Popular Non-12 Step Recovery Programs and Support Groups

Addiction comes in many forms, but so do addiction recovery programs. There are the 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA), but there are many more non-12 step programs available. Some people do well with support groups to help them maintain their sobriety, while others need a more intensive approach like inpatient or outpatient treatment. For example, there is an outpatient treatment program with science-based treatments from knowledgeable professionals at Zoe Behavioral Health. There are all kinds of resources out there for people who want to overcome their addictions for good; it’s just a matter of finding them.

Why choose a non-12 step recovery program or support group?

12-step programs like AA, NA, and their offshoots (such as Gamblers Anonymous) are sometimes spoken of as the gold standard for overcoming addiction, but this simply isn’t the case. Between one thing and another, they have a number of shortcomings that are easy to identify – and that other secular recovery programs don’t have.

12-step programs have millions of participants in the US. However, they aren’t necessarily suitable for everyone; they have a very specific view of addiction that isn’t exactly based on what science tells us. The programs don’t overtly follow the Christian religion, but many Christian principles and concepts are woven into the 12 Steps.

Even though they invite participation from people of all beliefs, 12-step programs require a belief in a higher power, and a willingness to completely surrender to that power. In fact, seven out of the 12 Steps focus on God, a higher power, or a spiritual awakening, rather than concepts or skills that would help someone fight their addiction. They read more like a gospel tract than a program for overcoming addiction, so people who prefer an approach that’s based on science are more likely to choose a non-12 step program.

Another issue that some people have with AA and related groups is that they tell people that they’re helpless against their addiction. Without the help of a higher power, they have no alternative but to keep spiraling deeper into addiction. Secular programs, on the other hand, empower those who struggle with addiction to create healthier lives for themselves. By attending therapy and learning skills that will help them maintain sobriety, they’re able to save themselves, rather than depending on a higher power to do it for them.

Popular alternatives to 12-step programs

Non-12 step programs run the gamut, from inpatient treatments to support groups. Here are some of the most popular options.

Inpatient/outpatient recovery programs

These programs vary in intensity, but one thing that sets them apart from others is the availability of licensed psychiatrists and other professionals. They can prescribe medications for patients suffering from withdrawal symptoms, psychiatric disorders, physical ailments, and more. These programs also more customized and targeted than support groups, since patients regularly attend therapy as they dive deep into the issues that may have driven them towards addiction in the first place.

Also unlike support groups, inpatient and outpatient programs aren’t free. Some of them are more budget-friendly, while others are more expensive, with luxury facilities and services. The final cost will depend on the type of facility, the extent of care (24/7 vs. a few hours per day), and the length of the stay.

Women for Sobriety

This support group is geared towards women, and was founded by sociologist Jean Kirkpatrick in the 70s specifically for women struggling with addiction. Rather than viewing drug or alcohol abuse as a moral failing, like AA does, WFS views it as a sign of underlying issues such as trauma, shame, gender inequality, depression, or guilt. When women experience these things and can’t find a healthy way to cope, they may turn to addictive substances instead.

During WFS meetings, participants are encouraged to identify the underlying causes of their substance abuse disorders. They’re also encouraged to focus on self-awareness in general, and are taught better ways to satisfy their needs. Behavioral changes are made through:

  • Looking after one’s body
  • Cognitive approaches
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Group involvement

LifeRing Secular Recovery

This peer support group has participants focus on two different parts of themselves: their “sober self” and their “addicted self”. While acknowledging that their addicted selves will always be around, they’re encouraged to take practical steps that can help them maintain their sobriety. By identifying triggers and how to overcome them, they can weaken the “addicted self” and strengthen the “sober self”. Rather than calling on a higher power, participants of LifeRing Secular Recovery are taught to find whatever strategies or mindsets will help their sobriety, and to pursue those on a daily basis.

SMART Recovery

As another secular alternative to 12-step groups, SMART Recovery paints addiction as a dysfunctional habit that each individual is capable of controlling. They incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy into their approach, along with their 4-Point Program:

  • Effectively managing feelings, behaviors, and thoughts apart from addictive behaviors
  • Maintaining the motivation to pursue positive change
  • Living a more positive, healthy, and balanced life
  • Coping with the urge to use

Secular Organization for Sobriety (SOS)

This organization was founded in the 80s by James Christopher, who got sober himself and decided to help others do the same with this recovery program. SOS emphasizes the power of personal values, integrity, and beliefs in maintaining sobriety, rather than claiming that submitting to God is the only path to recovery. It encourages attendees to:

  • Take responsibility for their lives and sobriety
  • Avoid addictive behaviors no matter what
  • Make sobriety a priority above everything else
  • Acknowledge that they have a problem as an abuser of drugs or alcohol
  • Accept this daily

The takeaway

Successfully recovering from addiction takes a lot of hard work, but there are many resources available for every type of addiction. It’s also important to remember that not every type of recovery treatment will be successful for every person; it may take a few tries to get the right kind of help. The important thing is to keep trying!

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:February 29, 2024

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