Alternatives to 12-Step Addiction Recovery

12 Step Alternative Programs

While many drug and alcohol rehab centers have a focus on the 12 steps in the overall healing process, there are alternative programs that you should be aware of. This is perhaps of particular importance to those who want to overcome addiction to toxic substances but don’t like the idea of or don’t feel comfortable with any program that emphasizes a higher power.

It should be noted, though, that even Alcoholics Anonymous, the original 12-step group, while it does mention higher power, also says, or “God as we know Him.” You don’t have to be religious or belong to a specific church, congregation, temple, mosque or synagogue to benefit from any of the 12-step programs. Still, if you’re interested in what else is out there, here are some of the alternatives to 12-step recovery.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery (the acronym stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training) is not a 12-step group. Its purpose is to support individuals who have chosen to abstain from any type of addictive behavior (including substances and activities) by teaching them how to refrain from self-defeating thinking, actions and emotions and to help them work toward achieving long-term satisfaction and quality of life.

This approach:

  • Teaches self-empowerment and self-reliance
  • Teaches tools and techniques for change that is self-directed
  • Includes educational meetings with open discussions
  • Advocates appropriate use of prescribed medications and psychological treatments
  • Evolves with the advances in scientific knowledge regarding addiction recovery

SMART Recovery uses a four-point program that includes: building and maintaining motivation; coping with cravings and urges; managing feelings, thoughts and behaviors, and living a balanced life.

The Four Agreements 

This non-12-step treatment program is based on the philosophy of don Miguel Ruiz as laid out in his book, The Four Agreements. In essence, this is a strong philosophical framework for how you begin your recovery journey. It is based on the Four Agreements that you live and incorporate into your daily life. These include:

  • Be impeccable with your word
  • Don’t take anything personally
  • Don’t make assumptions
  • Always do your best

Using this approach, you make the agreements your program and live them every day, making them real and living agreements that help you attain the joyful life in sobriety that you seek.

Women for Sobriety

Created in 1976 by Jean Kirkpatrick as an alternative to 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, Women for Sobriety is a secular, 12-step alternative addiction recovery group. Its “New Life Program” helps women achieve sobriety and sustain long-term recovery. With self-help groups all across the country, WFS is based on a 13-statement program of “positivity that encourages emotional and spiritual growth.” Specifically, WFS is based on positive thinking, meditation, metaphysics, pursuit of health through good nutrition, and group dynamics.

The program promotes changes in behavior through:

  • Positive reinforcement
  • Cognitive strategies
  • Letting the body help (using relaxation techniques, physical exercise, diet and meditation)
  • Dynamic group involvement

Rational Recovery

Jack Trimpey, a clinical social worker, introduced the concepts of Rational Recovery in 1986. It is not dependent on any spiritual beliefs and is more than a philosophy or treatment program. Rational Recovery is an aggressive self-help program that allows a person to change his or her behavior immediately. Through the use of AVRT (Addictive Voice Recognition Technique), you learn, among other things, that:

  • You are not your body
  • Your body lives by the law of the jungle
  • You run your body
  • Humans live by universal family values

Rational Recovery offers counseling, guidance and direct instruction on independent recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs through planned permanent abstinence.

LifeRing Secular Recovery

A secular, nonprofit organization called LifeRing Secular Recovery is an abstinence-based network of individuals who seek to live in recovery from addiction to alcohol and other non-medically indicated drugs. This is a peer-to-peer support network with local and online meetings. The website says that LifeRing Secular Recovery is “sober, secular and self-directed.”

The LifeRing approach involves developing, refining and sharing personal strategies for continued abstinence and creating a rewarding life in recovery for each individual.

Moderation Management

A peer-run support group for those who wish to reduce their alcoholic consumption or engage in “controlled drinking,” Moderation Management was created in 1994 as an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous and other addiction groups for those who were non-dependent problem drinkers who didn’t want to stop drinking altogether, but to moderate the amount of alcohol consumed to reduce negative consequences from problem drinking.

For many, Moderation Management (MM) serves as a non-threatening first step to sobriety. After learning how to moderate their drinking, many members go on to abstinence-based programs, according to the Moderation Management website. MM is a behavioral change program and national support group network for people concerned about their drinking and who want to make positive changes in their lifestyle. It promotes early recognition of risky drinking behavior, when the goal of moderate drinking is more achievable. MM is an evidence-based program listed on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Registry of Evidenced-Based Programs and Practices (NREPP).

If You Want To Change …

The important thing to remember is that if you truly want to make a change in your life, to overcome problems that addiction has caused and to learn to live a sober life, letting go of the fear you feel is the first hurdle. There is help available through evidence-based drug and alcohol rehab programs that use either 12-step or non-12-step approaches. Some of the best treatment centers offer both, allowing you to choose what feels most comfortable for you.

Also keep in mind that you do have the choice — always — over what you do in life. Make the smart choice and ask for help. This is a courageous first step that will help you reach your goals and live a joyful and productive life in sobriety.

Sources:;;;; SMART;;


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