Behavioral addictions can include any behavior that is performed compulsively and becomes harmful to you or others surrounding you.1 While most behaviors in moderation can be healthy, such as exercise, a behavioral addiction involves the inability to control the impulse to perform the behavior to an extreme. In this sense, it becomes harmful, making behavioral addictions similar to substance use disorders.1 Behavioral addictions can involve shopping, gambling, sex, food, gaming, exercise, pornography, or eating disorders.1
Behavioral addictions can be debilitating and have a negative impact on many areas of regular life functioning, including mental health, physical health, relationships with others, work or school performance, legal issues, or financial issues.1 It is especially important to seek treatment because these behavioral addictions rarely resolve on their own, and in many cases, occur in association with substance use disorders or involve other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression.1
Treatment for behavioral addictions is similar to treatment for substance use disorders, and generally involves some combination of inpatient or outpatient treatment and aftercare. A vital aspect of formal treatment to promote behavioral health recovery involves peer support, such as 12-step or non-12-step groups. Support groups may be incorporated into the treatment process or otherwise strongly encouraged while you are in treatment, and are often included as part of the aftercare plan to strengthen and support your recovery efforts.
Why Support Groups Help
Behavioral addiction support groups are also an important part of the recovery process, because each group member can benefit from the advice and support of others.
There are a wide variety of support groups available, many of which operate on a non-12-step model, which favor therapeutic techniques and peer support to help you improve your behavioral health and manage your behavioral addiction, rather than the spiritual approach involved in 12-step groups.
While the goal of helping members recover from their behavioral addictions is the same from group to group, the methods to reach this goal can vary depending on the group. Each non-12-step support group has its own philosophy and approach to helping you overcome your addiction, so it is especially important to find a group where you feel comfortable, and that matches your values and belief system.2
Peer-run support groups function as an effective supplement to formal treatment for all types of addictions for several reasons. For example, many non-12-step groups are able to:2
- Provide support from peers who have gone through similar experiences.
- Educate members on effective therapeutic techniques to prevent relapse.
- Provide positive peer pressure to avoid addictive behaviors.
- Have a strong focus on giving and receiving help.
- Allow members with longer periods of recovery to provide support and guidance to newer members.
- Help them use the techniques taught in the group to avoid relapse.
- Help them regain supportive relationships after the isolation of addiction.
Support groups are often incorporated into formal treatment, and attendance is strongly encouraged during and after the treatment process. Since members who have experienced addiction and recovery run these groups, it is a less formal and more relaxed setting than many other types of treatment.
Though individual and family therapy may provide a more formal treatment setting than support groups, some individuals may find it difficult or uncomfortable to speak frankly about their behavioral addiction issues with a therapist, especially in the presence of family members. So, while group therapy is often an integral part of formal treatment that provides a multitude of benefits, support groups can often provide many of those same benefits in a more cost-effective and easily accessible environment.
Many support groups have meetings at various times of day and through online meetings, and members can be reached by telephone when help or support is needed. However, group therapy in an inpatient or outpatient environment is limited to specific days and times, and in some cases, contact is discouraged outside of therapy sessions.
Non-12-Step Group Options
Many non-12-step group options are available, each with its own philosophy and methods for overcoming addictions of all types.
- Women for Sobriety is a self-help program that was founded in 1976, specifically for women who wanted to conquer alcoholism and other addictions.3 This group focuses on keeping a positive outlook using 13 daily affirmations, as well as helping to improve women’s emotional and spiritual health.3 This program allows women to become empowered to face and overcome obstacles while improving self-esteem, through the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) technique of monitoring and re-evaluating negative thought and behavior patterns.3 Some treatment facilities are even beginning to incorporate the 13 positive daily affirmations and other aspects of the Women for Sobriety program into their philosophy of care.3
- SMART Recovery is a recovery support program based on scientific principles that is designed to treat all types of substance and behavioral addictions.4 SMART Recovery incorporates techniques taken from CBT and Rational-Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) to develop a program based on 4 points:4
- Developing and strengthening motivation toward recovery.
- Effectively managing cravings.
- Learning how to regulate emotions, manage thoughts, and control actions.
- Adopting a balanced, healthy lifestyle.
SMART Recovery participants can include those who are already working on getting or remaining abstinent from the addictive behavior, as well as those who are considering making changes but are not quite ready yet.4 This group promotes taking control of your life, rather than the 12-step philosophy of admitting powerlessness and surrendering to a higher power. SMART Recovery groups also welcome people who are dually diagnosed, meaning they suffer from a substance abuse addiction as well as another mental health disorder.5
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety focuses on overcoming addiction to alcohol, drugs, and food.6 It was founded more than 30 years ago and uses various theories of addiction to help members sustain recovery.6 Local groups are individually functioning and self-supporting, with a focus on helping members become abstinent and maintain their abstinence from addictive behaviors.6 Secular Organizations for Sobriety focuses on social peer support and sharing honestly about thoughts, feelings, and information in a group setting.6 It provides in-person and online meetings, encourages scientific study of addiction, and does not frown upon attendance at any other type of peer support group.6
- Grant, J.E., Potenza, M.N., Weinstein, A. & Gorelick, D.A. (2010). Introduction to Behavioral Addictions. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 36(5), 233–241.
- Atkins, R.G. & Hawdon, J.E. (2007). Religiosity and Participation in Mutual-Aid Support Groups for Addiction. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 33(3), 321–331.
- Women for Sobriety. (2011). Women for Sobriety.
- SMART Recovery. (2016). SMART Recovery – Self-Management for Addiction Recovery.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2016). Dual Diagnosis.
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety. (2016). About Us.