“What is Mutual Aid?”
Mutual Aid is a term used to describe a range of support groups where people with drug or alcohol issues discuss their problems and look after each other. There are many different types . . . . Alcoholics Anonymous being a famous example.  This works on the principle that through sharing your own experiences with others in the group you will offer support and help to one other. In essence, it means one addict (or ex-addict) helping another.

This sounds like ‘group working’!

There is a difference. Professional facilitators do not run mutual aid meetings and there is no subject of the day. The meeting is organised by volunteers who are themselves in recovery.

So what actually happens?

People with drug or drink problems meet up and discuss their difficulties, feelings and experiences of recovery. Normally people take it in turns to talk for a bit about what is happening in their lives at that moment.  Meeting places are pre-arranged and attendance is free. People often have a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit afterwards.

“Isn't there a risk of strangers sharing confidential information?”

Confidentiality is important and one of the most basic rules of Mutual Aid meetings. What’s said in the meeting stays in the meeting is the general rule.

How do I know what I say will remain confidential?

By and large people attending these meetings are very good at not discussing what is said by those people who choose to talk about their life and difficulties. Besides which, there are a few simple ways in which you can protect yourself.

What do you mean?

Here's an imaginary example. Lets pretend that I am in a mutual aid meeting, Narcotics Anonymous for example, and I choose to share about the break-up of my relationship with my partner. If I say that I am feeling sad and lonely because I have split up with my long-term partner, I have revealed very little personal information, but can be confident that everyone in the room will be able to empathise with my feelings, because this is an experience most of us have had at one point or another. 

On the other hand, if I tell a salacious story involving a bitter argument, bad language, thrown crockery and the police being called, I have potentially given people something to gossip about, but not added anything that will change the level of support I would receive, had I just stuck to my initial statement.

Does it really work?

Yes! There is a solid body of evidence to suggest that people who attend mutual aid meetings, even if only for a while, have better long term 'recovery outcomes' than those who do not. However, as already suggested, it is best to discuss things in general terms rather than be too specific. Some very personal or traumatic issues may best be discussed with your key-worker or counsellor, rather than with your peers in a meeting.

“How will taking to others help me?”

You will be surprised how many people share a similar story to you. Listening to others who are also dealing with addiction problems helps you to realise that you are not alone, and besides which people often have simple and effective advice to offer that might help to make life a little easier.

Why is that important?

It’s very easy when you are in recovery or struggling with your substance use to feel very isolated and to think that you are the only one going through this; having these feelings, or simply that no one understands. Each person in the group will share their stories and experiences and in doing so other members of the group can identify with that person.  This is one of the ways we support each other in recovery.

“Is there a proper structure to this?”

Yes, although different meetings are run is slightly different ways. Some, like 12 step meetings have a formal structure than you can follow if you choose. Others, like SMART recovery meetings are centred on dealing with the specific problems of the individuals present.  Others are less formal.

How do I know which one is right for me?

There is information about various types of mutual aid meetings behind the green door. Why not try a few different meetings and see which type works best for you?