropractors and many other types of healthcare professional play a central role in the support network of addicts and alcoholics in recovery. In fact, most people in recovery probably underutilize this source and fail to recognize the benefits. However, this group is likely one of the most important parts of a recovery support system considering that these professionals help to maintain the physical, mental and emotional health of an individual. Consequently it’s vital that people in recovery are open and honest with their healthcare professionals and alert them to any issues that could indicate a relapse is imminent.
10.) School/Educational Resources
If you’re a student, it’s likely that your school or university has special programs available for people who struggle with substance abuse and addiction. These programs could consist of therapy or counseling, the hosting of recovery-related groups, resources to get outside help and possibly funding for treatment. Additionally, other students may become part of a support network, as they are almost certainly experiencing the same stresses and issues related to schooling, social pressures and so on.
11.) Volunteer Organizations
By volunteering for any number of a wide range of organizations, people in recovery can help to give back what was given to them in the way of compassion, understanding, advice, resources, financial assistance, etc. But perhaps even more importantly, the interactions between other volunteers and organizers can blossom into significant meaningful relationships that can one day become a key part of a healthy support system.
If you’re an addict or alcoholic in recovery and you don’t have a support network, it’s imperative that you take action now and get involved. You can start with a simple search in Google for recovery related forums, or you can check the Yellow Pages for the nearest AA or NA meeting. Remember; if you go to the same lengths to stay clean as you once did to use, you’ll very quickly develop a strong network of link-minded, recovery-oriented people that will offer a mutually beneficial way to keep fighting the good fight, one day at a time.