Alternatives to 12-Step Addiction Recovery Programs

Alternatives To AA 12 Step Programs

Alternatives to 12 steps of AA are becoming more and more popular as people seek out different ways to recover from addiction. While the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous have been around for a long time and is considered by many to be the gold standard of addiction recovery, there are now a number of alternatives that offer different approaches and have shown activity involvement and satisfaction levels that rival or exceed those of the Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 step program.

The Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps approach is based on the idea that addiction is a disease that can be overcome with help from a higher power. The program involves attending meetings, working the 12 steps of AA, and making amends to those you have harmed. While the program has helped many people recover from addiction, it is not right for everyone. Some people find the religious aspect of the program off-putting, while others find the structure and rules confining.1,2

There are now a number of AA alternatives that offer different approaches to addiction recovery, such as mutual help groups and alternatives like LifeRing and SMART that offer a non-secular approach to addiction treatment.3

What are the 12 Steps of AA?

The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are a set of guiding principles that help people recovering from addiction. These steps have been adapted by many in the recovery community and have helped countless individuals achieve sobriety.2

The 12 steps of AA were first developed in the 1930s by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith. These steps were based on the principles of Christianity, and they aimed to help recovering alcoholics achieve sobriety.4

It is important to note that Alcoholics Anonymous is not a recovery program. The purpose of a mutual support group is to provide individuals with the opportunity to use peer bonds, relationships with sponsors, and personal expression to achieve sobriety.3

That said, the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are:5

  1.  Acknowledging that alcohol has negatively affected your life and that you are powerless to stop it.
  2. Having faith in a higher power to restore order and sanity.
  3. Choosing to trust that higher power with your life and devoting yourself to it.
  4. Taking a fearless and honest moral inventory.
  5. Making a confession to a higher power, oneself, and a peer.
  6. Preparing oneself to be purified by a higher power.
  7. Putting your trust in a higher power to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Recognizing and rectifying all wrongs you’ve done.
  9. Whenever possible, offering direct amends to those people.
  10. Acknowledging any mistakes promptly.
  11. Connecting with the higher power through prayer and meditation.
  12. Using these cumulative steps for spiritual awakening, sharing the message, and practicing them.

What are the Benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Program?

Millions of people around the world struggle with alcohol addiction. The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is a widely-used program that helps these people get and stay sober. There are many benefits to participating in the Alcoholics Anonymous programs. These include:6

  • Peer Support: One of the most important benefits of Alcoholics Anonymous is the peer support that members receive. Participants are able to share their experiences with other people who are going through the same thing. This can be incredibly helpful in staying motivated and committed to sobriety.
  • Accountability: People who are participating in Alcoholics Anonymous are held accountable by their peers. This accountability can help to keep people on track and prevent them from relapsing.
  • Structure: The 12 Steps of AA provide a structure for recovery. This structure can be helpful in providing direction and purpose for people who are working to overcome addiction.
  • Spiritual Connection: For many people, one of the most valuable aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous is the spiritual connection that they make. The program helps people to connect with a Higher Power, which can be incredibly helpful in recovery.

Cons Of Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Steps

The 12-step program has helped many people achieve and maintain sobriety, but it is not without its shortcomings. Critics argue that AA’s program is based on religious principles, and that it does not adequately address the underlying causes of addiction. Listed below are some of the most notable criticisms.7

Lack of Conclusive Evidence

There have been many studies examining the effectiveness of its preferred 12-step approach among those who adhere to it. Although the success rates of Alcoholics Anonymous seems broad and positive, it is qualified by the fact that many participants don’t remain engaged and are therefore excluded from the studies. In general, most studies on the effectiveness of 12 steps of AA are mixed at best.6

It Is Not As Effective for Women

When assessing the influence of gender on the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous, studies have shown abstinence rates among the participants in 12 steps of AA were higher in studies which analyzed only men rather than mixed groups. This may indicate that AA involvement may not be as beneficial to women as it is to men. A possible explanation that women require a different treatment setting, including one-on-one treatment or treatment for co-occurring disorders.7

It Relies on a Specific Spiritual Belief

The Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps rely heavily on the idea of a “higher power” or God. This may be off-putting to some people, and may make it difficult for them to engage with the program. It’s also worth noting that not all members of Alcoholics Anonymous believe in a higher power, but may instead focus on the group itself as a source of support.6

Not An Empowerment Model

The 12 steps of AA can be seen as a way to take away power from the individual and give it to a higher power. This may not be empowering for some people, and may make it difficult for them to stay engaged with the program.8

What Are the Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous?

There are many alternatives to AA. Some people find that other treatment programs, therapy or self-help groups, work better. That said, there are various treatment programs aimed at helping people recover from alcohol or substance abuse, some of which are featured below.3

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery is a support group for individuals who are trying to overcome addiction. The group provides a safe and supportive environment for members to share their experiences and learn from one another. SMART Recovery offers four main principles that members can use to guide their recovery:9

  • Self-empowerment: Members of SMART Recovery take responsibility for their own recovery and do not rely on others to do it for them, which makes it one of the most popular, non-secular AA alternatives.
  • Motivation: SMART Recovery members are motivated to stay sober by their own goals and values, not by someone else’s expectations.
  • Support: Members of SMART Recovery rely on each other for support throughout the recovery process.
  • Critical thinking: Members use critical thinking skills to evaluate their own thoughts and behaviors and make healthy choices in their recovery.

