Team Building Exercises for Substance Abuse Groups

bottle with blue toxic substance image by Ivonne Wierink from

Team-building exercises for substance abuse groups give those who struggle with alcohol and drugs a way to lean on others and find the missing sense of self-worth that led to dependency in the first place. For team exercises to be successful, communication must first be established between the members.

Members must then realise they are not alone. A healthy dependency on each other leads to a neglect of harmful substances and regained control in a substance abuse group member's life.

Getting to Know Bingo!

Lori Cockwill and Kelly Shaver developed "Getting to Know Bingo!" for the Four Worlds International Institute. It has since become a favourite in substance abuse programs for its focus on positivity, while also forcing group members to face issues in a fun, interactive and nonthreatening way. To participate, each group member requires a bingo card and a writing utensil to mark off squares.

The moderator reads from a master card, which contains common situations of either a positive or negative context. Examples: Have you ever helped another person? Have you ever let someone down? What is your greatest regret? What things are you the most proud of? What is the funniest story that you can remember?

The group member marks each box he qualifies for. Black squares represent negatives and one must be marked in order for the participant to get a "Bingo!" When a member qualifies, he must read off all squares and give his examples. Everyone has the chance to qualify.

Talking Behind the Back

Kathi Elster, author and representative of K Squared Enterprises, a company known for team-building exercises at medical facilities, offers this suggestion as a fun and sometimes poignant way of getting group members to relate once the ice has been broken: "We tape a piece of paper on each person's back. We ask the other team members to write something positive about that person on their paper. At the end, we allow one person at a time to take the paper off and read aloud what has been written. This exercise can be very funny, or it can bring tears of joy. The group members usually keep the paper with them as a reminder of how good it felt to be recognised for something positive."

The Ball of String

Elster offers another piece of advice for an advanced team-building exercise once groups have learnt to depend on one another: "Team members sit in a circle. We use a large ball of string. We have one member of the team throw a ball of string [holding onto the loose end] to someone they depend on and then that person throws the string to someone they depend on. Before long the group sees how dependent they are on one another, and the string has created a web in the circle showing how much they need one another. This exercise must be moderated so that everyone receives the string." By the end, group members realize the dependence on others as a positive alternative to controlled substances.