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How to Find the Best Non-12-Step Addiction Recovery Programs

Non-12-Step vs. 12-Step Programs

Individuals often turn to Alcoholics Anonymous or similar groups for help with addiction.

But whether you’re non-religious or are just looking for a different approach, non-12-step addiction programs are also available that may better fit your needs and beliefs.

Read on to learn more about non-12-step programs, including:

  • Reasons to choose a non-12-step program.
  • List of alternatives to 12-step programs.
  • Benefits of non-12-step programs.
  • Questions to ask about a program.

Why Seek a Non-12-Step Recovery Program?

Whether you struggle with an addiction to alcohol, drugs or both, the right recovery program can offer you a second – or even third – chance at life.

The 12-step model is a recognized approach in chemical dependency treatment. It relies on peer support and group discussion to help addicts process emotions, deal with triggers and recognize that they are not alone in their struggle.

However, the model isn’t a universal solution. What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. So don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t work for you.

Differences Between 12-Step and Non-12-Step Programs

12-Step Programs Non-12-Step Programs
Philosophy 12-Step ProgramsHave a religious or spiritual component and mention “God” in the 12 steps to recovery. Non 12-Step ProgramsTypically approach addiction from a scientific or psychological perspective.
Group vs. Individual 12-Step ProgramsHave a group mentality, in which members share experiences and help each other achieve and maintain sobriety. Generally has a sponsorship program. Non 12-Step ProgramsAlthough they have a group environment, the focus is on finding which strategy works for you and developing those skills.
Open vs. Closed Meetings 12-Step ProgramsOften have open meetings for anyone to attend, as well as some closed, in which only 12-step members or prospective members are allowed to attend. Non 12-Step ProgramsDiffer from program to program, but meetings are typically open unless listed as “closed.”
Cost 12-Step ProgramsMeetings are free to attend. The only requirement is that you wish to stop drinking or using drugs. Costs of residential treatment incorporating a 12-step philosophy will vary. Non 12-Step ProgramsMeetings are also free. Costs of residential programs using a non-12-step approach to recovery will vary.
Length of Treatment 12-Step ProgramsDon’t have a set length of treatment. Some people attend meetings for a few months while others attend for life. Standard length of residential treatment programs with 12-step components will vary – typically 30, 60 or 90 days. Non 12-Step ProgramsIn terms of meeting attendance, these are similar to 12-step programs in that there is no set period of membership. Non-12-step residential recovery programs have varying treatment lengths.
Confidentiality 12-Step ProgramsAre completely confidential and will never reveal your identity or personal information. Non 12-Step ProgramsAlso take confidentiality very seriously and will never divulge your identity or personal information.
Family Support 12-Step ProgramsTypically have support groups for families such as Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. Non 12-Step ProgramsSMART Recovery has a support group designed to support families and friends of addicted individuals.
Treatment Approach 12-Step ProgramsRequire that you complete a series of 12 steps based on powerlessness and embracing God or a higher power. The approach has no scientific basis, but it has helped many. Non 12-Step ProgramsUse evidence-based, scientific approaches to treat addiction and constantly evolve as scientific knowledge evolves.

Alternatives to 12-Step Addiction Recovery Programs

Non-12-Step Rehab Centers

woman maintaing balance in a non-12-step recovery program Non-12-step drug and alcohol rehabs include inpatient and outpatient programs. They design customized treatment plans that are flexible and based on your individual situation, including whether you have any co-occurring mental health disorders. They may also use holistic treatments such as yoga, massage, nutrition programs, vitamin therapy and exercise programs.

Non-12-step addiction treatment centers do not view addiction as a lifelong disease. Their focus is on self-empowerment and finding what motivates you to get clean and sober. At some of these centers, you play an active role in designing your own recovery program.

These rehab centers base their model on the most up-to-date research on addiction treatment. Often, this includes using evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT). CBT focuses on the actions, thought patterns and behaviors that led to your addiction.

SMART Recovery

Self Management and Recovery Training, or SMART Recovery, emphasizes a 4-point system that is based on scientific knowledge about addiction. The points address:

  • Staying motivated.
  • Dealing with urges.
  • Managing behavior and thought appropriately.
  • Living in a balanced manner.

The main focus of SMART Recovery is that of empowerment and self-reliance. It involves encouragement and support, while educating you on up-to-date scientific research concerning addiction.

This program guides you to make a positive change in your life and can help people with all kinds of addictions such as alcohol and drug addiction, gambling addiction, sex or porn addiction or any other behavioral addictions. SMART Recovery has in-person meetings worldwide as well as online daily meetings and 24-hour chatrooms.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety

Secular Organizations for Sobriety, or S.O.S., was created in 1985 and has helped thousands of people recover from addiction. This anonymous program welcomes people from religious and non-religious backgrounds alike and is focused on empowerment of the individual.

