The need for lifelong attendance at a support group is a controversial topic. Many members of the 12 Step fellowships worry that giving up the meetings will put them at a higher risk of relapse. This is because they believe that there is no cure for their addiction, only a remission that is dependent on practicing the program and attending meetings.
There is no doubt that some of those who do give up attending fellowship groups will relapse, but there are those individuals who go on to build a good life without any further need for meetings. It is also true that some of those who do continue to regularly attend the meetings will also relapse.
The most popular recovery meetings are based around the 12 Step program. This includes groups such as:
Advocates of these 12 Step programs recommend that members continue to attend for the rest of their life. The majority of people in these fellowships are newcomers, so it does appear as if most members do not follow the advice.
There are some good reasons for why people will decide to attend a long-term support group. These are some of the most common:
* As the months and years go by, it is easy for people to forget how bad things were when they were addicted to alcohol or drugs. The memory can start to play trick and the individual may begin to romance the drink or drug. This means that they start to remember the times when substance abuse made them feel good and forget the bad times. Attendance at a support group is a constant reminder to the individual of where they have come from. This should mean that they will be less likely to miss the bad old days.
* Those people who follow the 12 Step program never graduate. The aim is not to complete the 12 Steps so that the individual will be cured. In order for the program to work the individual has to keep on working the steps. Regular attendance at recovery meetings will encourage the individual to keep on putting in the necessary effort into their recovery. There is always going to be something new for them to learn.
* Long-term attendance at recovery meetings provides people with the opportunity to give something back. The individual will benefit from this resource, because other people were willing to give up their time and energy. 12 Step programs could not exist without those individual who are willing to work for free. Doing some type of service is a suitable way to show gratitude, and it also ensures that the fellowship is there for people who will need it in the future. Not only is getting involved a way of repaying the group, but it also helps keep the individual sober. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say that you have to give it away to keep it. This is why service is one of the cornerstones of the 12 Step fellowships.
* People in recovery can easily go off track. The real danger is that this usually happens without them noticing. By regular attending recovery meetings, the individual will be surrounded by other people who will be able to spot the danger signs.
* One of the reasons why many members continue to go to meetings indefinitely is that they see it as an opportunity to vent as a means to deal with stress. If the individual is facing too much pressure in their life, they can go to a meeting and talk about this. Just sharing a problem can be enough to take the sting out of its tail. It can also be nice to share at meetings when things are going well.
* People make strong friendships at these fellowship meetings. When members give up their addiction they will need to keep away from bars and clubs. This means that the individual in recovery will have fewer opportunities to socialize. For some people the fellowship replaces these drinking establishments as place to go to socialize. It becomes somewhere to go so that the individual can spend time with friends.
* Life tends to be full of ups and downs, and there is no way to predict when the next bad patch will arrive. By staying close to the fellowship meetings, the individual will have this resource in place when the tough days do come.
* Members say that those people who stick with the meetings will have a reduced risk of relapse.
* Old-timers are a great inspiration for newcomers. If some members were not willing to attend the meeting long-term, there would be none of these inspirational characters at the meetings.
Not everyone is agreed that lifelong attendance at a support group is desirable. These are some of the arguments against it:
* It is suggested that some members become dependent on the groups to such an extent that it interferes with their ability to fulfill their other obligations. The individual may feel that they have to go to their meetings no matter what else is going on in their life. This can mean that family and friends may feel neglected during times of need. For example, the individual might refuse to attend an important family occasion because they want to go to a meeting.
* Supporters of the Rational Recovery program suggest that lifelong attendance at fellowship meetings is not only unnecessary, but it is also harmful. This is because it keeps on reinforcing the idea that the individual is an addict and different from other people.
* It has been suggested that lifelong attendance is like replacing one addiction with another.
* Some people continue to go to many meetings each week even though they have been sober many years. It could be argued that this time could be better spent on other activities that could benefit the individual educationally or give them the opportunity to have some fun. Some members of these fellowships do not appear to have much of a life away from the meetings. This may mean that their recovery is not as satisfactory as it could be.
* It may be that some people use meetings as a way to escape life. Instead of dealing with their problems they try to hide from them. This is dangerous because if people fail to meet the challenges that arise in their life it will mean they will get stuck. Just attending fellowship meetings is not enough to ensure that people have a successful recovery. Some members have stopped making progress, and they are just stuck in a rut.
It may be that there is no right answer in regards to the need for lifelong attendance at a support group. Some people do seem to benefit greatly from these meetings while other individuals prefer to fly solo – sometimes after they have attended meetings for a few years. There are plenty of old-timers who are a fine example of how much lifelong attendance can be of benefit. These individuals can appear to be practically oozing with serenity.
Some people who give up the meetings do relapse, but so do people who have maintained a regular attendance. There are plenty of individuals who go on to build a great life without any more need for membership of a fellowship. The necessity of the meetings is something that each individual needs to decide for themselves. However, it is not a decision that should be rushed into. Some people who give up the meetings find that life is a real struggle. There is no shame in them returning to a fellowship.