People vary in the amount of social support they need in recovery. Those who belong to a fellowship like AA can benefit from a lot of support. Some of these individuals will go to meetings most days and have contact with members outside of the group. There are also those who have hardly any contact with others in recovery, yet still manage to build a successful life away from addiction. While it does seem possible to survive without it, such support it can be highly beneficial. This is particularly true in the early weeks and months of addiction recovery.
The word fellowship can mean different things. In the context of recovery it usually refers to a group of people who share similar goals. 12 Step groups are the most well known of all the recovery fellowships. There are also other groups such as SMART Recovery. In fact any group where the focus is on working towards a life free of addiction can be considered a recovery fellowship.
One of the other important ways that the word fellowship is defined is that it is a group of equals. It is not a situation where the leaders give orders and the rest of the members simply follow. Each member is considered important and so each will have their say.
Humans rely on social support in order to deal with all the trials and tribulations of life. This type of support comes from family, friends, work colleagues, or peers. This network of people provides important functions such as:
* A resource for advice and information. If people had to figure everything out for themselves it would make life almost impossible. Instead they rely on other people for information and this will often come from their social support group.
* Emotional support is important because it helps the individual feel stronger so that they can tackle difficult problems in life. Even if members of the social support network can’t help directly, they can still benefit others by just listening.
* Social support often involves physical assistance. This could involve anything from lending money to helping to complete a project.
* Feedback and appraisal allows people to effectively monitor their own behavior with the help of their social network. For example, if the individual makes unwise decisions this might be mentioned by friends and family.
Addicts will usually get their social support from other substance abusers. This means that when they get sober they will lose this network of friends. This happens at a time when the individual may need a lot of support because of the challenges of early sobriety. It is therefore advisable that they build a new social support network of people who share similar goals. If they were to continue with their old friends it could easily lead them back to addiction. A fellowship will provide all the same social support functions that were once provided by other addicts.
Belonging to a fellowship in recovery can bring a number of benefits including:
* Those people who are new to recovery often battle with loneliness. They know that it is unwise to have further contact with their drinking or drugging friends so this can devastate their social network. By joining a fellowship it allows the individual to build a new network of friends who share similar goals and aspirations.
* Belonging to a fellowship where the focus is on addiction recovery keeps the individual motivated to remain sober. Once an individual has been sober for a few months they can forget how bad things were. They become complacent and this is highly dangerous because it could lead to relapse. Regularly hearing about the suffering of addiction can help to keep people on the right path.
* There can be many challenges in early recovery that are difficult to face alone. A fellowship will not only be able to offer support, but also practical advice. Those how have been in recovery longer will have more experience, and will usually have faced similar problems.
* The urge to relapse can occur at any time during early recovery. It can overwhelm the individual if they are not prepared for it. If they belong to a fellowship they will be able to turn to this group of people for support. Sometimes just talking to somebody who understands can be enough to prevent a relapse.
* Now that the individual is free of their addiction they will have a lot of free time on their hands. Boredom can be dangerous for people in recovery because they can start missing the excitement of addiction. Regular fellowship meetings are a good way to spend time.
* Belonging to a fellowship usually means the opportunity to help other people. Getting involved in service in recovery has been shown to strengthen sobriety.
Social learning theory describes how people do not have to make mistakes in order to learn. They can also learn from the mistakes that other people make and model behavior that appears to produce success. Membership of a fellowship provides a great opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others and to copy strategies that have proved effective. This way the individual will be able to build a good life in recovery without the need to be constantly taking the wrong path. A famous saying in AA that applies here would be, stick with the winners.
The higher an individual’s self-efficacy the more likely they will be to achieve a goal. This is because self-efficacy is the belief a person has in their ability to achieve something. If an individual does not have high self-efficacy in regards to staying sober they will be far more likely to relapse. This belief in the ability to do something can be increased by seeing peers achieve the same goal. It therefore seems likely that membership of a fellowship will increase self-efficacy.
Milieu therapy is a community where the aim is to use the environment as a therapeutic tool. Here social interactions are part of the treatment and there will be a strong sense of fellowship among those who belong to such a community. Milieu therapy is often used to treat addiction; although it can often be just one aspect of the treatment and might not even be referred to as milieu therapy. Living in such an environment not only provides plenty of support, but also encourages the individual to make the changes needed to build a successful life in recovery.
Those individuals who pass through a rehab will develop a strong sense of fellowship with other clients. A lot of the time can be spent interacting with these other individuals, and it is actually an important element of the treatment program. This group of people will provide all the usual social support functions. They can provide feedback on the behavior of each other, and the more experienced members can offer advice. This group will also be able to give each other emotional support, and sometimes physical assistance.