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Substance Abuse Treatment Group Exercises

By Michelle Bolyn ; Updated July 27, 2017

Group treatment is a great addition to individual and family therapy for teens and adults who use substances. It’s a good way to get support from peers, and it helps people realize that they aren’t the only ones struggling with certain issues. Seeing someone who has recovered from substance abuse is a good motivator for someone who is ambivalent about quitting. Along with talk therapy, facilitators can use exercises to enhance the group experience.

Ice Breakers

At the beginning of the first one or two group sessions, clinicians should consider using ice breakers to reduce the tension and help members get acquainted with each other. This is especially important if you’re running a group with teenagers or young adults. Ice breakers don’t have to be about drug use. Instead, you can get the group members talking about similarities and differences that they have and do an exercise so that everyone can introduce himself.

For example, pair the group members up and have a list of questions that they should ask each other. Once they’ve learned about their partners, they can introduce those persons to the group. Some question examples are what is your name, what is something you like to do on the weekends and what qualities do you look for in a friend.

Check In and Out

At the beginning of each group, it can be important to have a check in with each member. If you don’t know where the group members are starting from, you might not understand their reactions in group. For example, if you have a check in and realize that Tom lost his job that day, you’ll understand why he might be quieter and need support from the group.

There are many ways you can do a check in. You could ask each member to say what emotion she's currently feeling, the biggest thing that happened that day or on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being awful and 10 being great, how her day was. At the end of group, you can also do a check out in which each group member says how she is currently feeling. This gives clinicians a good idea of who they may need to reach out to before leaving.

Healthy Versus Unhealthy Coping Skills

Many substance abusers have unhealthy coping skills and use alcohol or drugs as a way of coping with or masking feelings. Put up two large pieces of poster board, and ask group members to list unhealthy ways that they cope with sadness, anger, guilt and other unpleasant feelings. Then ask the group members to list healthy ways they cope with feelings or ways they could cope with feelings. Talk about why the group members choose the unhealthy coping skills and make a plan with the group members to try using healthy coping skills during the next week. At the beginning of the following group, return to this topic and see if group members used healthy coping skills.

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