Substance use disorder

Is Group Therapy for Substance Abuse Effective?

Jump to a section
Table of contents
Expand list

Group therapy sessions are a place where people receive support from other group members who are dealing with similar issues. It is highly effective in treating individuals struggling with substance abuse and is often offered in conjunction with family therapy, individual therapy, medication management, and other services.  

What Happens at Group Therapy?

Group therapy for addiction can range from one to five times a week which is about one to six hours each week. Additionally, group therapy can be revolving or fixed. In a fixed group, the members are the same for a fixed amount of sessions, while in a revolving group, members come and go based on their current stage of drug treatment. 

The group is facilitated by an experienced mental health/addiction professional and is usually kept fairly small, between three to ten people. When a group is too large, it can be difficult for every person to get the attention they need. 

Group therapy provides structure and discipline to people’s lives. The group leader begins by laying out the rules and goals of the group. Together with the participants, the addiction therapist guides the group to create changes in their thoughts and behaviors regarding substance abuse. At group treatment sessions, individuals gain therapeutic tools which include recovery strategies, relapse prevention plans, healthy coping skills, social skills, and support from others.

Back to top


Five Approaches to Addiction Group Therapy

There are several types of effective group counseling. Getting to know the different approaches will help each individual to find the right addiction group therapy for him/her.

1. Psychoeducational Treatment Groups

These groups focus on educating drug users about substance abuse and its consequences [1]. Information is presented by the group leader through videos, lectures, facilitated discussions, and other forums. The goal is to provide awareness of drug abuse and its physical, psychological, social, and emotional effects. 

2. Skill Development Groups

While this group also informs participants about substance abuse, the group's main focus is on helping abusers gain the necessary skills to stay off of drugs. This includes healthy coping strategies and appropriate interpersonal interactions.

3. Cognitive Behavioral Groups

The Cognitive-Behavioral model is very popular when treating individuals struggling with substance abuse. The approach is to help change behaviors by focusing on the thought processes that affect a person’s decision to engage in drugs. By changing the individual's thinking patterns in a group setting, the individual is given tools to come out of his drug addiction.

4. Support Treatment Groups

A support group approach is heavily concentrated on providing support to each other. Individuals receive support and encouragement from others to keep going with treatment. This can be especially beneficial to individuals who are hesitant to get treatment because of their anxiety. With the emotional support that these groups provide, people can take the next step with more confidence. 

5. Interpersonal Process Treatment Groups

These treatment groups try to identify the developmental and environmental factors that contributed to the individual’s struggle with drugs. By bringing these past occurrences to the table, individuals can learn from their past and create stronger and healthier interpersonal relationships.


What are the Benefits of Group Therapy for Addiction?

Although it may feel uncomfortable or intimidating at first, group therapy for substance abuse provides many advantages. At times, group therapy can be more effective than individual therapy. Some of the major benefits of group therapy that addicts gain are:

1. A Sense of Hope

When people attend group therapy for substance abuse, they can witness how others deal with similar problems. This can not be gained in an individual group setting. By noticing other people’s positive changes it gives them a sense of hope and encouragement to keep going with treatment. Many participants in group therapy begin to think, “If he could do it, then I can also.” This therapy structure is beneficial to all its participants as the individuals gain a lot from one another. 

2. No More Isolation

Many individuals struggling with drug abuse feel isolated from society. At times they feel like no one in the world cares about them. Through group treatment, individuals can feel that they are not alone in their struggle. Instead, they belong to a community of individuals who are determined to win the fight against addiction. The therapy group provides people with a group of sober friends and a sense of family that they may have been lacking.

3. Empathy and Support

When people are seeking treatment for substance abuse, they need empathy and encouragement. In a group setting, individuals can feel understood and supported by others who are also receiving help. This can be very healing as it can increase an individual’s confidence and optimism. In addition, receiving positive feedback from others can change an individual’s negative conception of himself.

