Alternatives to 12-Step Programs for Addiction
Mutual support groups can be a beneficial part of an addiction treatment program and may help people sustain recovery. The 12-step recovery program promoted by Alcoholics Anonymous, and offered nationwide at treatment centers and rehab clinics, has become synonymous with recovery from an alcohol use disorder. However, it is not the only framework that can help those with an addiction pursue sobriety and find support. This isn’t to say AA doesn’t work, but the 12-step process might not work for everyone. Those struggling or living with an alcohol addiction can find help and guidance in non-AA treatment programs if 12-step groups haven’t been effective for them in the past. Many of the potential AA alternatives don’t have as big of a profile as the 12-step program. To help raise awareness for those who seek sobriety or have a loved one battling an alcohol addiction, here is some information on AA and five alternatives to 12-step programs.
Support Groups for Sobriety and Addiction Recovery
Non-12-step programs promote recovery from alcohol and drug use through things like peer support, self-expression, and sponsor relationships, which can be similar to 12-step programs. Unlike 12-step programs, non-12-step programs are secular in nature and generally place more emphasis on encouraging participants to find motivation within themselves to sustain recovery instead of seeking a higher power. Non-12-step programs may also be more flexible in their approach than programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
Most non-12-step programs are free to join and only require that people struggling with addiction wish to achieve and maintain recovery. There are several similarities between 12-step programs and alternatives. However, some people find that a program that emphasizes faith and spirituality may not be the right fit for them.
What Is the 12 Step Process & Program?
Importantly, the AA 12-step process is not a treatment program. Rather, it is a mutual support group that offers individuals the chance to utilize peer bonds, sponsor relationships, and avenues of self-expression to help find sobriety.
One of AA’s founding members published a text outlining the group’s philosophy, as well as the integral 12-step process. These steps to sobriety include:1
- Admitting powerlessness over alcohol and that it has made life unmanageable.
- Coming to believe that a higher power can restore sanity and order.
- Confessing to a higher power, to the self, and to another person the exact nature of personal wrongs and faults.
- Asking a higher power to remove those shortcomings.
- Making a list of all persons harmed and becoming willing to rectify those wrongs.
- Continuing to take a personal inventory; prompt admitting of any wrongs.
- Using prayer and meditation to strengthen the connection with the higher power.
As of January 2018, there were more than 64,000 12-step groups in the U.S. and more than 1.3 million members.2 Globally, there were around 120,000 groups and more than 2 million members.
What Are Non 12-Step Programs?
Unlike 12-step programs, non-12-step programs are secular in nature and generally place more emphasis on encouraging participants to find motivation within themselves to sustain recovery instead of seeking a higher power. Non-12-step programs may also be more flexible in their approach than programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
Most non-12-step programs are free to join and only require that people struggling with addiction wish to achieve and maintain recovery. There are several similarities between 12-step programs and 12-step alternatives. However, some people find that a program that emphasizes faith and spirituality may not be the right fit for them.
Types of Recovery Meetings and Programs
Non-12-step rehab programs often do not have high profiles in the way that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and other 12-step programs have. However, several non-12-step programs and various types of recovery meetings for drug and alcohol recovery are available. Some examples of non-12-step programs include:3-6
- SMART Recovery: A non-profit, abstinence-focused organization, SMART Recovery offers free mutual support meetings to people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. It uses scientifically based methods to help members learn short- and long-term coping skills as well as empower them to alter their behaviors. Instead of 12 steps, the program focuses on 4 core ideals: building and maintaining motivation; coping with urges; managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; leading a balanced life.
- LifeRing Secular Recovery: A network of support groups, LifeRing provides help to individuals who want to live a drug- or alcohol-free life. There is no reliance on a higher power and participants keep their spiritual/religious beliefs private. LifeRing focuses on positive social reinforcement and works to match the right treatment to each individual.
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS): Dedicated to helping people work for and maintain recovery, SOS is a nonprofit network of independent, non-professional local groups. It does not focus on a higher power or its function of faith as sobriety.
- Women for Sobriety (WFS): Providing support for women only, this nonprofit organization focuses on 13 acceptance statements. These statements encourage spiritual and emotional growth. WFS focuses on responsibility, positivity, and emotional growth and works to help women alter their negative behavior and thought patterns.
Who Can Benefit from Non-12-Step Programs?
Non-12-step programs can ultimately benefit individuals for whom traditional 12-step programs are not a good fit. Non-12-step programs may be a better solution for you for various reasons, including:7
- You do not want religion and spirituality included in your treatment.
- You do not believe that addiction is a disease that you cannot control.
- You believe in scientific approaches to treatment.
- You want to be viewed as having power and control over your addiction and take responsibility.
- You want to focus on family and your support systems.
- You want to treat the root of your problem.
You will also have the flexibility to choose between non-12-step outpatient rehab or non-12-step inpatient rehab for drug or alcohol addiction. The length of treatment can also be discussed and arranged based on your needs.
Benefits of AA Alternatives & Non- 12 Step Recovery
While 12-step programs and non-12-step programs can be beneficial for people in recovery, there is limited data to prove their efficacy related to sustaining abstinence. However, a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment looked at how effective non-12-step programs are compared to the AA framework and found that people who went to support group 12 -step alternatives expressed a higher level of satisfaction and cohesion while displaying the same level of participation as those who attended 12-step groups.8
Finding Non-12 Step and AA Alternatives
Whether you’re looking to enter rehab treatment near you or want to travel, there are various non-12-step programs throughout the country that can help you work toward your recovery. Recovery looks different for everyone, and the right non-12-step treatment for you will depend on several factors such as the substances you have used and whether you have a co-occurring disorder, such as anxiety or depression. It’s a good idea to have an open and honest conversation with a doctor to discuss your needs.
If you are unsure about where to start, you can contact one of our admission navigators at . They can listen to your story and can help you learn more about treatment and resources and can verify your insurance. Your information is kept 100% confidential and there is no obligation to enter treatment. You can also use our rehabs directory tool to help you with finding non-12-step groups and programs, as well as other support groups, near you.
Checking Your Insurance Coverage
If you are looking for non-12-step addiction treatment and think your recovery may need to go beyond mutual support groups, you have options. In many treatment facilities, non-12-step rehab centers include participation in support groups as well as behavioral therapeutic interventions and medications to manage substance use disorder. As you consider your options, knowing exactly what your insurance plan covers can give you peace of mind while you or your loved one is in rehab. You can focus on recovery without worrying about unexpected costs. For more information on what your insurance plan covers, call AAC at or fill out the form below.
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