22 million Americans are in recovery from substance use disorders. A leading study showed that a little over half of us recover with assisted means, the most common of which are  peer-based or mutual-aid pathways of recovery. Perhaps the most well-known are 12-step meetings, like Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Despite the fact that many people are in recovery, the reality is that less than 10 percent of those suffering with substance and alcohol use disorders get the help they need. One way to increase access to treatment is by making people aware of the variety of pathways that exist. One of the barriers to treatment is financial — not everyone can afford clinical treatment. That’s why this article focuses on free pathways of recovery that are peer-based. We have also included mutual-aid support for families and loved ones of those suffering with addiction.

Mutual-aid pathways

The Recovery Research Institute defines peer-based recovery support as free, peer-led (ie non-professional) organizations that developed to help individuals with substance use disorders and other addiction-related problems.

There are a variety of established mutual-aid recovery groups, ranging in structure, religious and spiritual involvement, and philosophy. Almost all include a defined program for recovery. Some use religious and spiritual means to recover, while others employ evidence-based or scientific practices.

The focus of each group is on social support. A person is expected to regularly attend meetings in which participants share their experiences, strengths, and skills with others facing similar challenges. Members usually work through a program of recovery that aims to educate and support them in overcoming or managing their problem. Most individuals work through a program with a mentor, and some programs include group work.

There are three types of peer-led organizations:

  1. 12-step meetings. The largest and most accessible meeting network worldwide. Group meetings are structured with members sharing their challenges with one another. There is a 12-step program of recovery that members work through privately with a sponsor. The types of fellowship include:
  2. Non-12-step, or secular. These groups vary in programs of recovery, but are not based on the 12 steps, but instead on non-spiritual aspects of recovery. Some are evidence-based, like SMART, and others use sports or exercise, like The Phoenix. Click on each link to find out more information. Research has shown that some of these groups are just as effective as their 12-step alternatives. These groups include:
  3. Religious and culturally-specific groups: 

Substance use disorders are not limited to affecting the individual — they impact the whole family and most intimate relationships. So it is important that families and loved ones seek help and support, too. 

Support for those with a loved one suffering with addiction

There are a variety of mutual-aid meetings for families and loved ones of those with substance use disorder. They include:

  • SMART Recovery Family & Friends: A science-based, secular alternative to Al-Anon. Group members help those who are affected by a loved one’s substance use disorders.
  • Al-Anon: Group meetings are structured around the 12 steps, where family members and partners of those affected by addiction can share their experiences with each other and learn how to live in a way that is not dependent on the health of their family member or partner. 
    Alateen: Similar to Al-Anon, Alateen is geared toward children affected by addiction and is also structured around the 12 steps. 
  • Co-dependents Anonymous (CoDA) is another 12-step fellowship. Its purpose is to help people develop functional and healthy relationships by working through the 12 steps. 
  • The National Association for Children of Alcoholics: NACoA offers resources for anyone and provides support for professionals, including tools and training to better support individuals in pain due to alcohol and drug dependency in their families. They offer a variety of programs and resources designed to support and assist people affected by addiction. 
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA): is a group for adults who were the children of parents with substance or alcohol use disorders and/or those who grew up in a dysfunctional home. It is a supportive fellowship structured around meetings and the 12 steps. 

If you would like further information, or if you’re looking for guidance in finding the right treatment solution for you or a loved one, please contact us today.