Medically Reviewed

5 Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-Step Programs

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Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

If you have recently completed an alcohol or drug rehab program, congratulations. You have overcome one of the biggest hurdles in recovery from substance use disorders. While this is a huge achievement, recovery does not end upon the completion of a treatment program.

Because addiction is a chronic disease, you must continue participating in recovery maintenance techniques to maintain your sobriety. One of the best ways to do so is by attending support groups. While most people choose 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), there are other options out there if these programs are not right for you.

A recent study suggests that alternative recovery programs like LifeRing, SMART Recovery, and others are just as effective in helping people maintain sobriety as 12-step programs.[1] If the spiritual aspect of AA does not work for you, you could choose to attend one of the 5 other options for addiction support groups.

What you will learn:

  • What are 12-step programs
  • What are the 5 most common alternatives to 12-step programs
  • How each alternative support group works

What are 12-Step Programs?

12-step programs are a cluster of support groups that work by having their members complete 12 steps designed to help them achieve complete abstinence from drug or alcohol addiction. These programs heavily rely on the belief in a higher power. Members are asked to admit to powerlessness over drugs and alcohol and rely on their higher power to help them recover.

These support groups offer in-person and online meetings. Many AA meetings involve the sharing of stories, how recovery has worked, and even readings from their book. To go through the steps, members are required to find a sponsor to guide them.

There are a variety of different 12-step programs, with each of them focusing on different substances. Some of the most popular examples are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and even Cocaine Anonymous (CA).

It is also important to note that there are 12-step programs for the family members of addicts and alcoholics, such as Al-Anon or Alateen. These programs help the loved ones of people struggling with substance abuse recover from the effect addiction has had on them.

The Top 5 Alternatives to AA and the 12-Steps

While 12-step programs can be highly effective, you might not relate to the methods they use. One of the most common reasons that people do not mesh with groups like AA or NA is their reliance on spirituality. On the other hand, you might just desire a more evidence-based approach to recovery from substance abuse.

Thankfully, there are other options out there if Alcoholics Anonymous is not right for you. The 5 most common alternatives to 12-step programs include:

1. SMART Recovery

If you value secular recovery, SMART Recovery might be right for you. Instead of asking you to embrace a higher power, this program uses evidence-based methods like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to teach you how to change addictive behaviors. SMART Recovery operates on the idea that you have the power to make changes that allow you to remain sober long-term.

The word “SMART” stands for self-management and recovery training. Their program is based on a 4-point system that includes:[2]

  • Building and maintaining the motivation to change
  • Coping with urges to abuse substances
  • Managing your thoughts, behaviors, and feelings without succumbing to substance abuse
  • Living a balanced, positive, and healthy life

2. Women for Sobriety (WFS)

Women for Sobriety (WFS) was created in the 1970s by a sociologist named Jean Kirkpatrick.[3] This addiction support group is intended for women. Jean Kirkpatrick created it based on the idea that addictive behaviors among women stem from common issues they face based on their gender, such as self-esteem, trauma, shame, and gender inequality.

To overcome addiction, this group helps women focus on the underlying causes of their substance abuse.

3. LifeRing

LifeRing Secular Recovery is a support group designed for those who are not interested in religious or spiritual recovery programs. This group works under the idea that being aware of your triggers and knowing how to overcome them will allow you to stay sober.[4]

Additionally, LifeRing believes in strengthening the “sober self” and weakening the “addicted self.” Since they believe the addicted version of themselves is always inside of them, they work on using recovery techniques to make their sober self stronger and more present.

4. Refuge Recovery

Refuge Recovery uses Buddhist practices to help its members remain sober. The main idea of this program is based on a Buddhist belief that the root cause of suffering derives from an insatiable thirst for pleasure. Members are taught that abusing drugs and alcohol will only keep them stuck in a cycle of suffering.

Through mindfulness techniques and other Buddhist practices, Refuge Recovery teaches you how to overcome cravings for substances and stay sober. This is an abstinence-based recovery support group, rather than attempting to teach moderation management.

5. Secular Organizations for Sobriety (S.O.S)

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (S.O.S) was created as a non-religious alternative to 12-step programs. This support group believes you can stay sober based on personal integrity, values, and beliefs instead of relying on a higher power.

S.O.S helps people stay sober by:

  • Acknowledging your problem with alcohol or drugs
  • Accepting you are an addict daily
  • Making sobriety a priority
  • Refraining from using no matter what struggles arise
  • Sharing your story with others
  • Knowing that you are responsible for your sobriety

Find Help for Alcoholism or Drug Addiction

If you or a loved one wants to stop drinking or using drugs, it’s time to consider attending a rehab program. PAX Memphis can connect you with a top-rated addiction treatment center that is suited to your specific needs.

Contact us today to learn more about how to begin the addiction recovery process.


  1. A longitudinal study of the comparative efficacy of Women for Sobriety, LifeRing, SMART Recovery, and 12-step groups for those with AUD
  2. An investigation of SMART Recovery: protocol for a longitudinal cohort study of individuals making a new recovery attempt from alcohol use disorder
  3. A Road Less Traveled: Choosing the “Women for Sobriety” Program
  4. Comparison of 12-step Groups to Mutual Help Alternatives for AUD in a Large, National Study: Differences in Membership Characteristics and Group Participation, Cohesion, and Satisfaction