4. Giving is Receiving in Group Treatment Sessions

Not only will patients receive support in a group setting but they are also encouraged to provide support to other group members. Providing encouragement for other people struggling with addiction can be a very positive experience. In the recovery world, people often say that the best way to stay clean and sober is to give back and be of service to other people. 

5. Group Sessions Teach Better Social Skills

Group therapy for substance abuse (and any kind of struggle) can also help patients learn how to relate to other people appropriately. People who have been using substances for a while often lose the ability to interact with people healthily and appropriately. Being in a group setting allows them role-play and try out their social skills.  If something inappropriate is said or done, there are multiple people, including the mental health professional in charge of the group, who can hold members accountable and teach them proper behavior. 

Additionally, group counseling helps patients learn how to ask for and receive help. These skills are very beneficial, as they will be utilized in their everyday lives. 

6. Learning From Others’ Behavior

In addition to the skills that they learn to do, they also learn what not to do. Group therapy allows patients to recognize maladaptive behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms in other people in the group. Once they see the behavior in another person, a patient may notice similar unfit behaviors within themselves and learn how to change them.

Group Therapy vs. Individualized Therapy for Substance Abuse

While there are many benefits of group therapy for addiction, it also poses some challenges. 

  • Individualization: Therapy in a group setting is less individualized. When someone sees a licensed mental health professional one-on-one, the professional can tailor the sessions to that specific individual. 
  • Pace: Different people take different amounts of time to open up to their counselors. Group counseling for addiction can be challenging for people who need therapy to go at a slower pace to build trust in the therapist.
  • Intimidation: Group settings can make it uncomfortable for  people to share personal challenges in front of others they don't know well. Furthermore, speaking in group settings about personal experiences may feel almost impossible for some people who suffer from an anxiety disorder.
  • Confidentiality: When sharing thoughts and experiences in a group setting, there won’t be the same confidentiality that exists when speaking to a therapist or counselor one-on-one. People aren’t supposed to share what others say during group sessions. Still, it’s unrealistic to expect group members to maintain the same level of confidentiality as a therapist or counselor who is bound by the rules of their profession. Without this, it can make it difficult for group members to open up and maximize their treatment sessions.
  • Dynamics: When a group of people gets together to discuss very personal thoughts and experiences, there will inevitably be some people who just don’t like each other or don’t get along very well with someone in the group. When this happens, it can be disruptive not only for the individuals involved in the conflict, but also for the group as a whole.


Addiction Treatments in Conjunction with Group Counseling 

Group treatment for substance abuse isn’t meant to be a long-term experience. Once a person is finished with a residential treatment program and all of their outpatient services, group therapy ends. Ideally, the patient can take what they’ve learned in their group sessions and apply it in the real world.

While treatment in a group setting can be a beneficial tool for people suffering from addiction, there are many other things they can do to help them in their recovery. In addition to group counseling, it’s important that patients engage in individual counseling. Ideally, the individual therapist has a lot of experience and knowledge about addiction and recovery.

Twelve-Step Meetings

In addition to individual therapy, 12-step meetings can be a very helpful tool. 12 step meetings are similar to group counseling; everyone shares their fears, successes, and failures, and members receive a lot of support from other group members. It can take time to find the right 12 step meeting. Attending multiple meetings is the best way for someone to figure out what meetings they feel most comfortable in and which meetings are the most helpful for them.

Is Group Therapy Right For Me?


Group therapy is used in many settings including an inpatient program, partial hospitalization program, and intensive outpatient program. Although it might not be a good fit for everyone, before deciding if it is the right setting, it’s essential to give it a chance. Most people do experience benefits from group counseling. 

Here at Avenues Recovery, our team is dedicated to providing you with many treatment programs and resources to treat substance abuse. If you are interested in finding the right group therapy option, reach out to one of our addiction specialists. Take a look at what’s available right now and learn about the most recent updates by giving us a call. 

Back to top



Check your insurance

We received your insurance request!

We will get back to you shortly. While you wait... you may find our resource blog helpful. Take a look below: