Group Therapy for Substance Abuse


Getting treatment for addiction will require incorporating several varieties of different types of therapies. Substance abuse group therapy is considered one of the essentials, with very few exceptions. Group therapy takes place among peers, typically at a scheduled time and location. It is led by a therapist or addiction specialist, in groups of two or more. Group therapy for substance abuse promotes recovering addicts to engage and discuss related issues together.


The community setting allows for a different approach than what is expected from other individual style therapy. Working with others in group therapy for substance abuse provides addicts an outlet to better relate and interpret their situation. Used in addiction treatment for many years, substance abuse group therapy has proven its effectiveness and remains essential to rehabilitation.


Group therapy for substance abuse is used to describe a therapy where more than one personal perspective is gained. This type of therapy is considered fundamental for treating addiction, developing social skills, and managing psychological health-related illnesses.

Background of Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

Historically, group therapy has been a valuable intervention for those suffering from addiction, mental illness, or trauma-related disabilities. As far back as WW2, and even before, therapists were integrating peer-associated groups into treatment programs. The surplus of drug abuse, aligned with the traumatic events of war itself, left many in need of care.

Although addiction doesn’t discriminate, there are certain groups of people that it more often affects. Young adults ages 18-25 hold the highest percentage of addiction. This percentage is equal to over 14%.

At the time, substances such as cocaine, amphetamine, and heroin were widely abused. Yet prior to extensive scientific research on these chemicals, there were repercussions upon returning home. Among the others, alcoholism was adopted as a hazardous coping tool, and unfortunately too readily available and legal to purchase. While temporary relief may have been served, the consequences of addiction after war became imminent. With so many to provide care for all at once, a valuable peer therapy option was relied upon.

Uniting individuals with similar life experiences, of both trauma and addiction, groups settings for treatment were utilized. The creation of group therapy was driven by three main principles: the need to treat large groups of people, with similar ailments, and limited resources.

However, upon the realization of effectiveness, it was further researched and developed. Today, group therapy is utilized within a great majority of addiction and mental health treatment facilities. Even after so many years and upgrades made to substance abuse group therapy, it’s still incredibly sought after. Positively reinforcing recovery expectations and adding to the value of treatment, recovering addicts are able to rehabilitate among community members.

Group Therapy for Addiction and Mental Illness

Largely because of the isolation that mental illness and addiction bring along with it, peer group support provides positive reinforcement. Many with a substance use disorder or mental illness, or both, feel as though they are alone and misunderstood. The occurrence of a person suffering from more than one illness is known and treated as a dual-diagnosis.

Group therapy for substance abuse allows for individuals to express themselves with one another, lessening a lonesome burden. Additionally, many are encouraged to participate, perceiving it as a community challenge, as much as it is a personal one. While each addiction and recovery journey is unique to each person, there is often a universal understanding.

The sensation of vulnerability that substance abuse and mental health disorders impose can worsen the symptoms of the other. Individuals participating in group therapy for substance abuse or dual-diagnosis, with similar understandings of another’s struggle, support each other proactively.

The 5 Models of Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

What sets rehab-designed therapies apart from other types of mental health treatment is the ability to specialize each program. This can be based on different types of substances abused, or how advanced an addiction has become.

When it comes to group therapy, there are 5 different models to utilize, based on each person’s necessity. These 5 substance abuse group therapy models are classified as:

  • Cognitive behavioral group therapy
  • Psychoeducational group therapy
  • Skills development therapy
  • Interpersonal process groups
  • Support group therapy

Aligned with addiction treatment, substance abuse group therapy serves to address multiple areas of psychological and behavioral development. What is valuable for one person will be different for another. Therefore, adjustments can be made to recovering addicts’ needs as they evolve throughout the process. Most often as a person moves further through their recovery journey, they can benefit from each of these 5 methods.

The Functions of Group Therapy are Effective

Group therapy for substance abuse is subject to many aspects of psychological awareness. This makes it valuable to have multiple substance abuse group therapy opportunities to apply at different stages. Getting to best know your options during treatment lessens the apprehension of reaching out for help for an addiction.

Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

Cognitive behavioral group therapy is designed to break-up old thinking patterns that have led to developing an addiction. By gaining a new perception of how thoughts affect our habits or behaviors, can inspire awareness and change.

Similar beliefs shared by the group, and how they negatively hinder a sober mindset, is the primary focus. During cognitive behavioral group therapy for substance abuse, participants will work to achieve three main objectives.

These objectives include:

  1. Recognizing harmful thoughts and feelings that inspire addictive behavior.
  2. Practice and techniques to productively adapt to a more positive and encouraging outlook.
  3. Development of problem-solving techniques to apply to an effective aftercare plan to prevent relapse.

Together in group therapy for substance abuse, peers will work with a therapist to identify cognitive triggers. Exchanging feedback and suggested modifications from leaders and each other along the way. This awareness promotes healthy attention to thoughts and feelings. In doing so, these new practices can be applied to moments of vulnerability where sobriety is tested.

