Some options and alternatives to AA and 12 Step, in Alcohol and Addiction recovery.

Some options and alternatives to AA and 12 Step in Alcohol and Addiction recovery.

I do actually feel sorry for anyone trying to establish a more modern type of Alcoholic or Addiction support group, these days, because the area has been saturated by AA or other 12 step groups, which have achieved longevity compared to any of the temperance methods that preceded them and have had 50 years to establish themselves, before less faith-based and more self empowering solutions were started. It has been difficult to set up other groups, in any way near the same numbers, and most people have not even heard of them, such is the dominance of AA and the 12 Step model.Drunk girl

I went to AA for about 18 months, having stopped drinking just before my first meeting and looking for a way to stay stopped. I was not aware of alternatives at that point as I had not done enough research and I found AA to be rather curious place, with its mixture of sharing, dogma, readings and religious rituals. I did get a lot of support in my early days that was helpful, from a surprising wide range of people, but there were also a few who wished to push their ideology and control. There were many core beliefs that clashed with my own and I have covered them elsewhere on this site. I went to meetings in UK and USA and found the simple  suburban meetings, were more helpful than the more city central meetings that can be quite large and cult like.

I did find being in a fellowship where people had a common aim was useful, although the faith-based methods can cause people problems, especially due to the repetition of readings of things such as chapter 5 of the Big Book, which can result in many, trying to believe in something they would normally find irrational. Some people go through a type of religious conversion that they do not really want, and then feel they have been brain washed. other aspects of the program such as step 4 can pile on the guilt with similar problems to those faced by members of the Catholic faith. Some members thrive in the AA environment and are very evangelical about pushing it on everyone, after the steps have become a core part of their life. I decided that I wished to move on and after some great treatment, that was not 12 step based, I have moved away from formal recovery groups for the last 6 years, but have stayed engaged with recovery via the web, and through a small number of close friends that I keep in touch with. I have met more as a result of starting this blog, and read a lot about the subject, as well as trying to lead a healthy lifestyle. A lot of the methods that I have found to be helpful are discussed in the Stanton Peele and Ilse Thompson book “Recover”. I guess I am trying to point out that I did not simply depart AA and do nothing, and expect everything to be fine.


In the last century, attending the most well-known support group AA, which had its methods adopted by the professional treatment industry, became perceived as a requirement  of successful recovery, especially in the USA. As research in the area of addiction has progressed, it has been established that no one program is useful for everyone. people are individuals and have different needs. Some people do better with a method that does not involve a spiritual component, some do best with a self empowering solution. People generally do better when they can make an informed judgement of which support group they become part of, if any.

Some people find that a combination of approaches helps them. Smart Recovery recognises this in its handbook, which is an excellent starting place if you want to find out more about self empowerment. For example Smart may give you the tools to deal with triggers and build greater self-esteem, while attending the generally more accessible AA meetings may be helpful as a way of engaging in doing something different to drinking for a while and meeting people face to face with a common aim. It would give you a broad insight into which solution would be more suitable long-term, or if withdrawing from a support group in time would be a good idea.

 Anti AA views.

Many people who have major problems with and hate AA, spent a long time there following a path that was unsuitable for them. They had not found out about alternative methods that would have been more suitable for their needs, until many years later. This is a problem that can happen if you only look at one type of support group, such as AA, which has a number of people who are vocal about saying things such as “you will die if you leave”. Driving attendance by fear is not always helpful! These Anti-AA people generally have only a negative message to give on sites such as the Fix, rather than writing about good methods to recover. This divides recovery groups, and does not really achieve much other than causing arguing and bad feeling. If you want to stop people going to AA, you need to give them a better alternative that is equally accessible and that is being acknowledged in the mainstream press.

Other methods do not have the funding or infrastructure to publicise their existence, and so do not reach as many people as they could potentially help. I never see leaflets for Smart or others in my local hospital or Doctors, yet I always see a poster for AA.

Alternative methods to AA.

Here is a list of alternative methods, and I would point out that although many of the methods I have listed do not have anything like the number of “face to face” meetings that AA offers, they do have online meetings and I see this as a really important way forward for many. I am actually getting involved with some of these groups, in the limited free time that I have, but am not in a position to get heavily involved because of the way I work, these days. Addiction and alcoholism can be really destructive and I am glad that there are a variety of solutions out there to help people. I found this list on the Smart website which encourages people to explore a variety of options and is a modern method for recovery.


The Sinclair Method.