Women For Sobriety

Women for Sobriety (WFS) is a national support group for women recovering from alcohol abuse. It was founded in 1976 by Jean Kirkpatrick, who was recovering from alcohol addiction at the time. The group’s stated goals are to help women overcome their addiction and build a healthy lifestyle, to provide a supportive community for women in recovery as one of the more popular alternatives to AA for women.10

The group has a number of programs and resources available to its members, including a magazine, online forums, and local meetings. The meetings offer participants an opportunity to share their experiences and connect with other women in recovery.10


LifeRing is a support group for those recovering from substance abuse. It is a non-religious, non-judgmental alternative to AA that offers a safe place for people to share their experiences and find support.11

The organization provides a safe, non-judgmental environment where you can talk about recovery with your peers in an abstinence-based, anonymous environment. LifeRing’s 3-S philosophy consists of Sobriety, Secularity, and Self-Help.11

Moderation Management

Moderation Management is a recovery group for people struggling with alcohol or drugs. The group helps participants learn how to moderate their use of these substances. This can be a difficult process, but it can be very rewarding for those who are able to stick with it. As such, it is somewhat different from the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, in that it doesn’t require abstinence.12

The Moderation Management group meets regularly to provide support and encouragement for one another. Participants share their successes and struggles, and offer advice and suggestions.12


Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) consists of non-profit, autonomous local groups, providing assistance to individuals seeking recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, food addiction and more. James Christopher founded the group in 1985, and it has facilitated sobriety in a secular setting for almost 30 years.13 

SOS does not advocate the Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 Steps or abstinence-based recovery program. Instead, it takes a harm reduction approach that is based on the principles of self-empowerment and self-reliance. SOS members are encouraged to find their own path to sobriety, whether that means attending AA meetings, getting therapy, going to outpatient treatment, or simply staying sober on their own.13 

Celebrate Recovery

Celebrate Recovery is a program that helps individuals overcome addiction and other harmful behaviors. The program is based on the principles of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. It offers fellowship and support to those who are recovering from addiction and other harmful behaviors. Celebrate Recovery is a safe place where individuals can share their experiences, strength, and hope with one another.14

The number of Celebrate Recovery churches continues to grow, with 35,000 in the world now. The group’s Step Studies have been completed by more than 5 million people to date.14

Refuge Recovery

Refuge Recovery is a program that helps people who are struggling with addiction. It is based on the principles of Buddhist philosophy, and it provides a supportive community for people who are working to recover from addiction outside of Alcoholics Anonymous. Refuge Recovery is a non-religious program, and it welcomes people of all faiths and backgrounds.15 

The program focuses on helping people to develop inner strength and clarity, and it encourages participants to work towards their own personal recovery goals. Refuge Recovery is a growing movement, and there are now chapters in many cities throughout the United States.15

Rational Recovery

Rational Recovery is a program that helps people overcome addiction. It is based on the idea that addiction is a disease, and that people can’t control their behavior. Rational Recovery teaches people how to manage their addiction through self-reliance and self-control.16 

The program has been shown to be effective in helping people overcome addiction, and it is one of the most popular AA alternatives for those who want to abstain from drugs or alcohol.16

Why Choose These Alternatives to AA?

There are many reasons why someone might choose a 12-step alternative program to traditional 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Some people may feel that the 12 steps are too religious or spiritual for their liking. Others may find the program format to be too rigid or inflexible. Still others may feel that the focus on sharing and confession is too invasive or shaming.3

Alternatives to AA like SMART Recovery and Refuge Recovery offer a more secular, flexible, and nonjudgmental approach to addiction recovery. These programs place a greater emphasis on self-empowerment and personal responsibility, and they allow participants to share their experiences in a non-confrontational setting. Alternative 12-step groups also provide support for family members and friends as well.3

If you’re considering a 12-step alternative program, it’s important to find one that feels right for you. There are many different types of AA Alternatives available, so take some time to explore your options and find the one that best meets your needs.3

Where can I Find Alternatives to AA Meetings?

There are many alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous that can help people struggling with addiction. These organizations offer peer support and guidance without the religious or spiritual aspects of traditional AA. They can be a great option for people who are not comfortable with the religious aspects of AA or who do not feel that it is a good fit for them.3 

One helpful resource in finding treatment for substance abuse is the SAMHSA treatment locator.  This website can help you find treatment centers and programs in your area that offer a variety of services, including peer support groups.17 

Another helpful treatment alternative is the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and their treatment navigator. This resource offers a variety of treatment options for those struggling with alcoholism, including telehealth and e-health programs.18

If you feel like you need a more intensive treatment approach in a safe, monitored setting, you can turn to American Addiction Centers. They offer inpatient and outpatient programs across the United States that are designed to help people struggling with addiction.

No matter what your situation, there are AA alternatives that can help you overcome addiction and get your life back on track.

How to get Help from Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous?    

If you are struggling with alcoholism or substance abuse, there are many resources available to help you. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is one well-known option, but it is not the only choice. There are many alternatives to AA that can provide the same level of support and assistance. Some of the helpful resources and alcohol abuse hotlines you can turn to include:19

  • Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
  • Find a Health Center at HRSA Data Warehouse.
  • Find Treatment at SAMHSA Treatment Locator.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Help for Veterans at

Additionally, you can reach out to the admissions navigators at American Addiction Centers.  They will help you understand all of your treatment options and costs, verify your insurance coverage and find the treatment centers and resources you need to get started on the road to recovery. With a wide variety of payment options, federal insurance for addiction treatment and several available financing methods, people can find the best inpatient treatment program for their needs. They can choose from various short-term treatment programs of up to 7 days, or longer treatment programs lasting a full month.