What is Substance Abuse Group Therapy?

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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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Substance abuse group therapy is a form of psychological counseling for individuals who are struggling with substance abuse. In substance abuse group therapy, substance abusers, along with mental health professionals, get together on a regular basis for the purpose of offering support and feedback to each other as well as receiving psychotherapy and counseling from both the professionals and their fellow group members. While there are several support groups that exist to provide guidance and a mechanism for recovery to substance abusers, not all groups for substance abusers are necessarily group therapy or group counseling. The distinction between substance abuse group therapy and support groups is that the first are led by mental health and substance abuse treatment professionals, while support groups are often peer-led and do not offer psychotherapy or counseling within the context of the group's operations.

For those coping with drug or alcohol addiction, substance abuse group therapy can provide low-cost assistance for enabling the substance abuser to overcome her addiction and to maintain her recovery. As individual counseling and residential treatment are frequently expensive, group counseling can be one of the most cost-effective treatments for substance abuse. In addition, some mental health experts believe that substance abusers may be more likely to respond positively to feedback from peers than they are from a trained authority figure such as a mental health professional. The group therapy process may also provide substance abusers with a healthier social circle than they currently have.


In substance abuse group therapy, addicts and recovering addicts address aspects of their addiction in a controlled environment designed to help them process their reasons for being addicted and to find new coping strategies that help them deal with life's struggles while remaining clean and sober. The mental health professionals who facilitate the groups may set a group agenda for each meeting or may encourage a more spontaneous group rhythm. The facilitator may begin conversations within the group by asking general questions or directing a line of inquiry toward one group member and then encouraging other group members to participate in the therapeutic process.

While some types of substance abuse group therapy may use the 12-step model used by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, most members of independent 12-step groups do not regard their system as group therapy. Instead, most 12-step groups are completely peer-led and do not rely on mental health professionals for leadership or services to members. Individuals looking for substance abuse group therapy should make sure that they understand the difference between a support group led by peers and a group led by professionals for the purpose of providing therapeutic services.


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Post 2

@raynbow- You do have a legitimate concern, because confidentiality is never totally guaranteed in a group therapy setting. However, the good thing is that all of the people who are attending drug abuse group therapy sessions are there for the same reason, and this promotes an atmosphere of trust and camaraderie.

I have a friend who has been a part of a substance abuse therapy group for several years, and she has never had any issues with another member talking about fellow group members outside of the group setting. She has actually made a lot of friends who are going through the same thing she is, and have been invaluable sources of support for her.

Post 1

I am trying to help a friend seek treatment for his substance abuse problem. He is a very social person who enjoys talking to other people, so I think that he may do best in a group therapy setting. My only concern is the privacy of such therapy. I know it is suppose to be confidential, but how can he be sure that others in the group won't discuss the session with people outside of the group?

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