The Sinclair Method is a treatment for alcoholism based on the use of opiate antagonists, such as naltrexone or nalmefene. It differs from other treatment in that patients use the drug while continuing to drink. Dr. John David Sinclair has found this treatment to be more effective in reducing overall alcohol use by addicts than in asking them to try to achieve abstinence, even when combined with naltrexone and psychosocial counseling. The Sinclair Method, specifically, has been adopted in Finland as a standard treatment protocol for alcohol dependence.

Naltrexone and others have been shown to create pharmacological extinction of addiction, resulting in a decrease in the craving for alcohol over time, but is less successful in achieving abstinence. Supported by studies in the early 1990s, naltrexone was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1994 in the United States for treatment of alcohol dependence.


 Smart Recovery

SMART Recovery® SMART (Self Management and Recovery Training) is the leading self-empowering addiction support group. SMART participants learn tools for recovery based on the latest scientific research. SMART provides a 4-Point Program: 1. Building and Maintaining Motivation; 2. Coping with Urges; 3. Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors; and 4. Living a Balanced life. Tools include Stages of Change, Change Plan Worksheet, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Hierarchy of Values, ABCs of REBT for Urge Coping and Emotional Upsets, DISARM (Destructive Imagery and Self-talk Awareness & Refusal Method), Role-playing and Rehearsing , Brainstorming, and more. Tools can be found on their website.


Women For Sobriety(WFS)

Women for Sobriety (WFS) is the first and only self-help program accounting for the special problems women have in recovery, specifically the need for feelings of self-value and self-worth, and the need to expatiate feelings of guilt and humiliation. Their purpose is to help all women with addiction through the discovery of self, gained by sharing experiences, hopes and encouragement with other women in similar circumstances. The “New Life” Acceptance Program includes thirteen statements to aid those participating in the program, and can be found on their website.



Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Ourselves SOS takes a self-empowerment approach to recovery, and addresses sobriety (abstinence) as “Priority One, no matter what!” The program credits the individual for achieving and maintaining his/her own sobriety, and respects recovery in any form. There are six suggested guidelines for sobriety, including “Sobriety is our priority”, and “We are each responsible for our lives and our sobriety”. The others can be found on their website.



LifeRing LifeRing offers sober, secular self-help to abstain from alcohol and non-medically-indicated drugs by “relying on our own power and the support of others”. The program operates according to the “3S” Philosophy: 1. Sobriety, 2. Secularity, 3. Self-Help. Meetings are friendly, confidential, non-judgmental gatherings of peers, and the atmosphere is relaxed, practical and positive.


Moderation Management

Moderation Management Moderation Management (MM) offers education, behavioural change techniques and peer support for problem drinkers seeking to decrease their drinking — whether to moderate levels or to total abstinence. MM offers a variety of behavioural methods for change, guidelines for responsible drinking, and tools to measure progress. The program follows 9 Steps Toward Moderation and Positive Lifestyle Changes which can be found on their website.


Commenting area

  1. I like your positive approach. Being Anti-AA in itself is not always helpful and we certainly need to focus on solutions rather than problems. For me, realizing just how much AA negatively affected me and how it isolates and scares people away from other solutions was crucial, though.

  2. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Tom. I do agree that AA can have a negative effect, especially if you get heavily into the steps and it contradicts your normal beliefs. Also something like step type confession, can harm a sensitive person. AA was designed for low bottom drunks after prohibition, not treatment for everyone in modern times.

    I do think that being in a group with a common aim for a while can really help people. There are good and bad things to the sponsorship side of things. People make very poor decisions while drinking and in early recovery, so some guidance and new rules can be helpful, but not complete control as some seem to want to do.
    I think we all have a responsibility to get on with recovery and if one method is not suitable, then try another. There is information out there, but I did not really search at first.

    I can see why people can be AA critical if they have had a bad experience, I had this myself, but I am suspicious when they say they hate every aspect. A lot of people on anti AA sites are really extreme and seem to just want to claim there is nothing good about AA. I do not think this is true and I do not think it is a cult as is often claimed. I find the cult claim is often followed by a statement saying 95% leave in their first year which seems a bit of a contradiction. It is not a great example of a cult if that is true. It is helpful to know where AA came from and some of its history to get things in perspective. However it does have prayer and rituals, and some crazy people with influence, which can give some groups a cult like appearance.

    Addiction is a hard thing to beat and not everyone does well in a support group. The group dynamics are not always good and some meetings that have strict dogmatic values can have a bad influence on others in the area. I do think that AA could be made safer and many agree, but change is often blocked. Massive on tried hard to change things, especially for women, but met a lot of resistance. She is now making a video that will hopefully highlight many issues. AA has some crazy members, and can be quite an unhealthy environment to stay in long term, but it is not as bad overall, as some people try to make us believe.

