Alternatives To 12-Step Recovery Programs - Erin's Inside Job

Alternatives To 12-Step Recovery Programs

As you know, I’m a big proponent of 12-step programs because those are what worked for me. That being said, I know that they’re not effective for everyone, so I wanted to provide some alternatives to 12-step recovery programs so that those looking to get help can try a different approach if needed.

12-step programs are largely the most talked about and well known to the public, so it makes sense that that is where many will first turn. Even being in recovery myself for over a decade, I wasn’t aware of many of these programs, so I think it’s important to start talking about them and letting others know that there are options when looking for recovery.

The following are all secular programs, meaning that there is no spiritual or religious component. This seems to be the biggest issue with traditional 12-step formats, and these programs have eliminated that. Members are free to believe and worship as they please, but those things are not incorporated into the recovery framework. For more information and details about these alternatives, I highly suggest taking some time to explore their websites and see if they are a good fit.

A quick note: regardless of the program, if a person is unwilling to break the cycle and commit to the work necessary to recover, none of these are likely to work. You need to be ready to make a change.

Self Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery): one of the most popular alternatives to 12-step recovery programs, SMART Recovery “is a global community of people and families working together to resolve addictive problems. In our free group discussion meetings, participants learn from one another using a self-empowering approach based on the most current science of recovery.” They use a 4-point program:

  1. Building and maintaining the motivation to change.
  2. Coping with urges to use.
  3. Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in an effective way without addictive behaviors.
  4. Living a balanced, positive, and healthy life.

Meetings are led by a trained facilitator to help change behaviors so that you can go on to lead a productive and successful life. This program believes that the power to change addictive behaviors resides in each individual, therefore the focus on spirituality is made a personal choice and not one that is part of the program.

Recovery strategies are based on science and change as need be to any new scientific developments.

LifeRing Secular Recovery: founded in 2001, this is an abstinence-based recovery organization dedicated to providing a safe meeting space to experience recovery conversation with your peers. LifeRing has a “3-S” philosophy:

  1. Sobriety
  2. Secularity
  3. Self-help

Members of LifeRing believe that there are two selves: the addict self and the sober self. Meetings involve the sober self talking to other sober self members, sharing advice, information, and encouragement. There is more focus on the present and future rather than dwelling on past issues. Unlike 12-step meetings, “crosstalk” – the direct communication between members in a meeting – is encouraged in order to provide support.

Women for Sobriety (WFS): a women-only group designed to encourage emotional and spiritual growth. Some women may be drawn to this abstinence-based program because it focuses on common problems faced by women: “the need to nurture feelings of self-value and self-worth and the desire to discard feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation.” Anyone identifying as a woman is welcome in this program.

Termed the “New Life Program,” the roadmap for recovery in this organization is based on 13 Acceptance Statements. This program provides a new way of thinking for a new way of life.

Moderation Management (MM): while other recovery programs require abstinence from substances, MM has a different approach. This program also only focuses on alcohol use, so if drugs or other behaviors are an issue for you, it may not be the best fit. According to their purpose statement, MM:

is a behavioral change program and national support group network for people concerned about their drinking who desire to make positive lifestyle changes. MM empowers individuals to accept personal responsibility for choosing and maintaining their own path, whether moderation or abstinence. We promote early self-recognition of risky drinking behavior, when moderate drinking may be an achievable goal.

That being said, MM also supports abstinence if that is a person’s ultimate goal. MM does not have steps or sponsors and instead leaves it up to each individual to decide what works best for him or her. There are some moderation requirements, however, which include keeping amounts of alcohol under a certain amount and not drinking more than a certain number of days per week.


This list is not exhaustive, so if you know other alternatives to 12-step recovery programs, let me know in the comments below!

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