The Effectiveness of Community Support in Addiction Recovery

Group of guys together after a hike.

The Effectiveness of Community Support in Addiction Recovery

What Is Community Support?

Addiction can be a very alienating experience. Most people you meet aren’t able to relate to your experiences. If they can relate, they may not be in recovery themselves. As a result, it’s super important to have community support while in recovery. But what is community support? 

Community support is the emotional, mental, and sometimes physical help a recovery community gives to its members. A recovery community is “a society or community in which citizenship is established by the status of shared experiences and susceptibility to relapse.” Translated to basic English, it’s a group of people who all have substance use disorder (SUD) and are in recovery. These communities can be made up of people still trying to learn how to manage their SUD or people who have been in recovery and sober for years. Everyone needs community support.

Why Is Community Support Important?

People with SUD can have a hard time relating to those without SUD, and vice versa. While in recovery, you need to be able to talk to people who understand. Talking with other people in recovery can help validate the feelings that someone is having. It can also prepare someone in recovery for challenges that they may not have faced yet.

In addition, people with SUDs are often encouraged to continue using the substance that negatively impacts them by their “friends.” The fear of losing those friends is one of the reasons that some people avoid seeking help or joining a recovery program in the first place. When community support is available, these are no longer problems. New social bonds are formed, replacing the old, potentially damaging ones. 

Membership in a recovery community helps to shift existing social networks. This helps to reduce the exposure to substance-related activities and cues that induce craving. These two things help people in recovery to stay sober. Being part of a recovery community also makes it easier to stay sober because we humans inherently crave approval from our peers. If all your peers are sober, the easiest way to gain approval is to be sober. 

Community support is also super important for those who have relapsed or are having trouble staying sober. A recovery community understands those feelings and can offer support that no one else can. Recovery communities can also provide “role models.” 

It has also been shown that the bonds formed in a recovery community last. Community members continue to reach out to each other and support each other even years after they leave a program. 

12-Step Programs

One of the most common and well-known forms of community support is 12-Step Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Though the Steps do help people, most studies show that the community aspect of these programs is actually the most effective part. The expectation of regular attendance can help “hold people responsible” for their recovery. 

Some 12-Step Programs even offer resources like “Bridging the Gap,” which provides someone in recovery a sober contact. The contact is outside a recovery facility, so they have a “transitional object” to connect to. This helps prevent someone in recovery from going back to old social groups. It also gives them something to do other than relapse. Usually, these contacts can provide access to a wider recovery community as well. 

Group Therapy

Group therapy is also a common form of community support. Group therapy can help people with SUD feel more comfortable expressing their feelings. It can also help form bonds in the same way that 12-Step programs do. 

Building Life Skills and Finding Hobbies

Building life skills is another excellent form of community support that provides more practical life skills outside of a recovery facility. Things like cooking classes or “housekeeping” classes can help form bonds between people in recovery. It also helps them to feel more prepared and confident about sober life outside of a dedicated sober space. 

Similarly to building life skills, finding sober hobbies is a good way to form friendships. It is also a good way to help people living with SUD to feel like they are living full and productive lives. Many times, sober hobbies are introduced naturally in recovery communities, but many facilities offer excursions to help clients find something they’re interested in. Sober hobbies also make it easier for people outside of a facility to stay sober, as they will still be surrounded by other sober people. 

Staying on the road to recovery can be hard, but with people around to support and encourage you to stay sober, it can be a lot easier.