Why is a Support System in Addiction Recovery Necessary, and How Can I Build One?

Let’s take a page from nature and our surroundings. Think about trees, rivers and streams, the home in which you live, and the chair you sit on.

The grand sight of the redwoods in California depicts a robust support system. Redwoods have a shallow root system. Don't let that fool you into thinking they can easily topple. No, the roots are wide and intertwine with others to create a healthy system. Pine trees, on the other hand, can topple over. This is especially true if the root system is not deep.

The banks of a river or stream hold the water in. Over time, the water has carved out the land to create tracks, grooves, and curves. The banks still provide support. Disney’s Pocahontas sang about rivers changing and not being able to step in the same river twice. Even if the river or stream changes, what remains is the support. Without it, the water might flood.

Homes are made up of beams, wood, and other items that provide structure. If you have seen any of the many home improvement shows on television, you have heard of a load-bearing wall. These walls hold the weight of things above it. If it is improperly removed, the results could be disastrous.

Imagine if the chair you are using right now suddenly no longer supported you. It could be embarrassing or painful, depending on the situation. The legs of the chair are designed to keep you from falling.

So, What Do These Examples Have to do With Me? A lot, actually. We can learn from each example and take the best parts of each. A support system is unique to the individual. What works for one person may not work for another.

Support Groups

Peer-support is nonclinical assistance from individuals with similar circumstances and is standard components of recovery centers. The 12-Step programs are an example of a peer support group.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous has helped those struggling with alcoholism for decades. Founded in 1935, Bill Wilson and Bob Smith gave hope to those suffering from alcoholism. There was nothing like it before, and many had lifelong issues with substances. Alcoholics Anonymous follows 12 steps admitting powerlessness and the needs of a higher power. Members also look within at flaws, seek guidance through prayer and meditation to eventually help others like themselves. Maybe the 12-Step programs aren’t your cup of tea. There are other peer groups that focus on addictions.
  • SMART Recovery uses cognitive-behavioral tools as a science-based, self-empowered approach to recovery. It is an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training. SMART Recovery does not use labels like "addict" or alcoholic." The 4-Point Program helps change behavior by 1. building and maintain motivation to change; 2. coping with urges; 3. managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and 4. living a balanced, positive, and healthy life. There are helpful worksheets in the recovery toolbox section.
  • Women for Sobriety was founded in 1975 and is based on thirteen Acceptance Statements to encourage emotional and spiritual growth. You can view the statements here. Women for Sobriety looks at problematic substance use, not as a moral issue, but rather as a loss of identity women experience with competing societal roles. Also, substance use is viewed as coping for common problems like anxiety, depression, guilt, and low self-esteem.
  • Recovery Dharma uses Buddhist practices and principles to heal the suffering of addiction. The belief is that the Buddhist teachings, called Dharma, help heal addiction and offer true freedom. Individuals are empowered to explore, learn, and understand their own paths. Recovery Dharma uses 10 core intentions for those that wish to be a part of the community.

Historically, peer-support has been a considerable part of recovery programs. When clients complete an addiction treatment program, they are considered alumni. Alumni groups are another type of peer support that could be helpful. Perhaps you met someone in treatment that you want to keep in contact with. Or, you met alumni and felt a connection that you want to be a part of.

Reasons Why Support Networks are Crucial for Recovering Persons

  1. Groups offer a sense of belonging, and humans are hard-wired for connection. Attending gatherings with like-minded people who share similar goals and interests makes it easier to connect. When we feel connected, we do not feel alone in our struggles.
  2. Friendly observation. Peers at a meeting may notice something is amiss before we see it in ourselves. When others genuinely care for us, they want us to do well. Our family members might not understand addiction well enough to help call attention to problem areas.
  3. An environment of understanding. Addiction is still stigmatized, and the general public may not understand the power of it. A recovery support network will be less likely to judge or feel sorry for those with similar problems.
  4. The power of sharing. Sharing or letting go of something troubling has a freeing effect. Carl Jung contended that “What you resist not only persists but will grow in size.” Holding on to thoughts about relapse, for example, is more dangerous than sharing them with a support network. Others might need to hear what you share in the group.
  5. Having a good support network ensures that you will be able to reach someone in a crisis. An emergency or crisis typically means relapse is about to happen. Depending on the substance, a relapse could prove fatal. One day, you might be the person someone calls to ask for help.

There are other support types, like spiritual and religious groups, community outreach programs, healthcare/mental health professionals, volunteer organizations, or family and friends. If you attend church or other spiritual groups, you might create a network with the members there. Some churches offer recovery groups as part of their ministry and outreach.

When using healthcare or mental health professionals as a support system, it is essential to have other sources in place, too. Professionals have boundaries that they must adhere to.

Family and friends can be a great source of support, especially if they are understanding.

Are you ready to begin building your support network? The Ho tai Way would love to be a part of your story. Contact our admissions department. Call (714) 581-3974.