Alcohol Support Groups: Solidifying the Road to Recovery

Last Updated: June 10, 2020

Authored by Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Rehab centers often cannot provide recovering alcoholics with an emotional edge and an empathetic value necessary for a sustained journey to sobriety. Alcohol support groups step in to bridge this gap. Negative thoughts, limited beliefs, and destructive behavioral responses that fuel addictive tendencies may completely disappear thanks to intensive counseling. However, a recovering addict still needs encouragement to stay sober. Sometimes, the compassion and kindness received through the support group sessions can motivate the alcohol abuser to steer clear of a drink more than any medicine or treatment method will ever be able to.

Why are Alcohol Support Groups so Effective

Alcohol addiction support groups are very close-knitted, comprising only of a few members joined by a sense of intimacy and a communal effort to overcome the addiction. The group-held meetings allow members to interact with one another, share their stories of success and failure, all while offering comfort, support, and motivation to each another. Alcohol meeting groups will usually share key rules such as:

  • Every group requires a sponsor, a person who has been sober for a long time
  • The sponsor is there to lead the group meetings and set a positive example
  • Participation in alcohol support group meetings returns optimal results if the person also undergoes other addiction treatment methods
  • Visiting a professional treatment program is not mandatory to gain admission into a group
  • Most of the support group meetings are free of charges

Types of Support Groups

Alcohol support sessions can be of two types: 12-step and non-12-step groups. The classification is based solely on the treatment philosophy endorsed by a group.

What are the 12-step alcohol abuse support groups?

The primary 12-step program is the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) support group. As one might have guessed, members of the fellowship follow a 12-step program towards a full recovery from alcohol abuse. During the sessions, individuals are usually encouraged to invoke a Higher Power (God) and surrender to it with the belief of a guided journey to sobriety.
The 12-step philosophy aims to achieve the following:

  • Remove the shame factor from an addiction. By accepting that alcoholism is a disorder one can’t control, the 12-step program strives to take the shame out of the alcohol addiction. When the person does not feel guilty and ashamed, he or she is more proactive in seeking and continuing treatment.
  • Instill belief in the ”help from above”. A belief in a higher source of power helps boost confidence in the treatment process and speeds up the recovery process.
  • Facilitate support by guidance and example. The 12-step alcohol recovery groups organize face-to-face meetings on a regular basis to encourage members in sharing their life stories. Abusers can learn from each other’s anecdotes of struggles, challenges, failures, and triumphs straight from the trenches.
  • Promote the idea of human imperfection. The members are encouraged to understand that it is possible to recover even if they gave in to the urge of drinking.

According to the AA General Service Office, there are more than 64,000 support groups and more than 2 million members in the U.S. and Canada. There is at least one AA support group in every community of the U.S making it easy to find a plethora of nearby alcohol abuse support groups online. There are more than 114,000 alcohol addiction support groups all around the world.
AA came into existence in the 1930s and is the brainchild of Bill W. and Dr. Bob S. These men were both dependent on alcohol, and have realized their support for one another helped them stay sober.
AA is undoubtedly among the most popular 12-step alcoholism support groups in the world and its participation has been associated with higher chances of sustained sobriety.
Young woman has huge alcohol problems in her life
The key to making the program work for a person is active involvement and engagement. The best results are usually guaranteed if the person:

  • Attends meetings consistently and frequently. This will likely amount to around three sessions per week.
  • Takes part in all or most of the group activities prescribed by the AA sponsor.
  • Completes each step with sincerity and keeps in touch with the sponsor.

The 12-step philosophy aims for a holistic therapeutic intervention. Abstaining from alcohol is the main goal of this treatment philosophy. The overarching goal is to bring about a profound shift in attitude and alter behavioral responses. This way, a person can sustain sobriety while rebuilding their own life and mending their relationships.

