Learn / Alternatives to 12-Step Recovery

Alternatives to 12-Step Recovery

Kayla Gill
 October 12th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

12-Step programs are a popular method for addiction recovery. It’s easy to access free meetings, both online and in person. You can even find rehab centers that support your journey through the Steps. And while these programs have clear benefits, they’re not the only way to heal from addiction.

Recovery is a personal process, and principles of 12-Step recovery aren’t right for everyone.

There are as many pathways to healing as there are people in recovery.

If you’re looking for an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-Step fellowships, non-12-Step rehabs and support groups can help.

Non-12-Step Treatment Models

In 12-Step rehabs, providers use the Steps to frame your healing process. You might attend A.A. or N.A. meetings, receive chips to mark sobriety milestones, or talk through each Step with your therapist. But if this approach doesn’t resonate with you, you may feel excluded or disconnected during addiction treatment.1 In that case, these other approaches to recovery may be a better fit.

Evidence-Based Treatments

If scientific studies show that a treatment is effective, it can be called an evidence-based method. And it’s easy to find evidence-based treatment in rehab. But even the most respected methods may or may not be effective for you. Talk to your treatment provider about which types of therapy are the best fit for your personal recovery goals.

The most common evidence-based treatments are medication-assisted treatments (MAT) and behavioral therapies:

  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) uses pharmaceuticals to treat addiction and prevent overdose. These prescriptions are usually combined with talk or behavioral therapy. Studies show that MAT can decrease the risk of relapse,2 and increase treatment retention rates. If you’re curious about MAT, talk to your treatment team about your options. Medications can be helpful for some people, but you should only ever take them as prescribed.

Behavioral therapies teach you skills to manage your thoughts and feelings3 about addiction. The idea is that by improving your behavior, you can also improve your mental health. There are several popular types of behavioral therapy:

Experiential Therapy in Rehab

In a rehab that offers experiential therapy, patients heal through fun, interesting activities. These treatments let you learn new skills, discover your strengths, and process your emotions in a different environment.

There are many types of experiential therapy:

Because these activities let you heal by doing, they can be a welcome break from talk therapy. And since most of them are group activities, they also help you work on interpersonal skills.

These sessions can be fun and engaging, but they’re no substitute for other treatments. Rehabs typically offer experiential therapies alongside other modalities, like talk or behavioral therapies. This combined approach lets patients get to know themselves from several different angles. And it may give you a more complete picture of your own needs.

Holistic Treatment for Addiction and Mental Health

Holistic rehabs use a variety of treatment methods to address recovery. The goal is for people to heal not just from their addiction, but also from any other mental, physical, and spiritual issues they’re facing.

Many of these centers offer individualized treatment plans for all their patients.They may offer a wide range of holistic therapies:

Experts say that holistic therapies empower patients7 to “develop a stronger sense of self-identity, self-esteem, and self-confidence.”

Non-12-Step Support Groups

Many people are drawn to 12-Step groups because they’re so easy to access. You can attend them in rehab, in your hometown, or even online. But if these support groups don’t meet your needs, there are other ways to build community while you recover.

There are a few reasons the 12 Steps might not be right for you. But commonly, A.A. and similar groups work best for people who find strength in spirituality. If you prefer a more scientific approach, you might consider alternative support groups.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training)8 is a secular approach that encourages self-empowerment to overcome addiction. Meetings are free and led by people who have used SMART in their personal recovery. Members support each other in learning healthier coping skills throughout recovery.

As a social worker in New York explains, SMART Recovery helped them recover1 because they are a “free thinker who is more oriented to understand addiction in logical and behavioral terms rather than spiritual or disease terms.”

Instead of adopting the 12-Step belief that you are powerless over your addiction, SMART Recovery teaches that you are capable of changing your life by consciously working on yourself, alongside peers and professionals.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (S.O.S.) is a “nonprofit network of autonomous, nonprofessional local groups dedicated solely to helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety.” Their meetings take place both in person and online.

These meetings are open to anybody trying to live a sober lifestyle. They welcome religious and non-religious people to support each other in a secular setting. According to their founder, James Christopher, S.O.S. is inclusive of all pathways to recovery.9 In other words, you can attend S.O.S. meetings as part of a larger recovery plan.

Women for Sobriety

Women for Sobriety (WFS) hosts meetings in the US and Canada for women recovering from addiction. Led by women, WFS provides an inclusive environment for recovery for all women, including members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The meetings are based on 13 emotional and spiritual affirmations, and are facilitated by a person who has achieved 1 year of sobriety within the WFS program. They start with a reading of the affirmations, followed by introductions. Then group members take part in a discussion around the weekly topic.

One member explains that the WFS approach is “wonderful for women1 because it’s such a positive program. It met my needs and built my self-esteem.”

LifeRing Secular Recovery

LifeRing Secular Recovery is an anonymous organization that encourages abstinence through their 3-S philosophy: sobriety, secularity, and self-help.

They require members to remain completely abstinent. And while these groups welcome members of any religious belief,

LifeRing supports “recovery methods that rely on human efforts10 rather than on divine intervention.”

Moderation Management

For people who want to change their relationship with alcohol, rather than become completely sober, Moderation Management (MM) is a harm reduction non-profit group that encourages bringing mindfulness to your consumption of alcohol.

MM promotes moderation as a pathway towards a healthier lifestyle. Through small, attainable steps, and peer-led group meetings, they support participants in their journey towards more manageable drinking.

As one member explained,

“the support and encouragement of the MM groups11 has been invaluable to me!! Never judgement or blame; always positive reinforcement and motivation.”

While harm reduction can be helpful for some people, it’s not the right approach for everyone. For example, if you have high-functioning alcohol addiction, you might not even realize how much of a toll drinking takes on your life. In that case, harm reduction could just push the problem farther down the line. Instead, finding treatment that helps you get completely sober—12-Step or not—might be a better choice.

Explore Alternative Pathways Towards Recovery

You have a wide array of choices for rehab. And while the 12 Steps are hugely popular, they’re not the only option. You have the right—and even the responsibility—to heal in a way that meets your needs. If 12-Step treatment isn’t right for you, there are countless other ways to start recovery.

Connect with a non-12-Step rehab today to learn about different treatment philosophies, insurance options, locations, and more.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. Abt Associates Inc. & Hart Research Associates. (2010). Pathways to Healing and Recovery: Perspectives from Individuals with Histories of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). https://www.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/recovery_pathways_report.pdf [] [] []
  2. Medication-assisted treatment(Mat). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/medication-assisted-treatment []
  3. Behavioral health treatments and services. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/treatment []
  4. Cognitive-behavioral therapy(Alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, nicotine). National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies/cognitive-behavioral-therapy []
  5. Motivational enhancement therapy(Alcohol, marijuana, nicotine). National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies/motivational-enhancement-therapy []
  6. Substance use recovery and diet: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002149.htm []
  7. Breslin, K. T., Reed, M. R., & Malone, S. B. (2003). An holistic approach to substance abuse treatment. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 35(2), 247–251. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2003.10400006 []
  8. About us. (n.d.). SMART Recovery. Retrieved from https://www.smartrecovery.org/about-us/ []
  9. Sos. (n.d.). SOS. Retrieved from https://www.sossobriety.org []
  10. Lifering recovery menu—Lifering secular recovery. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://lifering.org/lifering-recovery-menu/ []
  11. Testimonials. (n.d.). Moderation Management™. Retrieved from https://moderation.org/about-mm-support-overview/program-member-testimonials/ []

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