The 12-Step program, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous and other such groups, is certainly the largest and most popular support group for people in recovery from addiction. That’s at least partially due to the age of the program – the first 12-Step program, Alcoholics Anonymous, was founded in 1935, at a time when there were few effective treatments for addiction. Since then, AA and its offshoot groups have helped countless people overcome addiction for the long haul.
But the 12-Steps aren’t for everyone. Some people feel uncomfortable with the method’s religious overtones, especially those who aren’t members of the Christian faith. Others may simply fail to identify with the core message of the 12-Steps. Tom Horvath, PhD and president of SMART Recovery, a 12-Step alternative, believes that, while the 12-Step program encourages people to surrender control of their lives to an external higher power, some people do better in addiction recovery if they instead feel empowered to beat addiction by learning how to regain control of their lives.
“Rather than thinking they have lost control of their lives because they have a disease, these individuals want to learn how to build motivation, control craving, resolve their underlying problems, and move on with creating meaningful and purposeful lives,” Horvath writes in The Huffington Post.
It’s true that when it comes to recovery support groups, 12-Step meetings are the easiest to find. The sheer size of the program means that no matter where you are in the world, from the tiniest town to the biggest city, you’re almost guaranteed to find a 12-Step meeting if you feel the need to draw on peer support. But you don’t have to rely on the 12-Step program entirely.
Thanks to the Internet, access to 12-Step alternative groups through discussion boards, social media and virtual meetings has expanded, and more and more addiction treatment programs are encouraging recovering addicts to explore these options. Some of the most popular 12-Step alternative groups include Women for Sobriety (WFS), Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), SMART Recovery and LifeRing.
Women for Sobriety
One of the oldest 12-Step alternative groups, Women for Sobriety (WFS) was founded in 1976 as a secular alternative to 12-Step groups for women. Sociologist Jean Kirkpatrick founded this group to meet the special needs recovering women encounter.
Through WFS, recovering women can discover and learn to use the tools they need to nurture self-esteem and feelings of self-worth, and let go of feelings of shame and guilt. The group emphasizes emotional and spiritual growth, as well as letting go of the past in order to focus on living in the moment and looking forward to the future. The principles of WFS can be combined with those of other support groups.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety
Secular Organizations for Sobriety, or SOS, was founded in 1986 as an alternative to the 12-Step program. SOS concerns itself primarily with the promotion of sobriety and the teaching of strategies for abstinence among its members. Members are encouraged to make abstinence their top priority, and to lean on one another for emotional and moral support in achieving this goal.
With more than 1,000 meetings around the world, SMART Recovery is perhaps the largest 12-Step alternative group. Founded in 1994, the group teaches a four-point program that relies on maintaining the recovering addict’s motivation to stay sober; teaching coping skills to resist cravings and urges; managing emotions, behaviors and thoughts in a rational manner; and striking a healthy balance between delayed and instant gratification. The program relies on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) motivational interviewing and other evidence-based treatment methods to help members overcome all kinds of addictions, including behavioral or process addictions like gambling and sex addiction.
Established in 2001, LifeRing is most popular in California, especially in the Bay Area, although there are more than 175 meetings worldwide. LifeRing bases its philosophy on the three S’s: sobriety, secularity and self-help. Emphasis is placed on members’ ability to achieve sobriety through their own efforts and by maintaining their motivation to stay sober.
If you don’t feel like you fit in to the 12-Step program, you’re not alone. While the 12-Step program is the oldest, biggest and most well-known support group available to recovering addicts, it’s by no means the only one. Alternative programs tend to emphasize member empowerment and the importance of staying committed to sobriety. If you can’t find a 12-Step alternative meeting in your area, you may be able to connect with one of these groups online.