Psychoeducational Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

Those that suffer from an addiction are usually aware of the aspects of their own personal internal and external struggles. Yet, a substance use disorder is a very complex illness. While participating in an outpatient treatment program, addiction education is essential. It will be important to understand as much as possible about the disease, and how it was able to take control.

Being educated on the fundamental facts of a substance use disorder will offer the benefit of hindsight and future preparation. Unfortunately, just as addiction had evolved over time, so can triggers. As with all things, the more you know, the better you can prepare.

Psychoeducational group therapy for substance abuse teaches addicts to better understand the root influence of substance abuse. Then, addressing the consequences, and how to manage the stress of rebuilding after addiction. Psychoeducational group therapy for substance abuse serves to inform addicts about addiction as a whole during rehab treatment.

Skill Development Group Therapy for Addiction

Anger management strategies and health tips are often overlooked when detox is a priority, second to breaking the cycle of addiction. However, during partial hospitalization treatment programs (PHP), the development of coping skills are a major part of the rehab curriculum.

During PHP, addicts spend a considerable amount of time in the facility. Time to evaluate and practice is accounted for. In a group setting, away from triggers and physical temptation, recovering addicts will plan for how to live sober. Once the plan is created, these behaviors and thought patterns can be strengthened, preparing for the next phase of rehab.

Interpersonal Process Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

Substance abuse group therapy that focuses on an interpersonal process examines the relationship between socialization and addiction. The role that a person plays in society has major impacts on behavior. This includes their placement in all past and present functions, as well as expectations for future duties.

This group therapy for substance abuse looks at cultural, social, and spiritual commitments that may have led to unrealistic expectations. This type of stress is directly related to turning to addiction. Most importantly, the examination of impulsiveness, or lacking awareness, can be adjusted more proactively toward health and sobriety.

Support Groups: Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

Many types of addiction treatment include the breaking of dangerous habits and social circles. Particularly after completing an intensive outpatient type of treatment, maintaining a healthy level of social interaction will be vital. Unfortunately, without integrating the practice of support groups into group therapy routines, a recovering addict is more likely to become isolated.

Isolation in itself is considered a trigger. When secluded, a person is more likely to lose focus on the big picture and relapse becomes a bigger threat. Maintaining relationships with sober peers and addiction specialists encourages sobriety, supporting each other along the way.

This often includes sharing circumstances, situations, and triggers. Some may not have been personally experienced, while others are on the same page. By gaining knowledge, developing awareness to confidently resist temptation and triggers, recovery is achieved. The relationships developed during this time of sharing in group therapy for substance abuse adds to the overall quality of life.

The Goals of Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

Along with one-on-one therapy and other program requirements, group therapy for substance abuse treatment strives to reach several essential goals. In doing so, working through the process of rehabilitation and into recovery offers more than just sobriety. It encourages all-around wellness and development of character.

Some of the benefits of group therapy for substance abuse include:

  • Helpful and encouraging support throughout the journey
  • Peer-based motivation to uphold sobriety and recovery status
  • Informative and educational insight into the disease of addiction
  • Witness the success of others while honoring positive personal advancements
  • Become informed as to the difficulties of others or potential struggles ahead
  • The ability to observe and learn from other solutions and resolutions
  • Confidently empowering each individual to communicate and help others when possible
  • Encourage patience, tolerance, and understanding of others
  • Development of meaningful coping skills to combat triggers and temptation
  • Management of stress and understanding the relevance of emotions
  • Establishment of self-confidence and self-worth
  • Recognizing one’s own valuable contribution to a community
  • Builds and reinforces structure and responsibility, both emotionally and physically
  • Making and investing in healthy and reliable relationships with peers
  • Peer encouragement and celebration
  • Increasing the availability to utilize therapy within the program
  • Challenging addictive, impulsive, negative, and harmful emotions an behaviors in a responsible way
  • Decreasing the likelihood of self-isolation in and after rehab
  • Inspiring optimism and hope for others as well as receiving support for themselves
  • Nurturing social skills that will be beneficial toward mending other relationships damaged by substance abuse

Realistically, the advantages are countless. Group therapy for substance abuse provides a safe space to overcome the apprehension of accepting addiction and working toward sobriety.

For some, the thought of sharing personal details of addiction can seem stressful. However, in a group setting, being surrounded by others that face similar challenges, equality and respect are established and reinforced.

What to Expect from Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

  • Establish effective communication skills
  • Access to the ideas and thoughts of others
  • Togetherness and support
  • Taking accountability for our actions

Establishing effective communication skills.

Effective communication skills are the most important lessons to be developed in this program. Sharing experiences with others is just as important as listening to what others have to contribute.

When combined together in group therapy, those that speak are able to feel heard and validated. And, those that listen are able to positively contribute and support the needs of others. The balance achieved makes for productive communication skills that can be applied in every aspect of a person’s life.