    There are some very screwed up people in anti AA groups, who try to get a feeling of empowerment by trolling recovery sites and by posting tons of negative comments about AA. They do not achieve much other than getting wound up. AA is so huge that it can absorb most criticism, without bothering to change, and this is another problem, especially with a group that has a religious side.

    I do wish people in AA would do more to embrace other groups that may help people. If they did this they would be really helping people. A couple of people did talk to me about non AA things that would help, but generally people stick to the AA script, and this can hold many back.

  3. I definitely did like to see the people. That was the best part about it for me, and it almost worked fine once I realized I could do better if I didn’t take the steps very seriously.

    But at that point, I had nothing valid to say in a meeting. I didn’t want to call myself an alcoholic anymore, which after daily meetings and intense study I came to associate with ‘selfish, dishonest, powerless, insane, defective, etc’, so I stopped raising my hand at all. In the beginning I shared every time, because I trusted that that’s what I was supposed to do. But it didn’t work, and I just got more and more depressed because I was either saying that I failed, or trying to pretend that it worked. I didn’t want to share my experience anymore, because I knew my beliefs weren’t acceptable.

    It got to the point where I couldn’t get through the introduction part ‘constitutionally incapable of being honest’. I would leave and go directly to the liquor store. I also had more and more anxiety in the meetings, especially the ones where it was clear that I might get called on. When I realized that I may get called on randomly, I would immediately leave, or if they were calling on people in order, I’d stay until it was almost my turn. Near the end, I once had such a real panic attack in a meeting that they took me to the ER, and presented me to the hospital as ‘detoxing’, even though I had been sober for 3 weeks. I really believe now that I just felt so uncomfortable and crazy in those meetings that that’s why my body was panicking.

    The very last meeting I went to was after I got sober for two months and then started drinking again after talking to someone who said I might want to go drink until I believed. So then I came back, and everyone knew that I had been doing well and then had some problems. I got such a thunderous applause, which was nice, obviously well-intentioned, but so awkward for me that I never went back.

    There are a few things that people said to me (in private) in the two years that just planted a seed about what was not quite right. One guy told me, “You’re not going to DIE if you have a drink”. I hadn’t really noticed that I was indeed being told, quite often, that I would die if I didn’t get with the program.

  4. Also, it was a full year of getting worse and worse before I realized that that there were other approaches (specifically SMART) and started looking into them. I also started getting professional help, which took me about a year to realize was almost all 12-step based and was only costing me more for the same results.

    Sites like yours that compile all the options took me another few months or so to find (because I never thought of googling ‘I hate AA’ until I really felt that way). I agree, AA could help a lot more people if they simply mentioned the other programs.

  5. It is really confusing when we first try to stop drinking, and people naturally tend to go to AA as it is the most accessible for most. I was actually advised by somebody who had a broad minded approach to try a counselor who was not 12 step based, who gave me a lot of good advice and who then put me in touch, with a suitable psychotherapist who built on her work and really helped me. I thought this was expensive at the time but on reflection I realise that this was much more cost effective and helpful than the standard rehab treatment, and I am glad that I went this way. I have read a couple of Lance Dodes Books recently and am reading his third, and I am finding them a real eye opener on the subject.

    I do think that AA often turns people off recovery, especially the faith based and powerless message, but for others, the support side can be helpful, especially if they are living rough or do not have friends or family. It is important to take a step back at times to work out the best way to do our own recovery, and looking at alternative methods can really help this.

    • What about online versions of LifeRing or SMART Recovery? Might these be viable options for people who only have AA/NA F2F groups in their area.

  6. Lost Angel July 11, 2014 at 7:16 am · · Reply

    Are there support groups for family members emotionally disconnected because of NA’s teaching of selfishness is the only way?

  7. I’m not sure if there is a group that is specific for the problem that you have, as I have just read your other post. Alanon is 12 step based and will probably not be what would help you in this situation. Perhaps look for some counselling service that is non 12 step that may be able to give you some good advice.

