Support groups, especially those using the 12 steps, are loved by many and rejected by others. For addicts, a support group is an important part of an overall treatment program. The support group provides emotional and social connections with other people with similar experiences. Support groups give recovering addicts a place to go time and again to shore up their sobriety and help them resist the temptations to relapse. One of the most serious controversies surrounding traditional, 12-step support groups is the idea that they may not be safe for women.
Do Support Groups Work for Women?
Scientific evidence is mounting that for all addicts, 12-step support groups are effective components of recovery. Support groups provide social connections, which have been proven to help people resist the urge to abuse substances. They also give recovering addicts a safe, and in many instances anonymous, place to share feelings, fears and experiences that help them to get over the shame and embarrassment of addiction. Even one of the more controversial aspects of 12-step groups, the spiritual recognition of a higher power, is known to be a component that helps people in recovery. For both women and men, support groups are an important and effective part of ongoing substance abuse treatment.
There have been some reported instances of violence against women that originated in substance abuse support groups, particularly in 12-step programs. These were high-profile incidents that have included predatory actions by male participants, sexual harassment, and in the worst cases, rape and murder. It cannot be denied that predators have taken advantage of support groups to attack women, but the incidents are few and far between.
One of the most important aspects of 12-step support groups, which allow so many people to get help, is also what makes them appealing to predators: an open-door policy. Everyone is welcome in a 12-step meeting and no one who comes through the door has to give his or her name or divulge past actions, including crimes. This policy means that anyone can get help, for free, from a support group. It also means that criminals and predators can get in without being screened. Some of these predators have made use of 12-step meetings to find their next victims.
Does this open-door policy mean that women should avoid 12-step meetings? Some people would say yes, but most say no. Many women who have had positive experiences in support groups recommend them to fellow addicts. At the same time, they caution women to be careful and smart about attending meetings. For instance, it is important to stick by other women in meetings. Attending a group in which you are the only woman is not the smartest move. In fact, many women prefer to attend female-only meetings, which are readily available in most cities and regions. There are even alternative support group programs designed for women, which take the 12 steps and modify them to suit the needs of female addicts.
Support groups will always be an important part of addiction recovery for both men and women because we are social creatures. To fully heal and to be able to remain sober over a lifetime, it is important to connect with others, to get support from fellow addicts and to have a place to turn in a time of great need. For women, support groups do pose some risks. Mitigate those risks by being smart and consider attending meetings for women only.