58 Substance Abuse Group Therapy Activities for Recovery

When we look at treatment programs that are designed to help individuals who are struggling with a substance abuse disorder, we often see that treatment facilities utilize a combination of different approaches. This can include medication-assisted treatment, group therapy, individual therapy, life skills groups, psychoeducation groups, and support groups. Some clients may present with reluctance to participate in the different forms of group therapy during their treatment program. Individual therapy provides clients with one-on-one time with a trained Counselor which can feel less overwhelming and more personal than a group setting. When a client shares their hesitations with you about group therapy, there are numerous benefits that you can discuss with them. In this post, I highlight 58 Substance Abuse Group Therapy Activities for Recovery that you can use with your clients.

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Why Group Therapy?

Group therapy is a form of psychotherapy where a trained therapist facilitates a therapeutic session involving a small group of individuals who share similar emotional or psychological concerns. These group sessions provide a supportive and confidential environment for participants to discuss their challenges, express their feelings, and gain insights into their own experiences and behaviors. Group therapy can focus on various issues, such as anxiety, depression, addiction, grief, or interpersonal difficulties. Through interaction and feedback from both the therapist and other group members, individuals can develop coping strategies, enhance self-awareness, and build a sense of belonging, ultimately promoting personal growth and emotional healing within the context of a supportive community.

Group therapy offers several benefits that make it a valuable and effective approach for addressing a wide range of emotional and psychological concerns:

  1. Support and Connection: Group therapy provides a sense of belonging and support. Participants realize they are not alone in their struggles, which can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  2. Diverse Perspectives: Group therapy exposes individuals to diverse perspectives and experiences. Hearing from others who have faced similar challenges can provide valuable insights and alternative viewpoints for problem-solving.
  3. Feedback and Validation: Group members can offer feedback and validation, helping individuals gain a better understanding of their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  4. Normalization: Participants often find relief in realizing that their experiences and emotions are common human responses to difficulties. This normalization can reduce shame and self-criticism.
  5. Social Skills: Group therapy allows individuals to practice and improve social skills, such as communication, active listening, empathy, and conflict resolution, in a safe and supportive environment.
  6. Cost-Effective: Group therapy is often more cost-effective than individual therapy, making mental health support more accessible to a wider range of people.
  7. Experiential Learning: Through group dynamics, individuals can learn about themselves and their interpersonal patterns in real-time, which can be highly insightful and transformative.
  8. Peer Accountability: Group members can provide encouragement and gentle accountability for personal growth and positive change.
  9. Generalization of Skills: Skills learned in group therapy can be more readily applied to real-life situations and interactions with family, friends, and colleagues.
  10. Increased Motivation: Sharing progress and setbacks with a group can boost motivation to work on personal goals and make positive changes.
  11. Confidentiality: Group therapy is conducted in a confidential setting, ensuring that what is shared within the group remains private.
  12. Efficiency: Group therapy allows therapists to work with multiple clients simultaneously, making it an efficient way to provide therapy services.

Group therapy is an effective tool to help your clients. Keep reading to learn specific activities that can help your clients in a group therapy session.

How Does Group Therapy Help with Substance Abuse?

Group therapy is a common approach used in the treatment of substance use disorders. With a plethora of research supporting its effectiveness, Counselors can effectively use this form of treatment within an addiction treatment program to support their clients.  

There are many benefits that can occur within a group setting which includes reducing isolation. Active addiction can cause clients to distance themselves from their loved ones and friends which can make recovery feel lonely. Group therapy can give them a chance to feel connected to others, and witness others in their own recovery.

Group sessions can allow members to work through challenging emotions such as shame and guilt. Listening to what other members share can provide a sense of validation and normalcy for members who may have thought that they were alone, or wrong for feeling as they do.

Group sessions provide group members with an opportunity to practice life skills including communication and establishing boundaries. Effective group leaders can help create an environment where members can challenge each other in a productive manner while practicing these life skills.

Group therapy can be used to explore and process a member’s triumphs, challenges, and relapses. Talking about these experiences in a group setting will not only benefit the client experiencing them, but also other members of the group who can learn from their experience. This can include learning to cope with uncomfortable emotions and situations. Additionally, this can promote an environment where group members feel comfortable asking for help when they find themselves struggling. For group members who are new to recovery, group sessions can provide valuable education about addiction and recovery.

Being a part of a group can help establish a source of accountability for group members. They are expected to be present and engaged in the group sessions. Group sessions provide them with a set time within their routine to focus on their recovery.

The ideas and activities for substance abuse group therapy that are used will have an impact on the benefits that our clients have. 

