AA and other 12-step groups are one of the most popular addiction-treatment methods in the world. An estimated 80% of all rehabilitation and treatment facilities offer 12-Step as an option or primary treatment method, most government programs utilize 12-Step, and most people are at least passingly aware of the existence of AA or 12-Step. But, while popular, AA isn’t for everyone. 12-Step is faith-based recovery (although not always Christian), typically asking individuals to be fully abstinent from drugs and alcohol, to rely on a higher power, and to follow a strict process of change and recovery. This process doesn’t work for everyone. Whether your reasons are necessary medical treatment for chronic illnesses such as pain or mental disorders, a dislike of the system, or atheism doesn’t matter so much as the fact that 12-Step may not be for you.
If this is the case, there are many options and alternatives to AA. While availability will heavily depend on the area, chances are, you can find a suitable alternative to 12-Step to help you stay clean or sober.
SMART Recovery is possibly the most popular alternative to 12-Step groups in the world. The organization offers abstinence-based recovery centered around group meetups, with online and phone supplementation. Unlike AA, SMART is science-based, utilizes principles from therapy, supports individuals who require medication, and offers a more flexible approach to group meetings.
SMART utilizes a 4-point recovery model starting with motivation to change, moving into managing cravings, managing emotions and behaviors, and finding balance. Like AA, most SMART meetings run 90 minutes, following a pre-determined structure, with check-ins, agendas, and homework.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety
Secular Organizations for Sobriety or S.O.S. is an abstinence-based recovery program, fully geared around using non-religious or spiritual methods to help individuals completely quit drugs and alcohol. Originally developed as an alternative to AA, S.O.S. now offers self-help and assistance through thousands of autonomous groups across the world. Unlike AA and SMART, S.O.S. meetings are highly autonomous, many groups utilize different theories, and many commit to continued learning and utilizing new research as it is made available.
However, meetings are typically held in a structured way, typically starting with an introduction and announcements, group discussion, and group interaction. Most S.O.S. groups ask for donations to fund the group.
LifeRing Secular Recovery
LifeRing offers secular recovery groups with in-person and online meetup options, a wealth of literature, and a strong focus on personal empowerment. LifeRing does not require or necessitate that individuals be secular, but it does remove the element of spirituality from recovery. Instead, LifeRing helps individuals to recognize behaviors, thoughts, and emotions contributing to addiction and introduces tools, ideas, and accountability to help attendees overcome those problems. LifeRing calls this strengthening the Sober Self and weakening the Addict Self, with the help of peers, motivation, and science-based information.
LifeRing uses a “3 S” principle of “Sobriety”, “Secularity”, and “Self-Help”. LifeRing is also fully abstinence based, with no tolerance for drug use of any kind.
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Moderation Management is a recovery center built around reducing drug and alcohol usage rather than complete recovery. In this way, it’s less traditional than most AA alternatives, but a good solution for individuals who want to change a problematic lifestyle before it gets out of hand. Moderation Management is also a good solution for individuals who require pain medication for chronic pain.
Moderation Management functions as a self-help group, holding individuals accountable, asking for daily diaries of drug and alcohol intake, and recommending rehab if drinking or drug use gets out of hand. This means it can be an excellent option for individuals who want to monitor total usage, for example, if you are in recovery already but are taking medication for mental health disorders or chronic pain.
Most importantly, with a motto of personal responsibility, moderation management is about personal empowerment, taking control of your life, and actively working to put yourself in control of your own recovery.
Refuge Recovery is a Buddhism-based recovery group offering non-theistic recovery alongside science-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Meetings are held where individuals discuss problems and personal goals, hold each other accountable, and learn. The group also contains a strong element of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation and living, alongside the Buddhist practices of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Like AA and other 12-step groups, Refuge Recovery meetings will typically start off with readings and learning, but it will then move into a meditation, followed by a Speaker sharing on a chosen topic, group sharing, and then further readings.
Refuge Recovery is not fully secular in that it heavily involves Buddhist spirituality. However, it removes the Christian element of 12-step and removes the need to answer to a higher power other than yourself, making it a popular alternative to AA.
The Phoenix Active Recovery
The Phoenix Active Recovery Group embraces science-based theories surrounding the use of exercise to maintain and strengthen recovery. The group claims to have over 26,000 members in the United States, who utilize physical exercise ranging from yoga to CrossFit as part of the group. Members still talk, support each other, and follow strict rules regarding sobriety and living drug-free, but primarily meet up to exercise in a group environment, discuss goals and hold each other accountability, and to enjoy life.
Ongoing Group Therapy
It can be important and powerful to attend a self-help group and participate in conversations led by your peers. However, there’s no reason you can’t do so inside the structure of clinical support. Group therapy exists in many forms and you will almost always have numerous options. In many cases, your rehab center will also offer ongoing therapy and support. In other cases, you can consult with your doctor to receive a recommendation to a therapist offering group therapy, or search for one yourself. Whatever you choose, the therapist should be aware of your goals, previous treatment, and that your primary reason for attending is ongoing accountability and maintaining recovery.
There are, of course, numerous additional alternatives to AA 12 Step Groups. Women can seek out female-only resources like Women for Sobriety. Online communities exist to offer support and accountability. And, many local communities offer support through meetings and organizations not affiliated with any organization.
Recovering from a substance use disorder is a journey that will take years. Joining a self-help group, seeking out support, and ensuring you are accountable to someone can help you on that journey. For many, social groups of peers in recovery is the best way to do so. Hopefully these alternatives to AA 12-Step groups will help you to find your place with your peers in recovery.