Updated on February 6, 2024
5 min read

Group Therapy for Substance Abuse

6 Ways Group Therapy Can Help You Overcome Addiction

1. Develop Communication Skills

People can learn how to identify negative behavioral patterns through interpersonal process groups. Practicing communication techniques in a safe environment is helpful in learning how to communicate with others. This allows them to develop more intimate relationships and improve their communication skills.7

2. Prevent Relapse

Group therapy, such as skills development groups, can help people recognize the stages of relapse. Identifying triggers and developing coping skills can help people reduce their risk of relapse.

3. Gain Additional Support

Engaging in regular group therapy can help people feel less alone during addiction recovery. Hearing other people’s recovery stories can provide hope for sobriety. Other group members can help people identify their emotions and act as sponsors during times of crisis.

4. Provide Feedback

Providing feedback to others is a good way to develop confidence. People who engage in group therapy often feel more valued after receiving positive feedback and support from their peers. Providing feedback to others also helps them learn successful communication techniques. 

5. Build Trusting Relationships

One of the most common co-occurring disorders with substance abuse is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies show that people with PTSD have less trust in others.8 Engaging in group therapy can help people build trust in a safe environment.

6. Stop Denial

People in cognitive behavioral therapy groups gain more self-awareness and understanding of their addiction. Group therapy can help break the stigma against addiction treatment. It encourages people to seek recovery and admit they have a problem.

rear shot at someone being comforted during group therapy scaled

Types of Group Therapy

There are five main types of group therapies for addiction treatment:4 

Psychoeducational Groups

The goal of psychoeducational groups is to educate someone about their drug or alcohol addiction in order to reduce denial. Psychoeducational groups have been shown to improve mental health issues, including depression, that can co-occur with substance abuse. 5

Skill Development Groups

Skill development groups are smaller than other groups due to their hands-on treatment style. They help people develop coping skills instead of turning to substances. Studies have shown that coping skills reduce cravings and increase awareness, which can aid in relapse prevention.

During skills development groups, group members have the chance to practice their coping skills and receive feedback.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Groups

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps members change their thinking patterns, beliefs, and perceptions about substance abuse. These are known as cognitive distortions. Negative thinking patterns, such as self-defeating beliefs, can lead to substance use. 

During CBT, members learn how to:

  • Reframe their cognitive distortions
  • Develop healthy coping skills 
  • Monitor their feelings and behaviors4

Support Groups

Support groups consist of members that help each other maintain abstinence and guide each other through life’s stressors. Self help groups can be helpful during later stages of recovery and provide emotional support. 

Interpersonal Process Groups

Interpersonal process groups use a special kind of psychotherapy that helps group members recognize dysfunctional and destructive patterns and behaviors. A therapist and other group members help people identify negative coping mechanisms.


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What is Group Therapy?

Group therapy sessions are a form of psychotherapy held under the supervision of a  professional counselor or therapist. 

These sessions include at least 3 to 4 participants. They consist of discussions, led or moderated by the therapist, and address common issues and concerns among participants.

A counselor will provide various addiction treatment services during group sessions, including:

  • Constructive feedback
  • Emotional support
  • Substance abuse education
  • Mental health treatment
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Empathetic listening
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Meditation exercises

 Group therapy has several goals, including:

  • Familiarizing group members with each other
  • Reducing the sense of isolation and anxiety among participants
  • Creating a safe atmosphere within treatment programs
  • Building trust within substance abuse treatment teams
  • Helping group members reintegrate into sober circles
  • Engaging in group discussion to help members recognize and accept their substance abuse issues
  • Helping participants realize they are not alone (others have similar problems) 

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What Does a Group Therapy Session Look Like?

A group therapy session can be held indoors or outdoors. Outdoor group therapy sessions are common for meditation and recreational therapies. Group therapy can be combined with inpatient treatment as part of a daily, scheduled activity. It can also be held separately in an outpatient setting. 

Group therapy sessions usually consist of 5 to 15 members.1 Group therapy sizes can be larger depending on the type of session. Having more than 10 participants often allows shy members to avoid participation. Psychoeducational groups typically involve more members. 

Group therapy sessions last about 1 to 2 hours. During this time, group members hold discussions and ask questions about substance abuse treatment. The therapist might encourage them to share stories or personal experience about their recovery journeys. 

Each session usually has an identified theme or focus. The facilitator tries to keep the discussions on track, while allowing some appropriate digression. 

Practicing healthy reframing and asking for feedback during group therapy can help people process emotions.2

Group Therapy Vs. Support Groups

Group therapy should not be confused with support groups. Unlike group therapy, support groups are not led by a professional counselor or addiction therapist. A peer support specialist or other group members usually lead these groups.

There are several types of support groups including:

  • 12-step meetings
  • Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
  • Narcotics Anonymous (NA)
  • Cocaine Anonymous (CA)
  • Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)

Support groups have been shown to have a positive effect on substance use and treatment engagement and reduce risky behaviors related to HIV and HCV.

They are also beneficial when combined with other treatment programs such as group therapy or individual therapy. But they should not be used as the only addiction treatment method. This is especially true for people in the early stages of recovery who need help from professional counselors.

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Group Therapy vs. Personal Therapy

Both group and individual therapy can be beneficial for someone undergoing substance abuse treatment. 

During individual therapy, a therapist will provide one-on-one counseling. Group therapy, however, involves group sessions of two or more individuals. Both types use a trained therapist or counselor to guide people through recovery.

Who Can Benefit from Group Therapy?

Group therapy is beneficial to those in denial about their substance abuse. Certain groups, such as CBT, can help people recognize they have a disorder.4 Group therapy can also help people develop coping skills. 

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Updated on February 6, 2024
8 sources cited
Updated on February 6, 2024
  1. American Psychological Association. (2019, October 31). Psychotherapy: Understanding group therapy. 
  2. Suttie, J. (2021, June 21). Does venting your feelings actually help? Greater Good Science Center.
  3. Tracy, K., & Wallace, S. P. . Benefits of peer support groups in the treatment of addiction. Substance abuse and rehabilitation, 7, 143–154. 
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (1970, January 1). 2 types of groups commonly used in substance abuse treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy.
  5. McDermut, W. (1970, January 1). The efficacy of group psychotherapy for depression: A meta-analysis and review of the Empirical Research. Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews.
  6. Ahmadpanah, M., Mirzaei Alavijeh, M., Allahverdipour, H., Jalilian, F., Haghighi, M., Afsar, A., & Gharibnavaz, H. . Effectiveness of Coping Skills Education Program to Reduce Craving Beliefs among Addicts Referred To Addiction Centers in Hamadan: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Iranian journal of public health, 42, 1139–1144.
  7. Rutan, J. S., Search for more papers by this author, & Weiss, F. (2021, June 3). Reasons for suggesting group psychotherapy to patients. American Journal of Psychotherapy.
  8. Bell V, Robinson B, Katona C, Fett AK, Shergill S. When trust is lost: the impact of interpersonal trauma on social interactions. Psychol Med. 2019 Apr;49:1041-1046.

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