List of Group Therapy Activities for Substance Abuse

Substance abuse group therapy can facilitate healthy discussions about relatable topics in recovery. Group therapy activities for substance abuse can be related to a variety of topics including education, shame, guilt, triggers, cravings, boundaries, health, mental health, and sober support. Additionally, you can use substance abuse group therapy activities for teens if you are working with a younger population. This gives the Counselor leading the group an opportunity to tailor the group activities to the current concerns of the group members.

Here is a list of 58 Substance Abuse Group Therapy Activities to use in your sessions:

  1. Are there any bad habits that the group member has? For those who do, are there any triggers for these habits such as boredom or uncomfortable emotions? If so, what can they try to cope with the trigger instead of engaging in their bad habit?
  2. Art therapy is a creative way to explore and express feelings related to addiction. It can include activities such as drawing, painting, or sculpting.
  3. Ask each group member to pick a song they enjoy. Allow time for the group to listen to the song and then ask the group member to discuss what it is about the music they enjoy.
  4. Ask group members to draw a timeline of their life and share with the group.
  5. Ask group members to focus on being grateful, which can help group members shift their focus away from negative emotions and experiences. This can include activities such as writing thank-you notes or sharing things they are grateful for.
  6. Ask group members to identify 5 strengths or positive traits that they have. Talk about how these can have a positive impact on their recovery.
  7. Ask group members to journal, which can help them reflect on their experiences and emotions related to substance abuse. The group can then share their journal entries and discuss common themes.
  8. Ask group members to write a letter to their younger self. If they are comfortable sharing with the group they can, or you can spend time processing the emotions and reactions that come up for them.
  9. Ask group members to write their own obituary. Process what this was like and ask if it makes them consider changes to their life.
  10. Ask members to describe themselves, followed by how they believe others would describe them. Follow this by asking if there are any changes that they would like to make to their behaviors.
  11. Ask the group to identify something that has been holding them back in their recovery. This can produce a range of responses including fear, guilt, their environment, lack of support, and lacking sufficient motivation. Talk about how they can work through these barriers in a healthy manner.
  12. Create a ruler using the Stages of Change Model and ask group members to identify where they fall in regards to their readiness for recovery.
  13. Creative writing can be a powerful tool for exploring and expressing emotions related to addiction. You can ask your group members to write poetry or short stories, and share them with the group.
  14. Develop a recovery “cheat sheet card” with helpful phone numbers or coping skills that fit into a wallet for members to carry around when they need it.
  15. Discuss concerns that can arise with isolation, such as depressive symptoms and having no social support. Have the group come up with a list of things they can do to avoid isolation.
  16. Discuss the consequences members would experience if they relapsed. This can include hurt relationships, health concerns, mental health concerns, loss of employment, legal repercussions, etc.
  17. Discuss the difference between internal and external motivation, explore both for group members’ motivation for recovery.
  18. Discuss the different local support group options such as AA or NA with pros, cons, barriers, and concerns within the group.
  19. Establishing group rules and norms. This allows the group to identify behaviors and actions that are expected while in the group session, as well as identifying consequences if the rules and norms are broken. This can help develop a sense of accountability.
  20. Facilitate a game of charades to demonstrate the importance of body language. You can then talk about group members body language during group sessions and how it makes others feel. As an example, if you have members with a closed posture, group members may be less willing to open up and share in the session.
  21. Facilitate a group discussing common dual diagnosis concerns seen among individuals living with an addiction. Ask the group members to share their experience with mental health concerns and what has helped them when they are struggling
  22. Facilitate a group on mindfulness and introduce Box Breathing. Discussing situations where Box Breathing can be helpful, and practice it.
  23. Get group members to work together to set group and individual goals. Working towards achievable goals can help group members build confidence and motivation.
  24. Group discussions: This activity involves the facilitator or therapist posing a topic or question for discussion, which group members are encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings about. This helps group members feel more connected to each other and creates a sense of community.
  25. Have group members identify healthy support and talk about what characteristics make them feel supportive and helpful.
  26. Have group members write a letter they never intend to send, and share it with the group. They can write to whomever they feel they have unresolved emotions for. This can lead to a discussion about forgiving themselves and others.
  27. Have group members write down fear, and place their notes in a bowl. The Counselor takes each note out and asks group members to share if or how they can relate. This can help validate group members’ fears and normalize their experience.
  28. Have group members write down something they can do to show themselves kindness and place the note in a bowl to review as a whole. Follow up with discussing self-compassion and patience.
  29. Have the group discuss positive ways they can celebrate happy times/holidays/special occasions. This can be used during the holiday season or when group members knowingly have a special occasion approaching.