  8. Does anyone know if there are face to face support groups or on-line chat for people wanting to leave AA?

  9. I don’t know of any formal chat groups specifically for this but I was emailed about this by somebody else and would be happy to set something up if there was a demand for it. Smart has online meetings but the HAMs network has chat meetings which may help you

  10. I have been attending AA meetings for about a year now. What I find more often than not is that my view points are somewhat … unpopular … because I talk about how I made a choice to stop drinking and that I continue to choose to not drink. I like to point out that step 1 says, “… admitted we were powerless over alcohol …” (notice the past tense there) and that by choosing not to drink, I have reclaimed my own power over it. Needless to say, this is not something that goes over well. I have other views as well, just as unpopular. I’d like to be able to discuss these views with others who may (or may not) share them. I’d just like to be able to talk about things and not have to deal with the “spirituality” end of things.

    I think that a chat group for like-minded people would be great.

    • lifering meetings are structured like this (see You seem like the kind of person who might be willing to start a lifering meeting in your area if one isn’t already there. Please let us know how it goes.

  11. I will try and put a separate thread up on here linked to the top menu bar that allows people to just talk about anything. If it got popular then I can put in a proper chat room but they can be a bit tricky to moderate. I will try to do this in the next few days. I had similar issues when I went to AA when I mentioned that I was not interested in the spiritual things. There is also the site that has chat. It is aimed at women but there are a sizeable amount of male members.

  12. I have put a general chat section in and will make it a bit better in a few days. You can talk about anything there.

  13. Thank you for having a place to come and feel connected with other like minded folks I just left AA again I am 16 years sober 14 years without AA . I recently went back to to help with my anxiety and depression due to my stepsons addiction. I found a nice community of people in teh rooms, but I never felt like I belonged. I waas constantly reminded of how I was dry for all those years. Even by people with 2-3 years of sobriety ha! After 9 months I was questioning my program . My shares were filled with jargon and I did not feel I was getting the steps again honestly.The straw that broke the Camels back was a recent convention when my Grand Sponsor turned and said to me you created a whole new misery for yourself those 14 years dry. That woke me up to this just is not working again. The steps seemed funny to me and I could not take them seriously any more outdated and fear based. Just wanted to share my feeling I’m not afraid but would be willing to check out other alternatives like Smart and Life ring. Thanks Lovinglife52

  14. Thank you so much for your helpful site, I am trying to leave, after nearly three years I have had adequate time to realize AA is not for me. I need something more empowering and find the control aspect disturbing, many guru types assuming superiority over others. I have never formally gone through all the steps and the fear and confession based philosophy never sat well with me. I have struggled to meet others who have much empathy or humility too.

  15. Thanks for commenting Julie. I started comparing people in AA to those in the real world and started to find them rather quaint. There are certainly those out to control. I think a lot of people feel the same way and move on after a while.
    I no longer use a support group, but there are many alternatives out there and some have a good online presence. I found reading a lot of books with different opinions really helped me. There are quite a few listed here
    Good luck!

  16. I am so glad I found this site! I recently left AA after thirteen years. I got sobriety in it but I also relapsed several times. I became aware that I needed some other method to cope with life and it’s challenges. I left after being bullied and pursued by 13 steppers. Unfortunately AA is very small and closed here, it’s not large and varied like in the developed world. It also has a lot of sociopathic characters. I more comfortable with SMART concepts, I am trying to read their site, but I am getting drunk. I still have the fear of having walked away from AA. I when I first went to AA I was desparate and drinking very heavily. AA did grant me support and sobriety. AA Helped me get my life back, but it got to a point where I could see no purpose in my attendance anymore. I am currently in a spiral of angry negativity about AA. I am reading these blogs to get a more realistic about AA and move on to a constructive way. I am glad there are alternatives, I had never heard of them.

  17. Hello Liz, thanks for leaving a comment. Good luck with finding a solution that works better for you. I think it is a good idea to try several methods to see what works and be prepared to change if circumstances dictate.
    I like the Smart approach and have included a couple of new posts about it on the blog page. They also have a great handbook, which is also available on kindle.
    Hams reduction is also a good concept as it does help you stay safe if you are not ready or do not want to stop drinking completely. Both methods have online groups and the Smart community is growing.
    There is also which is a great online community for those attempting an alcohol free life, where bloggers support eachother in a helpful safe environment. There are many ways to recover nd quite a few books on the subject which I found helpful, and I put some of them in the books section.
    I hope things go well in the future.

  18. Any chance AA can be reformed from within. In particular, with the rule “No cross talk” governing the discussion and sharing portion of the meetings, AA/NA bears an unfortunate resemblance to a cult, i.e. members are not allowed to assert their mature autonomy and care (and therefore a pathological dependency to the leader is fostered.). I think it’s this rule as much as the religious nature of the 12 steps themselves that turns people off. My reform would start with eliminating this rule. BTW, LifeRing F2F meetings are essentially sharing around the group with other members describing how they handled the issue at hand. The supportive give and take works quite well and is much more on point than “Working the steps”. I’m convinced “working the steps” has implied in it that addiction is primarily a moral failure and not a brain syndrome.

