Why is Group Therapy So Common in Addiction Treatment?

Why is Group Therapy So Common in Addiction Treatment?

Group therapy is a central element of most quality addiction treatment programs. Group therapy typically comprises between five and 15 members led by one or two facilitators. Group members share and discuss problems. Many people new to group therapy are understandably anxious about sharing personal problems with the group but most people group therapy effective and rewarding. [https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/group-therapy] The following are some of the reasons group therapy is a fixture in addiction treatment.

Reduced feelings of isolation

One of the main reasons group therapy is great for addiction treatment is that it helps overcome feelings of isolation. People with substance use disorders often struggle with feelings of loneliness and shame. Depression is a common co-occurring condition with addiction and depressive symptoms are worsened by isolation. Group therapy gives participants a chance to discover they aren’t alone. Many have spent years hiding incidents of abuse that have only fueled their substance use. When they start participating in group therapy, they learn that others have had similar experiences. Discovering this and opening up about your own problems is often a huge relief and a big step towards recovery.

Positive peer pressure

Growing up, we all heard a lot about the dangers of peer pressure, especially around drugs and alcohol. However, there is positive peer pressure too, and group therapy can turn peer pressure to your advantage. When you feel connected to your group, you are more likely to respect the process. That means you’re more likely to show up on time, show up consistently, and pay attention. You are also more likely to be influenced by the expectations of the group. This is especially important when participating in groups outside of treatment because people who value the group don’t want to disappoint anyone by having to admit a slip or a relapse. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64223/] On the other hand, peer support can be just as valuable. Spending time with supportive people who listen reduces your feelings of stress and anxiety and can even provide emotional resources for dealing with adversity. Therefore the group can be a source of emotional stability as well as positive expectations.

Encouraging examples

Another major advantage of group therapy is that you can be inspired by other members’ examples. Depending on the group, there may be people who have been in recovery much longer than you and their success allows you to see what’s possible. Knowing recovery is possible is one thing but seeing a living example of it is far more encouraging. Even seeing group members make small wins can encourage you to keep trying. After a certain point, you may become a positive example for someone else. 

Practicing social interaction

Group therapy isn’t only a time to learn about new behavior; it’s a chance to actually practice new behavior as well. Many people recovering from addiction have negative behavior patterns, especially when it comes to social interaction. They may be overly critical or they may be overly sensitive to criticism. These old habits need to be corrected in order to improve your relationships with friends, family, and coworkers and group therapy is a great time to practice. For example, if you tend to be too passive, you can practice being more assertive in a safe space, or vice versa. Some forms of therapy, like dialectical behavioral therapy, explicitly use group therapy for this purpose.

Productive feedback

Group therapy can be an effective way of learning to give and receive feedback. Unfortunately, we don’t want to hear much of what we need to hear. On the other hand, we are often terrible at recognizing our own strengths and weaknesses. If we want to understand ourselves better and improve our behavior, we need feedback. As noted above, many people are overly sensitive to criticism while others are overly critical and lack tact. Group therapy can be a way to address both these problems. Having multiple sources of feedback is especially helpful. If you are in individual therapy, for example, you only have your therapist’s feedback. Although your therapist may be an expert, you might also reasonably disagree with her assessment. If you have a group of people to ask, you can get a clearer idea of whether one person’s feedback is accurate. You can also practice giving feedback in a supportive way. This is especially important when you need to enforce boundaries in your other relationships.


Many studies have found that for many conditions group therapy is as effective as individual therapy. [https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/11/power] These conditions include substance use disorders and many commonly co-occurring disorders. This good news for a number of reasons. First, it keeps the cost of treatment down without sacrificing quality. The fatal overdose rate in the US continues to rise every year and so we need to find ways to make quality treatment affordable for as many people as possible. Second, group therapy allows for more treatment hours. A single therapist might be hard-pressed to see 12 clients in a day but with group therapy, she can see 12 clients in a single session. That means clients get more time in therapy that would even be possible with individual therapy. 

Mutual encouragement

Finally, members of a group can encourage each other. Many people with substance use disorders feel like they’re lacking in family support or social identity. In a perfect world, the family would be deeply involved with treatment and committed to correcting dysfunctional patterns but in reality, that doesn’t always happen. A good group can allow someone to feel the support and acceptance they may not have gotten from a family. 

At Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or Info@PatrickHartConsultants.com or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Hart Consultants