  30. Have the group members write a letter to their addiction and share the letter with the group. Spend time processing emotions and reactions that they experience during the activity.
  31. Have your group work in pairs or smaller groups to identify healthy coping skills they use when they struggle. When pairs are finished, have the group as a whole share what coping skills they have identified.
  32. Have your group work in pairs or smaller groups to identify their triggers. Bring the group back together to develop a list of coping skills or healthy behaviors they can do to manage the different triggers.
  33. If you had an unlimited supply of money for a day, how would you use it?
  34. Lead a discussion about forgiveness. If there is anyone that they would like to forgive, and if so, is there anything they would like to share with that person? How do they think they would feel after forgiving this person?
  35. Lead a discussion about how anger can often mask other emotions that we are uncomfortable with. Similar to an iceberg, we may feel anger, but when we take a moment to think about what we are feeling there may be other emotions underneath that we can be missing.
  36. Mindfulness practices can help group members develop skills for managing cravings and emotions related to substance abuse. This can include meditation, deep breathing, or body scan exercises.
  37. Play Jeopardy with addiction-related topics such as triggers, coping skills, and healthy behaviors. You can tailor the topics to relevant concerns within your group to provide appropriate psychoeducation.
  38. Play two truths and a lie, this can help group members learn more about each other.
  39. Provide a psychoeducational group about different levels of addiction therapy and when they would be appropriate.
  40. Provide education about medications that can be used to help individuals in recovery. This can include Suboxone, Naltrexone, and Methadone.
  41. Provide group members with a worksheet that lists emotions that can be uncomfortable or challenging to cope with. Ask group members to draw a coping skill they can use for each emotion.
  42. Provide psychoeducation about anxiety, ask if group members are comfortable sharing their experiences and talk about what has helped them.
  43. Provide psychoeducation about depression, ask if group members are comfortable sharing their experience and talking about what has helped them.
  44. Provide psychoeducation about grief, and ask members to share if or how grief impacted their addiction.
  45. Provide psychoeducation about healthy communication followed by roleplaying of what was discussed. As an example, you can discuss the use of “I Statements”. This can help members learn about healthy and effective communication styles.
  46. Provide psychoeducation about mindfulness before practicing guided meditation. Process the group member’s experience from the meditation and discuss the benefits of practicing on their own. Ask members where they can apply mindfulness practices to their life.
  47. Provide the group with a list of healthy coping skills and ask them to use two skills before their next group session. Process their experience by talking about what worked and what wasn’t as helpful in the next session as a follow up.
  48. Provide the group with pieces of colored cut-up paper. On a larger piece of paper and using a glue stick, ask them to create something they find beautiful. You can talk about how they may feel as though their life is in pieces at the moment, but with time and patience, their recovery can be beautiful too.
  49. Role-playing exercises: Role-playing is an effective way for group members to practice various communication and coping skills, such as refusal skills and assertiveness, in a safe environment.
  50. Spend time discussing health concerns that can arise from use of alcohol such as a fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and high blood pressure.
  51. Spend time discussing health concerns that can come from using drugs such as lung damage, transmitted infections, poor nutrition, and poor skin health.
  52. Spend time exploring (if) the role that shame has played in their active addiction. You can then talk about how members can cope with shame they are carrying.
  53. Spend time exploring members’ values and discuss (if) the role their values have in their recovery. For example, family values could act as a source of external motivation.
  54. Talk about the importance of nutrition and exercise and ask what realistic fitness or nutrition goals the group members have. Ask them what changes can be made to their current routine that would work towards their identified goals.
  55. Talk about the importance of self-care and ask group members to discuss their current self-care practices and the benefits they have seen. If they have limited or no self-care practices, can they see any benefits from beginning to engage in self-care?
  56. Talk about the role that our physical environment can have on recovery. If group members have something in their home, or a room in their home that they associate with using or drinking, what can they do to change that space to decrease the chances of it acting as a trigger? As an example, if they sat in a particular spot watching television while drinking, can they rearrange the room so that spot is not there?
  57. Utilize worksheets, such as the Substance Abuse Worksheets available at TherapyPatron.com to guide discussion on concerns relevant to your group members.
  58. View a documentary or other media form that relates to addiction and process with a group.

Final Thoughts on Selecting Group Therapy Activities for Your Clients with Substance Abuse

Thanks for reading this resource on 58 Substance Abuse Group Therapy Activities for Recovery. The use of group therapy activities for substance abuse can be a helpful tool in creating a safe and healthy group environment. Activities can encourage discussion when members may be reluctant or unsure of how to contribute to the conversation. Lastly, substance abuse group activities can provide group leaders with an opportunity to provide psychoeducation in an interactive way that members respond to. 

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and help your clients be their best selves.

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Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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