The 12 Steps of AA Alcoholism Support Groups

The following are the 12 steps of an AA program one must undertake to achieve sobriety:

  1. Admit that alcoholism is a disease over which a person has no control.
  2. Believe in the guidance of a Higher Power (God).
  3. Surrender to His will.
  4. Recalibrate one’s moral compass.
  5. Admit one’s wrongdoings.
  6. Allow God to correct one’s shortcomings.
  7. Ask for forgiveness.
  8. Admit that one has wronged loved people.
  9. List the names of all those people who suffered mentally or physically because of one’s addiction.
  10. Work hard to mend broken relationships, rebuild burned bridges and ask for forgiveness from people hurt under the influence of alcohol.
  11. Ask for divine guidance in future endeavors.
  12. Help others who are in the same boat to rebuild their lives.

The Alternatives to the 12-Step Programs

For those who prefer nonreligious alcohol support groups, there are alcohol support groups other than AA. Non-12-step groups take a secular approach to treatment and recovery. These anti-alcohol groups include the Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery) and Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS). There is no emphasis on Higher Power. Instead, individuals bring about attitudinal shifts and behavioral changes within themselves through education and encouragement.
The following are the characteristics of a non-12-step alcohol support group:

  • These groups are ideal for individuals who are uncomfortable with the idea of their powerlessness or trusting their chances of recovery to a greater entity.
  • Individuals of any belief can become members to the non religious alcohol support groups
  • Individuals who are not comfortable sharing their life story with others feel at ease attending non-12-step support group meetings because the treatment methodology relies more on one-to-one counseling sessions and less on group therapies.

There are several non-12-step alcohol groups other than AA to choose from:

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

The SOS is a popular non-spiritual alternative to AA. SOS is made up of autonomous bodies spread across various cities and states of the U.S. These local chapters organize regular meetings.
It places the onus of acquiring and maintaining sobriety squarely on the individual, so the person has the satisfaction and peace of mind knowing that he or she is really “doing” something to overcome addiction.

Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery)

SMART Recovery supports long-term abstinence and sustained sobriety using a scientific treatment methodology. They prescribe drugs and advice members to undergo psychological assessment and therapy using the latest scientific findings. There is also an emphasis on teaching members practical skills to boost self-confidence and facilitate the process of rehabilitation.
The goals of SMART Recovery are self-empowerment and self-reliance and include:

  • Remaining motivated and committed to sobriety
  • Coping with urges healthily
  • Managing behavioral responses

Are There Alcohol Support Groups for Affected Families?

Alcoholism has a power to destroy lives and relationships. It not only ravages the physical and mental health of the addict but also tears apart families and places immense emotional and financial burden on them. Families of alcohol addicts need healing too. Luckily, there are groups dedicated solely to supporting families of the abusers.


Al-Anon is an organization that encompasses 12-step alcohol support system for friends and family members of alcohol addicts. During the meetings, members can discuss their experiences of sharing their homes with someone who prioritizes alcohol over relationships. From these discussions emerge insights, new knowledge, and life-saving guidelines.
Al-Anon aims to achieve the following:

  • Help friends and family members process and reduce negative emotions such as hate, depression, frustration, and hopelessness
  • Facilitate sharing of practical knowledge; e.g. how to manage the domestic budget
  • Help individuals find out if they are unknowingly adding fuel to the fire of their loved ones’ addiction
  • Remind the attendees they are not the cause of their loved ones’ problem

Alateen is a subgroup of Al-Anon that welcomes teenagers (12- to 17-year-olds) who have been affected by the alcoholism their loved ones are facing. People from these age groups are particularly vulnerable as they begin to form views of their own during that period. Alateen meetings help teenagers make sense of what is happening around them. The group meetings give them a chance to express their bottled feelings and find support, understanding, love, and motivation. There is a major presence of both of these alcohol support groups online.

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Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: June 10th, 2020

About Author

Nena Messina, Ph.D.

Nena Messina is a specialist in drug-related domestic violence. She devoted her life to the study of the connection between crime, mental health, and substance abuse. Apart from her work as management at addiction center, Nena regularly takes part in the educational program as a lecturer.


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  • Fiona
    Need some help with my alcoholic husband. Feeling, frustrated and lost