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Rural Health Information Hub

Mutual Support Groups and Self-Help Programs

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

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. In 2020, a Cochrane Systematic Review found that peer‐led AA and professionally‐delivered Twelve‐Step Facilitation were more effective than other established treatments at increasing abstinence from alcohol.

Examples of Rural Mutual Support Groups and Self-Help Programs

  • 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 (SUDs), as well as gambling and sexual addiction.
  • The RECOVER Project of Franklin County, Massachusetts provides a community-based recovery center to encourage and promote peer support among members recovering from SUD. 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, these tailored groups may not be possible in small, rural communities. In addition, transportation barriers in rural communities may limit access to community-based programs.

Program Clearinghouse Example

Resources to Learn More

Outcomes of AA for Special Populations
Examines the research on the use of AA programs among racial and ethnic groups.
Author(s): Timko, C.
Date: 2008

Peer-based Addiction Recovery Support: History, Theory, Practice, and Scientific Evaluation
Reviews the history, operational principles, system practices, and scientific status of peer-based recovery support (P-BRS) and formal peer-based recovery support services (P-BRSS) in addiction treatment.
Author(s): White, W. L.
Organization(s): Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center, Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Mental Retardation Services
Date: 2009

Where Do 12-step or Self-help Programs Fit into Drug Addiction Treatment?
Reviews the role of 12-step programs in SUD treatment.
Organization(s): National Institute on Drug Abuse