Guide to recovery support meetings, programs and services

There are many different ways that people recover from a substance use disorder. It is important to recognize that as every individual is different, so is their recovery. While certain interventions may work well for some, these same interventions may not work well for others, or not work well at that particular time in their recovery journey. There are three broad categories that group multiple different interventions together to form three distinct pathways to recovery:

Clinical Pathways to Recovery:Recovery processes aided by the services of a healthcare provider, clinician, or other credentialed professional. Including: Pharmacology or Medication-Assisted Treatments, Holistic-based Recovery Services, various forms of psycho-social talk therapies and counseling (e.g. cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step facilitation, relapse/recurrence prevention).

Non-clinical Pathways to Recovery:Recovery processes that do not involve a trained clinician but are often community-based and utilize peer support. Including: Recovery Residences, Recovery Community Centers, Peer-based Recovery Support, Education-based Recovery Services, Employment-based Recovery Services, Faith-based Recovery Services

Self-managed Pathways to Recovery:Recovery processes that involve no formal services, sometimes referred to as “natural recovery”. In other words, people are able to successfully stop or cut down to non-harmful levels of alcohol/drug use without external help.

This guide has been assembled to help you better understand the variety of support options available to help you along your journey of recovery. In doing so, our hope is to help you find the right programs or services for your well-being advancement. We try to do this in plain language and there are a few important terms we need to acquaint you with as we go. Importantly, this guide is not meant to replace any advice from a professional counselor or academic advisor. And we cannot guarantee, in any way, that you will receive a quality experience or have a positive outcome.

Recovery Support Services

Recovery does not happen in a vacuum. There are essential support services that can be delivered to help people enter into and navigate systems of care, remove barriers to recovery, stay engaged in the recovery process, and ultimately allow people to live full lives in communities of their choice. These support services may be provided before, during, or after clinical treatment or may be provided to individuals for whom treatment is not part of their recovery process.

Recovery support services should include access to innovative practices supported by evidence such as supported employment, education, and housing. Safe and affordable housing is essential for all people, and residential stability is a critical part of recovery. Research indicates that the longer a person remains in a recovery environment, the greater the chance of long-term recovery, increased financial well-being, and overall stability.

Recovery support services are a common and effective means by which individuals have found and sustained long-term recovery. Often, but not always, the services are provided by individuals who have suffered from a substance use disorder and then found and sustained long-term recovery.

Mutual Support and Mutual Aid Groups

Often called self-help groups or support groups, these groups are small-scale community-oriented groups where people suffering from substance use disorders meet and provide support to each other.

These groups provide a safe space for people to share stories, talk about challenges, or share personal achievements- often with an overarching framework guiding the group purpose. Mutual support groups are often an initial destination for people hoping to find recovery, and also serve to help people maintain long-term recovery. Most mutual support groups meet face to face, but there are web-based groups as well.

Select for a listing of national recovery support meeting groups.

Recovery Community Organizations and Centers

In many local communities around the country there are Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs). These types of organizations and community centers are often independent non-profits, and led by people in recovery, family members, and their friends and allies.

RCOs are often created with the specific goal of providing resources for local recovery community and anyone who may be in need. Each organization has a mission which reflects the particular issues of the local community and commonly host a variety of recovery support meetings and events on-site.

Family Recovery Support

Recovery is not just for the individual. As addiction has extreme effects on the health and mental well-being of the individual, necessitating recovery, addiction can also have the same impact on families. Anger, distrust, resentment, co-dependency, inter-generational violence, these are all examples of the serious consequences that addiction can have on families – reverberating in society for generations.

In order to heal the individual, it is often imperative for families to also heal. This may mean that families enter into recovery together, or it may mean that family members find recovery for themselves while their loved one is still in active addiction.

Whatever it may be, the role of families in ending addiction cannot be understated.

Natural Recovery

Natural recovery is, according to some studies, the most common recovery pathway, but the prevalence of this style declines as problem duration and severity increase. Natural recovery is a more viable pathway for people with shorter and less severe alcohol and other drug problems and for those with higher incomes and more stable social and occupational supports (William White)

Recovery happens naturally all the time. For many people with substance use disorders, remission and recovery is a process that happens naturally and over time. In fact, such individuals may never have thought of themselves as having an addiction at all, much less being in recovery—even though by all medical classifications they would have qualified as having an addiction to a substance.

Why is this? No one knows for sure. It could be negative public attitudes associated with addiction is so strong that many people would never choose to voluntarily enter into treatment or engage with a mutual support group. It could be that some people are in denial about the extent of their problem and do not feel the need for support.  It could be that the narrative for treatment and recovery is so pervasive that most attention is focused on the visible aspects of addiction recovery, and the many millions who voluntarily stop on their own are forgotten.

Natural recovery exists across the spectrum of drug choices.  Those who achieve natural recovery report multiple reasons for avoiding formal treatment institutions and mutual aid societies. These reasons include a desire to protect their privacy, aversion to sharing problems with others, a desire to avoid the stigma of being labeled, a belief that they can solve their problems without professional treatment, and a perception that treatment and mutual aid groups are ineffective or not personally suited for them.

So then how do people recover naturally? There’s no clear answer. Many people experience a change in environment, or they change their habits completely, often supplanting an addiction with exercise or some other type of activity. Or, some people may stop using a certain problem drug and continue to drink or use other substances recreationally – which may or may not be defined as problem use.

Medication-Assisted Recovery

Medication-Assisted Recovery should not be confused with Medication Assisted treatment (MAT).

Medication-Assisted Recovery is defined as the use of medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies for the treatment of substance use disorders. A combination of medication and behavioral therapies is effective in the treatment of substance use disorders, and has been the primary factor in helping many people sustain their recovery.

Online and alternative recovery support resources

Recovery knows no bounds.

There is no one model for addiction recovery. It exists across the spectrum from in-person support meetings, one-on-one counseling, to hiking with close friends or commenting on posts in an internet forum.

To paraphrase the old mantra – whatever works! With that said, there are numerous technology-based recovery supports (from apps to telehealth platforms) and alternative recovery supports that have been gaining traction in recent years. Exploration of what works along your journey of recovery is based on personal preferences and needs.

Recovery Housing

Recovery housing provides safe, healthy living environments that leverage social and mutual aid to maintain recovery.

By providing alcohol and drug-free environments people who are pursuing recovery from addiction can live with peers in recovery and connect to other recovery services and supports. While recovery housing can vary greatly in design, from independent, resident-run homes to staff managed residences where clinical services are provided, all recovery housing provides safe, healthy living environments that leverage social and mutual aid to maintain recovery.

The National Alliance for Recovery Residences has delineated four levels of support offered by different types of recovery residences and outlined ethical principles as well as quality standards for recovery housing across levels.

Substance use disorders can have dire social consequences including: limited education, minimal work history, low or no income, increased criminal backgrounds, poor rental history, and poor credit. As a result, many people seeking recovery have difficulty accessing private or public rental housing, or obtaining mortgages.

Without the availability of flexible, supportive, recovery-focused housing options, people are less likely to recover from addiction and more likely to face continued difficulties that impact their well-being, families, and communities. These difficulties include costly health care as a result of acute and chronic medical complications and trauma; high use of emergency departments and public health care systems; being high risk for judicial involvement; and an inability to obtain and maintain employment. These challenges are compounded by a lack of affordable housing and the difficulties in maintaining housing while someone is struggling with an addiction.


Recovery Research Institute (2018). Education-based Recovery Services. Retrieved from:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Surgeon General, Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Washington, DC: HHS, November 2016.