Skip to main content

Mutual Support Groups and Self-Help Programs

Mutual support groups and self-help programs are self-help groups that can be implemented online or in a community setting. These interventions include structured programs that have behavioral, spiritual, and cognitive components, such as the “12-step” programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA), with which many people are already familiar.

Community-based self-help groups have been associated with higher rates of abstinence from alcohol and other substances, particularly for weekly or more frequent programs. These programs are generally implemented in group sessions. A study in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly found that patients who attended either a community based self-help group or a formal treatment program were more likely to have remained abstinent from alcohol than individuals who do not attend treatment from either type of programs.

Examples of Mutual Support Groups and Self-Help Programs

  • Montana Warm Line is a toll-free peer support hotline designed specifically to reach people in rural settings with limited access to recovery supports by linking consumers with trained peer support specialists.
  • SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery is a recovery support group with meetings held across the United States as well as online. The SMART Recovery Program is designed to help people in recovery from alcohol and other substance use disorders, as well as gambling and sexual addiction.
  • Franklin County, Massachusetts' RECOVER Project provides a community-based recovery center to encourage and promote peer support among members recovering from substance use disorders. Using a peer-to-peer model, the RECOVER Project provides resources and referrals to members throughout the recovery continuum of care.

Considerations for Implementation

Mutual support groups and self-help programs are characterized by welcoming, supportive relationships in the context of recovery and providing continuing support during times of particular vulnerability to relapse. These programs are not dependent upon funding or associated fees.

While mutual support groups and self-help groups in larger communities may be able to focus membership on specific populations based on gender, age, or race, this may not be possible in rural communities. In addition, transportation barriers in rural communities may limit access to community-based programs.

Program Clearinghouse Example

Resources to Learn More

Guide to Mutual Aid Resources
An up-to-date list of mutual aid resources organized by categories including faith-based, gender-specific, occupation-based, secular, and youth-focused.
Organization: Faces & Voices of Recovery

How Do 12-step or Similar Recovery Programs Fit into Drug Addiction Treatment?
Overview of the role of 12 step programs in drug addiction treatment.
Organization(s): National Institute on Drug Abuse

Outcomes of AA for Special Populations
Literature review of the use of AA programs among special populations, including Native Americans.
Author(s): Timko, C.

Peer-based Addiction Recovery Support: History, Theory, Practice, and Scientific Evaluation
Provides a thorough history of the development of peer-based recovery support services, including its theoretical foundations and scientific evaluation. The guide includes a review of recent studies of peer-based recovery services as well as program profiles.
Author(s): White, W.
Organization(s): Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center, Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Mental Retardation Services
Date: 2009