Giving Psychology Away

Substance Abuse and Recovery

Struggles with drug and alcohol abuse deeply affects people, including Native American people and their families.  When we carry a lot of emotional pain, we want to feel differently.  Edwardo Duran (2006) in Healing the Soul Wound: Counseling with American Indian and other Native Peoples, referred to alcohol as a spirit: something that when we take it into our body it changes our behaviors, emotions, and even our personality.  When people do not have other ways to feel differently, they turn to what has changed their feelings in the past. Sometimes people use drugs and alcohol to feel something, sometimes to numb the pain or forget.  While drugs and alcohol change feelings in the moment, it is fleeting and temporary. It is a false place and it only can be achieved by using more and more.  This leads to addiction, and this often brings even more pain and suffering.

People seldom intend to get addicted to drugs or alcohol. Yet, it can happen, especially when we are limited in our ability to cope with suffering or overcoming the negative events in our life.  When we encounter deep emotional losses, struggles with anxiety, low self-esteem, and complex trauma, avoiding feelings such as regret, sadness, anger, fear, or guilt can result no matter what we do. When we are unable to find our way back to center and restore our sense of balance, we become emotionally weakened and vulnerable. We as human beings do not want to feel vulnerable.  It is against our nature, our way of being in the center, so we look for solutions to change.  If we do not have the tools to overcome or do not believe in ourselves enough, we may look to drugs or alcohol to not feel or feel differently.  We will only truly overcome our addictions when we get to what is causing the pain and choose to walk in the light.

If you are starting or continuing this journey in your recovery, know that with all healing it must start with your decision that something needs to change.  You do not need to know exactly what you need to do, just that you are ready to start looking at options for recovery.  Addictions make us feel very alone, and some believe that they cannot get better.  This is why it is important that you have others to walk with you on this journey.  Many Native ways of knowing reflect the importance of connection, as well as the value of providing and receiving help with humility.  Doing this on your own is possible, but you are keeping others from healing with you, and this is a road that is better traveled together.

When we work with others in recovery, we are surrounding ourselves with helping versus enabling people and environments. Sometimes our family members, friends, even employers may try to support us in our addictions by enabling our behaviors.  Their kindness of overlooking our absences, disregarding our mistakes, pacifying our choices or even paying for our addictions may keep us from moving forward.  Being with others in substance abuse recovery or with someone who is focused solely on helping us in our recovery will be hard, but they will understand why it is important to work through the pain, not around it.  Drug and alcohol may have been the best way you have had to cope, but surrounding yourself with others who understand this and will keep encouraging you to turn from these old ways, will help you and them on this road to recovery.

Families also experience suffering when there is addiction affecting one or more members. This is why sometimes we find ourselves giving into a family member with an addiction.  We often want to fix the pain for those whom we love.  However, like those walking in addiction, we have to understand that we cannot recover for our family member, we have to do our own healing from the pain that the addiction has brought.

Below are some considerations for our relatives that are seeking sobriety and have limited resources such as no transportation, time, money, etc. These resources are online, so you may need to reach out to a friend or family member who has internet access if you do not.  While we are unable to be with you, as you walk on this journey, our hope is by giving psychology to you, giving psychology away to you, that you and your family will take the next step in your road to recovery.


Online Support Groups for Substance Use & Addictions

After consulting with colleagues in the field of substance use treatment and recovery this year, it is apparent that services are lacking. Residential treatment centers have restricted admissions. The telehealth appointments are limited and have long waitlists. In light of this current situation, we are providing a summary of points to consider when seeking a healthy online support group.

There are two primary functions of addiction focused groups. One is skill building and the other is emotional support. Both are extremely helpful.

Skill building teaches specific ways to handle emotions like anxiety or anger and how to navigate difficult situations. Some of these techniques are setting healthy boundaries, recognizing your strengths, breath work when anxious, avoiding triggering situations, engaging in healthy activities, disengaging from negative situations, grounding. Skill building groups are often two to ten sessions.

Support groups on the other hand focus on identifying and talking about feelings. Empathy is healing.  Talking about emotionally painful situations can make them less troubling.  Experiences of successfully handling struggles can be helpful to hear.

When looking for a healthy support group, a well-known organization may recommend specific groups like AA, NA or Al-Anon. A counselor or well respected person in recovery can be good sources to learn about various groups.

Small support groups are most effective, 8 to 12 people.

A good group has agreed-upon rules. These help members feel safe in the group and make the best use of the time they have together. Any new person to the group needs to be introduced to the rules.  They may include:

  1. Outside of the group the privacy of others is preserved.

  2. One person speaks at a time. 

  3. Respect is shown to all group members. 

  4. Addictive behaviors are not glorified. They are not described in ways that make them sound exciting.

  5. In any particular group session, people might not get equal time because an individual is having a crisis.  However, over several sessions, no one monopolizes group time.

  6. Instead of giving advice, help a person to identify the pros and cons of a particular choice.

  7. The group is not a place to find a date.

If group members don't hold each other to the group rules, then the group is to be avoided. 

In general it may be wise to attend a group three times before deciding if it is a good fit. Ask yourself if members are respected no matter who they are. As a participant you should not feel attached, judged, belittled, or disrespected. An atmosphere of non-judgment is essential for recovery from addiction.


Some resources to help you or someone you care for.

All are free and open to anyone seeking help:


4 Day Virtual Training: Medicine Wheel for Men and Women
– August 31-September 3, 2021 hosted by White Bison


SAMHSA National Helpline
– Confidential free help to find substance use treatment and information. Learn more:


Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator:


Indian Health Services (IHS) Division of Behavioral Health Programs

The IHS treatment locator, Find Health Care, a searchable map for finding Indian Health Service, Tribal or Urban Indian Health Program facilities.


Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center

Healing Journey: A peer-led support program for adult Native women challenged by compacted trauma, sexual assault, and substance abuse.


Native American Connections

A Phoenix based organization that provides Native families and individuals with culturally appropriate health programs, affordable housing, and substance abuse treatment.

Native American Connections offers Telehealth for all Outpatient Services. Call 602-424-2060 to schedule an appointment. New clients can complete an assessment over the phone.


Native American Indian General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous

Like Alcoholics Anonymous but with the incorporation of traditional Native ways into the AA meeting.

Alcoholics Anonymous   is an international organization that founded and continues to offer the 12-step program to support the recovery from alcohol use disorder.

Al-Anon Family Groups   is an organization that provides meetings and support to those with severe alcohol use disorder, their families, and friends.

Facing Addiction with NCCAD   works on a national and a community level to reach people struggling with substance use disorders.



Duran, E. (2006). Healing the soul wound: Counseling with American Indians and other native peoples. New York: Teachers College Press


Content provided by Dr. Iva GreyWolf and Dr. Jack R. Finney