S.O.S. has no fees or hidden costs to join. Like SMART Recovery, this program uses a scientific approach to addiction and does not limit itself to one addiction theory.

Women for Sobriety

As the name suggests, Women for Sobriety (WFS) is a support group devoted to treating women suffering from substance addictions. 1 WFS uses a 13-statement program that focuses on:

  • Positivity.
  • Happiness.
  • Responsibility.
  • Love.
  • Emotional and spiritual growth.

It is empowering and encourages women to take control of their lives through positive self-talk and appreciation of the life they’ve been given.

LifeRing Secular Recovery

LifeRing Secular Recovery welcomes people from different backgrounds and belief systems who suffer from an addiction to drugs or alcohol. 2 Similar to S.O.S. and SMART Recovery, LifeRing’s focus is on learning, personal growth and empowerment.

This non-12-step program acknowledges that each person’s experience with addiction will be different and will require a unique approach to recovery. Members develop and fine-tune their own recovery plans, then share them with one another.

Web-Based Recovery Support

Although Internet-based support groups are not a replacement for in-person drug or alcohol addiction treatment, they can play an important role in sustained recovery.

Benefits of Web-based support groups and recovery programs include:

  • 24-hour access.
  • Ability to connect with people worldwide.
  • The chance to participate in discussions anonymously.

Anonymity does mean that others in the group may not be as honest or appropriate as individuals in a physical group setting, so be aware of scams or other questionable behavior.

If you are looking for online chats or general support from those who are also struggling with addiction, has a thriving recovery community. Forums on websites dedicated to recovery also offer a place to communicate with those who can understand what you are going through and offer advice.

Individual Recovery Coach or Counselor

Individual counseling with a board-certified substance abuse counselor may be more comfortable for people hesitant about sharing with a group. One-on-one counseling entails a charge unless you can find a local volunteer program that offers such services for free. Community centers, churches and addiction-awareness organizations may provide discounted or free individual counseling sessions. Additionally, your insurance policy may cover all or part of the costs of counseling. You may also want to consider peer recovery programs. Much like a 12-step sponsor, peers in such programs provide you with someone to reach out to when you need to talk and an understanding person who can motivate you for continued success.

Benefits of Non-12-Step Programs

Non-12-step programs offer many benefits that 12-step programs do not. These benefits include but aren’t limited to:

  • Using evidence-based practices developed according to recent scientific and psychological research.
  • Not requiring that you believe in God or a higher power.
  • Focusing on self-empowerment and self-reliance, as opposed to powerlessness.
  • Updating treatment practices to adapt to new knowledge in the field of addiction.
  • Providing scientific and addiction education to members.

Questions to Ask About a Program

older gentleman inquiring about non-12-step-recoveryWhen you seek out a non-12-step addiction recovery program, look for one that is based on science, research or proven medicine. As previously mentioned, there are numerous non-12-step rehab and recovery programs with well-tested backgrounds.

Ask questions about a program before you join in order to determine whether or not it is a methodology-backed recovery program.

Some questions to ask include:

  • Is there a structure, formula or process the program expects you to follow?
  • Is group therapy or discussion involved? Who leads it?
  • What is expected of you during discussions?
  • Will there be an opportunity for you to connect with a counselor on a one-on-one basis?
  • Will you meet other addicts in the program?
  • Does the program pair recovering addicts up for support?
  • What does the program offer if you experience an extreme urge to use?

These types of questions will help you understand whether or not the group or individual environment is right for you. Follow-up and consistent support are important components of any program. Although you can’t expect any non-residential recovery program to keep tabs on you at all hours, having a fallback during emergencies can help keep you from having a relapse.

Learning About Options

The programs listed above are just a few non-12-step alcohol and drug recovery programs; depending on where you live, you can find numerous other resources. Some people to contact about possible recovery programs in your area include:

  • Your medical doctor.
  • Volunteers in a community organization offering recovery information or programs.
  • Discharge staff in the residential recovery program you attended.
  • Your therapist or counselor.

You can also search for information online and on bulletin boards in medical facilities and community centers. Staff at local hospitals, medical centers and government health offices may also be able to provide information or phone numbers for treatment centers in your area.

Take Action Today

Call our hotline at to find out about non-12-step recovery programs.

Seeking assistance in any form is essential to recovery. When you are struggling, simply surrounding yourself with others who are in the same situation as you can provide the understanding and motivation you need to make it through another day.

[1]. Women for Sobriety, Inc. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2016, from

[2]. LifeRing Secular Recovery. (n.d.). Retrieved January 13, 2016, from