Self-help groups are tool to help individuals cope with their psychological, physical, or intellectual problems via group interaction. The basic tenet of such initiatives is the empowerment of people who suffer from specific issues. Whether private or state-funded, such a form of organizations is extremely popular around the world. Gugerty et al. (2019) argue that interventions based on self-help groups (SHG) have proven to be effective in ameliorating critical problems in many countries. Not only do such groups allow local communities to improve their statistics on alcoholism, use of narcotics, and violence, but they also enable people to tackle such phenomena on their own.
One of the most common issues requiring attention is alcoholism. There is an entire self-help industry built around alcohol addiction. The most famous organization helping people tackle such an addiction is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). It is probably the first venue of assistance for people suffering from inappropriate use of alcohol. The reason for this lies in AA’s “ability to mobilize therapeutic mechanisms similar to those mobilized in formal treatment” (Kelly, 2017, p. 934). Combined with the absence of any financial charges on the clients, the success rate of AA makes it an appealing option for people who cannot manage their alcohol addiction on their own.
AA manages to help people fight the addiction with a recovery program known as the “Twelve Steps”. They are as follows: honesty, faith, surrender, soul searching, integrity, acceptance, humility, willingness, forgiveness, maintenance, making contact, and service. Humphreys et al. (2020) have conducted a study of the effectiveness of the 12-step model. Their findings indicate that attendance od such groups using this program “predicted reduced use of and problems with illicit drugs and also with alcohol” (Humphreys et al., 2020, p. 108213). Considering that the model was first introduced in the 1930-s, it stands to reason that the program has passed the test of time and has proven to be helpful for people with alcohol problems.
Although alcohol is the most common addiction problem, by no means is it the only such issue. The success of AA has caused other similar initiatives, which would target other addictions. One particular organization known as “Narcotics Anonymous” (NA) was established to organize self-help meetings for chemical dependency. In a similar manner to AA, which began in the United States and then gained worldwide popularity, NA was also born in America and later spread to other countries (Glass, 2021). NA also uses the 12-step program with the difference being that unlike AA, which focuses exclusively on alcoholism, NA encompasses people suffering from both alcohol and substance abuse.
However, neither NA, nor AA are professional therapy groups but rather enthusiasts who use the formal methodology on a charge-free basis. Group therapy presupposes a licensed therapist who charges patients for each session in contrast to SHGs, which are always free. Aside from the financial burden, professional therapy is constantly altered according to the emerging research and the data on a specific patient. In comparison, SHGs use the generalized approach, which in not necessarily monitored by a professional medical worker. Subsequently, it can be stated that the lack of financial charges comes at the expense of competency.
A large part of the 12-step program is the emphasis on the spirituality. Although it does not necessarily presuppose religiousness of the clients, faith is welcomed (Kelly, 2017). Many religions, and especially, Christianity, promote self-discipline, which also encompasses the restriction of alcohol and substances. While the Biblical main method of combating negativities is praying, it strengthens personal resolve and discipline, which are essential in the success of self-help initiatives (Kelly, 2017). Therefore, Christianity does not exactly encourage self-help activities, but it does not prohibit them either.
Personally, I have an experience of attending an online AA discussion meeting, which I estimate to be successful. It comprised ten people with alcohol addiction and a lack of support from the family or loved ones. The purpose of this meeting was support and encouragement of the participants on the issue of alcohol addiction. The main reason why people decided to visit the meeting lay in the lack of available to them means of combatting the addiction on their own.
As the families and close people of the participants could not connect with their issues or help them overcome such a crisis, the participants sought a community of like-minded individuals, who could help them. Therefore, they were motivated to get acquainted with each other, share their problems, as this meeting was the last chance to return to normal life for many of them. The commonality of needs united the participants and provided the basis for their interaction with each other.
In my case, I was driven to people who also struggle with alcohol addiction. At first, I was extremely nervous because this was my first time participating in such groups. However, as everyone started socializing, I realized that I was not alone, which helped me feel comforted. As I started talking about my issues myself and discussing other people’s problems, I felt less pressured and became more engaged in the discussion.
The primary mode of interaction between participants was a group-wide discussion. As the meeting began, it was stated that everyone present needed help and had essentially the same problem. Next, each participant introduced themselves and shared some information about their situation. The participants were welcomed to ask questions, share pieces of advice, suggest solutions and draw similarities with their own accounts. As the discussion progressed, it became clear that although each person’s situation was unique, they all had the same pattern in common.
I sincerely liked how open and communicative the participants were. As everyone shared their concerns, fears, and stories, nobody laughed or behaved inappropriately. Instead, all participants easily sympathized with the stories, thus comforting the addicts. However, the lack of structure did not appeal to me at all. The discussion was not centered around a particular topic but rather it focused on each person individually. As a result, some people got too much time to share their problems, while others were not as successful because of the time constraint.
Suffice it to state that the meeting was highly emotional. Most people expressed regret over their life choices which led to alcohol addiction. Another important emotion was fear that the achieved sobriety would not last and alcohol would be used again. Such concerns were addressed with spiritual solutions, specifically, religion. People were incentivized to find inner strength in their faith, personal code of ethics, families, and other important beacons in life.
Overall, attending the AA self-group was a profound experience, which helped the participants overcome their fears and gain strength to combat the addiction. A friendly atmosphere played a key role in interaction as each participant shared their own concerns and offered suggestions. The meeting noticeably lacked structure, which resulted in insufficient exposition of some of the participants. I believe that future discussion should centered around breaking the habits, which compel people to surrender to addiction as I was particularly surprised how the power of habit can change a person’s life.
Glass, I. B. (Ed.). (2021). Routledge library editions: Addictions. Routledge.
Gugerty, M. K., Biscaye, P., & Leigh Anderson, C. (2019). Delivering development? Evidence on self‐help groups as development intermediaries in South Asia and Africa. Development Policy Review, 37(1), 129-151. Web.
Humphreys, K., Barreto, N. B., Alessi, S. M., Carroll, K. M., Crits-Christoph, P., Donovan, D. M., Kelly, J. F., Schottenfeld, R. S, Timko, C. & Wagner, T. H. (2020). Impact of 12 step mutual help groups on drug use disorder patients across six clinical trials. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 215, 108213. Web.
Kelly, J. F. (2017). Is Alcoholics Anonymous religious, spiritual, neither? Findings from 25 years of mechanisms of behavior change research. Addiction, 112(6), 929-936. Web.