Access to the ideas and thoughts of others.

Many times, we are unable to identify and keep hold of the big picture because we are simply too affected by it. Taking the time to listen and consciously evaluate the situations of others can provide new outlooks on familiar situations. With the benefit of observing and hearing others, individuals can empathize with others, while formulating reasonable solutions to common problems.

Togetherness and support.

Often addicts seeking treatment for addiction feel as though they have nowhere to turn. If those feelings are allowed to continue, it can damage a person’s willingness to maintain recovery.

Group therapy for substance abuse provides each individual with the opportunity to gain respect, friendship, understanding, and support from others. Others, that most likely have found themselves feeling the same way. Consequently, this allows for bonds to be formed that will emphasize the desire to succeed in achieving a sober lifestyle.

Taking accountability for our actions.

Whether in treatment for addiction or not, this is a life-skill essential that defines the quality of a person’s character. However, it is not always an easy thing to do. Through the support and understanding of peers in group therapy for substance abuse, a level of acceptance is developed.

Owning up and accepting areas that need work,while ensuring that others are aware of the expectations, discourages relapse. It is respected as a bond between peers to support and care for each other during and after rehab.

Commonly Asked Questions About Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

Some who are attending rehab are doing so for the first time. Others are there to recover from relapse, with different needs to address. Regardless of where you find yourself, there are options available for substance abuse group therapy to benefit you. The worst option is to allow addiction to continue to have control. Rest assured that you are not alone and that addiction therapy treatment programs can help.

If you are looking into group therapy for substance abuse but are unsure, you are also not alone. Keeping in mind that additional programs are available, some of the most common concerns are as follows:

Will I Fit in at Group Therapy?

If you have found yourself asking this question, then the answer is almost definitely a yes. Understanding the need to be supported and accepted is the reason for such groups to exist. Keep in mind that each group is made up of those with similar needs, as far as rehab and recovery needs go. In order to do this, an assessment is performed to establish the following for proper supportive placement:

  • Preferences and non-negotiable rehab requirements
  • Rare or exclusive needs
  • Psychological wellness or dual diagnosis
  • How far each person is on their recovery journey

When is Group Therapy an Unfavorable Option?

However rare, there are some who may not find benefit in group therapy for substance abuse treatment. Most often it is because of behavioral issues or untreated psychological illness that can hinder the progress of others. For Example:

  • Failure to attend group therapy for substance abuse sessions.
  • Interrupting or threatening the intimate privacy of others’ experiences in a respectful manner.
  • Unmanageable trauma-related experiences that require intensive therapeutic treatment in a private setting.
  • Inability or unwillingness to share or participate in appropriate relationship-building techniques.
  • Dual-diagnosis of a mental illness that is negatively impacted by the experience.

Fortunately, because rehab is designed to treat many different individuals with substance use disorders alternatives may be available. To inquire about these options, consult a team member or addiction specialist to make arrangements.

Is Group Therapy the Same as a Traditional 12-Step Program?

There are publicly available options that could be helpful to maintain sobriety. However, group therapy for substance abuse is more extensive and peer specific. While the 12-step program is valuable, professionally led substance abuse group therapy, incorporates lessons into three phases. Reducing the pressure to make a change on very specific terms and guidelines for success, rehab treatment covers needs more exclusively.

The three phases, while seemingly simple, allow for a more relaxed and comfortable experience. However, within each phase, more time is spent ensuring that each individual acquires what is necessary before moving on.

The three phases of professional rehab group therapy for substance abuse:

  1. Beginning Phase of Group Therapy: Essentially an orientation to establish ground rules, expectations, and goals of individuals participating.
  2. Mid-Phase of Group Therapy: Most time is spent in this area. This is where the group begins to form bonds through expression and desire to make a sober change. The majority of the work is done during this time.
  3. Ending Phase of Group Therapy: Though it sounds very final, essentially this is simply where open discussion is geared toward future goals and maintaining sobriety. Addicts in recovery are able to open up about the challenges they expect to face, addressing them with the group. Together, peers and therapists can formulate effective coping plans with confident support, which reduces anxiety-derived relapse.

What is Required for Group Therapy?

To put it simply, dedication, participation, discretion, trustworthiness, respect, willingness to learn, and understanding, as each person’s struggle is unique. Don’t worry if you don’t fit into all of these areas yet. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation is all about learning and getting to know your sober self. You’ll get there. The most basic requirement… show up.

Enrolling in Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

Because group therapy for substance abuse is so beneficial, it is important to take advantage of this professional rehab opportunity. Feeling as though you are alone is a normal part of addiction. However, with group therapy as a part of addiction treatment, you are part of something bigger. Get in touch with a specialist today to discuss availability within a rehab treatment. Feeling alone ends when addiction does. Become a part of something that will encourage becoming the best version of you. Choose sobriety now, we believe in you.