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5 Alternatives to Traditional 12-Step Recovery Programs

Founded in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has become the most well known substance recovery foundation.1 Commonly known as AA, the foundation is based on the 12-Step recovery program. The 12 Steps provide a set of principles – outlined in the Big Book of AA – that desire to drink and allow them to live happy and fulfilled lives.

Stepping Away from Tradition

Since AA’s founding in the two years that followed prohibition, there have been hundreds of 12-Step recovery programs formed, each targeted to address a number of addictions other than alcoholism. For example, 12-Step groups now exist for dependencies including drugs, sex, shopping, and hoarding.

In the early 2000’s, 90% of all recovery programs utilized the 12-Step method.

Although still recognized internationally, 12-Step thinking has been under scrutiny for decades.

Traditionally grounded in spirituality, one of the first steps in the 12-Step program is to surrender to a higher power. This alienated and discouraged those in the non-secular community to attempt or stay in 12-Step programs.

While 12-stepping has helped some achieve and maintain sobriety, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. With questionable effectiveness and low retention rates, those seeking recovery today are certainly looking for more options. And thanks to the Internet, help is a click away.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five alternatives to traditional 12-Step recovery programs:

Women for Sobriety

With self-help groups all over the world, Women for Sobriety (WFS) provides recovery education tailoring to the unique physical and emotional needs of women. With a primary focus on alcoholism, WFS’ New Life Program is based on 13 acceptance statements that begin with addicts admitting that their addiction is a life-threatening health issue.

By the end of the program, recovering addicts are taking responsibility for their actions and are given a new sense of independence, allowing them to take control of their lives.

Alternatives Addiction Treatment

With their main office based in Beverly Hills, Alternatives Addiction Treatment mentions a word that is rarely, if ever, used in recovery: moderation. Co-founders Dr. Marc Kern and Dr. Adi Jaffe offer a recovery plan that is tailored to the individual. They firmly believe that no single option is the answer to everyone and their addiction-related issues.

SMART Recovery

The most recognizable alternative to AA and the 12 Steps, SMART Recovery’s motto is, “discover the power of choice.”  This recovery program is based on a 4-point program that has been used to address substance abuse, and emotional and psychological addictions.

While the effectiveness of 12-Step programs have been difficult to prove, a number of publications have indirectly supported the effectiveness of the SMART Recovery program. There are also daily online meetings, a 24-hour chat room and online support groups.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety

In 1985, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) was founded by Jim Christopher, a former alcoholic. SOS, an international non-profit network, provides recovery programs for alcohol abuse, drug abuse and compulsive eating. Through empowering tools and local support groups, SOS gives credit to the individual for achieving and maintaining their sobriety.

One-On-One Sobriety Coach

Arguably the most expensive option on this list, private sobriety coaches are more commonly known in the celebrity world. However, these specialized coaches are steadily growing in popularity; they’re utilized across the country in a number of recovery scenarios.

Support during recovery is a crucial component. Particularly if the recovering addict is single, or lives in another state or country than their immediate family, hiring a private sobriety coach is an investment. From 24-hour access and care, to accompanying a recovering addict on an errand, sobriety coaches are available on a weekly, daily or even on a live-in basis.

Through this intimate form of recovery program, sobriety coaches teach new routines and practices to prevent their clients giving into temptations found in everyday social situations.

Regardless of what organization an individual with a substance/alcohol use disorder ultimately chooses, it is most important that they find a program that provides them with the foundation, guidance, motivation, and support to continue their work toward recovery.

Additional Reading: The Dos and Don’ts of a Recovery Contract


1. Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?

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