Group Therapy For Substance Abuse Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on May 27, 2022

Group therapy is a form of counseling that takes place in a group setting. Group therapy can take many forms, and has shown to offer several benefits for people who are overcoming a drug or alcohol addiction.

Group Therapy For Substance Abuse Treatment

Group therapy is an evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. This typically serves as a primary component of a drug or alcohol rehab program.

Group therapy takes place over the course of several sessions. It is facilitated by one or more addiction counselors within a group of people with similar health issues.

Here you’ll find information on:

  • what group therapy is
  • common types of group therapy
  • benefits of group therapy
  • how to find group therapy for addiction

What Is Group Therapy?

Group therapy is a form of counseling that is group-based. That is, it takes place with a group of people, rather than one-on-one with an addiction counselor or therapist.

Group therapy is commonly used for the treatment of substance abuse and other mental health disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and trauma.

How Group Therapy Works

Group therapy is often structured according to the modality or preference of the facilitator—often, a mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychologist.

Group therapy can be highly structured, or more flexible for open processing. Within a treatment program, this typically takes place through several therapy sessions over multiple weeks.

Group therapy can be facilitated by a healthcare professional, or by peers, as is the case with popular self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

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Types Of Group Therapy

Group therapy for alcohol abuse and drug addiction can come in many forms, with specific focus points or goals in mind.

Within an addiction treatment program, or mental health treatment program, providers may offer one or more types of group therapy.

Common group therapy types for addiction include:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) group therapy
  • dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) group therapy
  • skills development groups
  • psychoeducational groups (i.e. drug education)
  • self-help groups
  • 12-step groups
  • relapse prevention skills groups
  • trauma group therapy
  • specialized support groups (e.g. LGBTQ groups, gender-based groups)
  • interpersonal process groups
  • expressive groups (e.g. dance therapy, art therapy, music therapy)

What Is The Purpose Of Group Therapy?

Group therapy can offer a way for people with addiction to connect with and draw inspiration from others, as well as share personal struggles and successes in recovery.

Group therapy can be an effective learning space. Group members can learn skills, supportive coping strategies, improve communication skills, and build self-confidence.

Addiction is an isolating disease. Group therapy offers a safe space for people affected by substance abuse to find social support and connect with others who can relate to their experiences.

Benefits Of Group Therapy For Drug Or Alcohol Addiction

Research shows that group therapy can be highly effective for people with a substance use disorder, and can offer multiple benefits for those in all stages of the recovery process.

Studies show group therapy can:

  • help reduce feelings of isolation, guilt, and shame
  • help reduce drug or alcohol cravings
  • help prevent treatment drop-out
  • increase motivation by allowing you to witness the recovery of others
  • help reduce self-destructive and risky behaviors (e.g. sexually transmitted risk behaviors)
  • help increase treatment engagement
  • help you develop useful life skills for success in recovery
  • offer comfort and help guide people who are struggling or in the early stages of recovery
  • reinforce a sense of accountability for maintaining abstinence/continuing drug treatment
  • offer structure in one’s day-to-day life
  • promote a strong sense of belonging
  • help raise awareness of the consequences of chronic drug use or abuse

Potential Drawbacks Of Group Therapy For Treating Substance Abuse

Group therapy is an effective treatment for addiction, but it’s not without its potential drawbacks.

Drawbacks of group therapy can vary according to personal factors (e.g. stage in recovery). This can also be influenced by external factors, such as the leadership skills of the group leader.

Potential drawbacks of group therapy include:

  • certain therapeutic activities can be uncomfortable for participants (e.g. open process group discussions, role-playing)
  • personality clashes between members of the group (i.e. unstable group dynamics)
  • participants demonstrating hostile or aggressive behavior, or using language that is derogatory or discriminatory
  • breaks in confidentiality
  • may not be suitable for people who are in crisis, suicidal, or who are non-recovery-focused

Where To Find Group Therapy For Addiction Recovery

Group therapy is commonly offered alongside an array of treatment services within addiction treatment programs at multiple levels of care.

Group therapy may be offered in:

For addiction, group therapy is commonly recommended alongside other evidence-based services, including medication management, individual therapy, and family therapy.

Group Therapy FAQs

Find answers to commonly asked questions about group therapy for addiction.

❓ What Is The Purpose Of A Treatment Group?

✔️ Treatment groups, or group therapy, can help you learn new skills to serve you in addiction recovery, including communication skills, coping skills, relapse prevention, and social skills.

Treatment groups can also offer a forum for self-expression, and give you the opportunity to learn from others who are further along in their recovery journeys.

❓ How Long Does Group Therapy Last?

✔️ Treatment groups typically last one to two hours. Some structured forms of group therapy may occur over a predetermined number of sessions, over the course of several weeks or months.

Other types of groups, such as community support groups, may not have a strict timeline, and can be available and open to anyone for as long as needed.

❓ How Are Group Therapy Sessions Structured?

✔️ The structure of group therapy sessions will depend on the type of group (e.g. peer-based vs. professional-led) and the setting in which it takes place.

The structure of these groups can be open or closed to new members at any given time, depending on the type of group, treatment setting, and facilitator.

Find Group Therapy At A Rehab Center Near You

Group therapy has a high success rate among people with drug or alcohol abuse issues, particularly when offered as part of a drug or alcohol treatment program.

Don’t wait to seek help. Call our helpline today to find group therapy for yourself or a loved one with addiction at a treatment center near you.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

Addiction Resource aims to provide only the most current, accurate information in regards to addiction and addiction treatment, which means we only reference the most credible sources available.

These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on May 27, 2022
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