  19. Teen Challenge has worked very well for many.

  20. the first fear that I have to get over to be able to leave meetings is the idea that without them my sobriety is tenuous at best. (I actually go to NA, but I’m just going to say sobriety because it’s easier.)

    also, I feel like I care about my life and that I want to improve the things that I do poorly and have had huger successes than I’d ever have expected due to learning my own value system , but I have this irrational fear that I will slide back into old behaviors, that life will suck, and I can see how this is indoctrination, yet it does have a hold on me. the god thing is not a big issue for me, because I envision an internal or eternal force or something vague, but have never found it essential to my recovery program. I guess I fear that the lack of community and accountability of the rooms and of the ideal of stepwork/ study is too much to risk by leaving. anyone have any comments that might help?

    • Hi Tony,
      it is certainly not a decision to be taken lightly, and when I walked away I was being supported by a non 12 step therapist. I think it was the sense of community and accountability that helped me (and most people in AA) to be honest, rather than the spirtitual side and the steps. If you still want to go to a support group, Smart is more CBT based than AA or NA and I preferred it although it never seems to have the sense of community that AA manages.
      I found reading as mucha s possible about different solutions helped me and there are many helpful books in my book section I found it helpful to realise that AA would still be there if I wanted to go back, and that as I had proved to myself I could stop once, I could do it again. Leaving a support group is a really personal choice and should only really be done when there is another form of support in place, unless one feels that they have really beaten addiction, and has no cravings or temptation to go back to using. Perhaps you could try cutting down meetings for a while and see how you feel, especially if you find other things to do in the time you would spend there.
      I felt that after a whiole it was my changes in lifestyle, and taking part in more positive activities that were keeping me sober and not meetings. That was my experience and we are all different.
      Good luck with everything, I hope it works out.

      • AA needs to be reformed from within. It needs to become much more like Life Ring. First step: allow for “crosstalk” so people can learn what medical and other interventions might help them. Second step: Make the 12 steps available but optional.

        • Hi Edward, I think AA would be improved by more emphasis on group support and less on the steps. It used to be like that but has changed over the last 30 years, probably after the influence of rehabs putting people through the steps straight away.

          • I agree completely. Eliminating the ban on “crosstalk” would be a good start, as it would free the group up to be primarily a support group based on empathy and the shared goal of sobriety.

    • Yes….check out Lifering and SMART Recovery, including on line forms….

      • This brings up another issue…. the fellowship with others, I do enjoy…. SMART always seems a bit self-interested and then we leave… no camaraderie. But I will still try more meetings…

        • I sometimes think the camaraderie is the most important thing in support groups. That is really what I went for after a while.I do think that Smart recovery has some good ideas and is much more up to date than AA. I do like the CBT approach and that really helped. You can always go to both type of group for a while and make use of the things that help from each.

          • Thanks for everyone’s kind ideas. The camaraderie matters to me. It’s why I still do some 12 step meetings.

            I am a health professional in recovery, and some recent inspiration has started me thinking of holding a meeting for other health professionals in recovery, WITHOUT an AA focus. Like a seminar type thing, talk about relapse prevention or finding a niche in your own recovery, etc. An actual support group with mutually shared focus, and if you want to become a better person or spiritual, fine, but it’s your choice and it’s a small part of overall recovery… that kind of thing.

            I am shocked how many recovering health professionals just go to AA (though many were drug addicts specifically). I go to NA now, as well as another 12 step fellowship. I can’t stand AA’s literature and readings… constitutionally incapable of being honest? How is that humble, Bill? What do you know about others’ minds?


            I really appreciate your input, thanks again… this is not an easy thing to deprogram

          • Personally I find LifeRing very helpful. It’s F2F meetings are organized around people giving updates from their week, with help in maintaining sobriety solicited from the other participants. I’ve not tried their online groups, but at the very least you might consider checking out At your level of functioning you might seriously consider starting a F2F LifeRing meeting in your area. Let people at the local AA meetings about the new approach to sobriety support available to them.

  21. I think a lot of people are initially drawn to AA as that is all they have heard of. that was certainly the case with me. AA has a massive amount of meetings compared to other groups and so people do think it is the best even though this may not be true and aspects of the program clash with a persons beliefs. It would be good to get a wider range of groups going, and more online as well. There is certainly a need for some different approaches as many simply give up recovery when they decide AA is not for them.

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