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Clinical studies have shown that peer group therapy in drug treatment is about as effective for inducing long term sobriety as individual counseling, but most drug treatment programs combine the two therapeutic treatments in a more comprehensive programming.

Logistically, the use of peer group therapies in drug rehab allows recovering addicts to receive a maximal amount of therapeutic attention from a limited number of trained therapists; but peer group therapy in drug treatment is not offered as a cost saving, it is offered because it is very effective on a number of levels, and is generally quite welcomed and encouraging for recovering substance abusers.

A peer group therapy program in drug rehab offers recovering addicts the advice and experience of others going through a similar process, it offers them the hope that recovery is possible through the observation of other's recoveries and it creates a community or even familial feeling of support and a reduction in social isolation.


There are four basic therapeutic platforms for peer group therapy session in drug treatment, but by far the two most commonly employed methodologies are the support group and the cognitive educational group. To get the best benefit from group therapy in drug treatment, the group should be led by a trained addictions professional familiar with group sessions, and understanding of the encouragement and direction needed for the most productive healing.

Group therapy in drug treatment is often confused with 12 steps group meetings in addictions recovery, and although the two platforms of recovery assistance do have some similarities, they are fundamentally different methodologies. The 12 steps programming is less directed, has no limit on group size and although members are encouraged to participate, they may choose to remain silent. A group therapy session will be leader directed, will limit group sizes from between 6 and 12 members, and participation in some form from all participating members is demanded.

Benefits of Group Therapy

One of the single largest benefits offered by group therapy in drug treatment is the support from peers struggling with similar battles, and the sense of hope and encouragement that recovering addicts can transfer between each other as they jointly overcome their addictions.

Strength in Numbers

While breaking free from an addiction alone can seem an overwhelming and impossible task, in a group session recovering addicts witness first hand what is possible, and from others in recovery very much like themselves. Without hope, discouragement and self defeat quickly lead to relapse, but when the hope of sobriety is nourished, abstinence becomes more probable.

Another very beneficial aspect of group therapy in drug treatment is that when recovering addicts speak with the authority of like experiences, it can be difficult to deny the value of what is said. While recovery group therapy sessions will vary in the level of confrontation encouraged, most will allow fellow group members to speak when they feel that a recovering addict is being less than honest about their recovery. When confronted with the shared knowledge of other recovering addicts, it can be more difficult to maintain faulty cognitive processes or denial about personal dependence issues. The group as a whole carries respected and authoritative wisdom that can be very hard to deny.

Many addicts enter rehab suffering from a sense of isolation, and through the bond building process of group therapy, isolation leads to community and often friendship. Because all are compelled to participate, even members struggling with social interaction receive a forum of expression.

Group therapy sessions allow for a sharing of ideas and strategies for coping with the similar trials of withdrawal, addiction, temptation and recovery. Recovering addicts learn what strategies and techniques others use to overcome very similar feelings and temptations.

Group therapy in drug treatment allows any facility to maximize the available numbers of addictions professionals. Because during a group therapy session a single professional can guide up to 12 recovering addicts, through group therapy recovering addicts receive many more hours of useful and intensive therapeutic treatment.

Aftercare Group Therapy

Maintaining a participation in aftercare programming is one of the best indicators of long term sobriety and success, and one of the most common forms of continuing aftercare is continuing participation in group therapy.

Social Support That Goes Beyond Rehab

The group therapy may be either the support group style or the cognitive behavioral style, but the focus of the group will shift from an exploration of the issues of recovery, to more concrete discussions on relapse prevention, shared experiences, strategies for temptations avoidance, and a continuation of social support and community.

Group therapy in drug treatment remains ubiquitous, and is one of the most effective ways to maximize the therapeutic attention of a limited number of addictions professionals, and encourage modeling of hope, strategies of abstinence, and social support between a group of people enduring a very similar and difficult process of recovery.

Support Groups in Drug Treatment

Support groups in a drug treatment generally concentrate on the emotional and cognitive support needed for day to day living and overcoming the initial very challenging period of recovery.

A Safe Place to Share and Learn

Support groups are run by a trained group leader, and this person will focus discussion onto appropriate topics, and ensure that all members of the group participate and benefit from the experience. Therapy and advice will not generally come from this group leader, but rather from other members of the support group through shared advice and discussion.

The leader will model appropriate forms of interaction, and ensure that the discussion remains constructive and encouraging. The support group is designed to lessen the experienced anxiety associated with a transition into sobriety and encourage open sharing by all members of the group; and although confrontation is allowed, it must be constructive and respectful.

The support group in drug treatment gives recovering addicts a very safe place to share and learn with other fellow addicts, it encourages constructive social interaction, and can reduce feelings of loneliness or social isolation. Constructive coping strategies learned from other group members increase cognitive tools available for the fight against temptation.

Cognitive Behavioral Group Therapy

As a relapse prevention strategy, the use of cognitive behavioral strategies has proven very effective, and through cognitive behavioral peer group therapy in drug treatment, recovering addicts explore together strategies for maintaining sobriety.

Correcting Negative Thought Processes

Cognitive behavioral group therapy in drug treatment, although leader directed, strives to change negative thinking patterns using the expertise of the group as motivation for change. The group will discuss what types of thinking patterns lead to abuse, and try to correct each other's erroneous thought processes. Negative self ideations such as "I’m a bad person for what I've become" are explored and corrected through shared experiences and discussion; and the authentic and communal authority of other addicts encourages cognitive change.

The cognitive group may work through erroneous thought processes, opinions, triggers to abuse or coping strategies leading away from temptation. This type of group therapy in drug treatment works best when delivered with a fairly homogeneous group membership; and cognitive group therapy has proven especially beneficial to teens in substance abuse recovery programs.

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Page last updated Jan 14, 2016

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