Alternatives to 12 Step Programs

Clinically Reviewed by Linda Whiteside, LPCC

Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson, MD

Alternatives to 12 Step Programs: What is right for you?

Table of Contents

If you are new to recovery, you no doubt have been told the importance of sober support groups. Depending on who you ask 12 step based recovery programs are the way to go while others may prefer a different approach or alternatives to 12 Step Programs. Choosing a program that is right for you is a crucial component to long-term recovery. These programs provide a network of recovering peers, sponsors, and other mentors and the tools and support needed for you to get and stay sober. 

12 Step Program or an Alternative Addiction Recovery Program?

Finding out which one is right for you

While 12-step groups such as AA and NA get the lion’s share of attention and have a ton of success stories, those groups may not address all of your personal needs. The truth is there are a variety of self-help groups available to those in recovery—and spending some time exploring what works best for you is an important part of recovery.

Below is an overview of some of the types of recovery programs that exist with a basic glimpse of what they are based on and what they can offer you. Attending a variety of meetings while you are new in recovery will help guide your decision on what will work best for you long term. There can be a lot of variation in the style and feel from one group to the next, even when they are based on the same philosophy. Getting out there and doing some exploring is the best place to start.

12-Step Support Groups

By far the most common and widely utilized sober support group systems are 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). SO what are 12 step programs? In 12-step groups, it is believed that the root of addiction is moral and spiritual in nature. For one to find true recovery, it is believed they must surrender to a power greater than themselves. The way in which a recovering addict can repair their relationships with themselves, others and their “Higher Power” is through regular meetings and working the 12 Steps outlined in the program.
12-Step programs are most commonly used in treatment facilities nationwide and have helped countless numbers of addicts find sobriety. 

However, the spiritual and moral nature associated with these programs can turn people away. 12-Step programs have their roots in the understanding of addiction from the 1930’s when there were little or no studies done regarding the complexity of addiction; however, the effectiveness and philosophy of the program has stood the test of time. While these groups have adopted the thought that a higher power doesn’t have to be God or another deity, there are those in recovery who may choose to seek another program.

What Addiction Recovery Groups are Available to Me?

If you feel that a 12-step group may not be for you, it doesn’t mean that you can’t find the support you need. Within the last 40 years, non-12-step support groups have been created to provide an alternative for those seeking recovery.

Alternatives to 12 Step Programs

SMART Recovery

The SMART Recovery program was founded in the mid-1990’s. It is a non-profit organization whose philosophy is that change occurs from within the individual and not so reliant on a higher power. The way people can change addictive behaviors through this program is based on four main principles:

1. Building and Maintaining Motivation

2. Coping with Urges and Cravings

3. Manage Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

4. Using tools to help achieve balance

Unlike 12-step meetings, SMART Recovery meetings foster an environment where people can freely communicate with each other. Additionally, people can utilize online meeting forums as well as the traditional meeting groups.

Life Process Program

The Life Process Program was developed by Dr. Stanton Peele in reaction to traditional 12-step programs like AA and NA. This program is unique in the fact that it is online-based only. The core philosophy of the Life Process Program is that people themselves have the ability to change addictive behaviors WITHOUT the use of support groups. Like SMART Recovery, the Life Process Program is based on four principles:

  1. Values and purpose
  2. Motivation
  3. The building of life-skills and rewards
  4. The repairing, restoring and building of relationships and community

This program was initially utilized for luxury rehabs. It is now available as an online course where people can receive real-time coaching either by telephone or online. The main tool used in Life Process training is the building of healthy life skills which promotes self-worth and purpose.

Harm Reduction Therapy

Another alternative to 12 Step program is the harm reduction approach. This approach is controversial in the fact those to espouse harm reduction don’t necessarily feel that people who struggle with abuse need drug treatment. Harm reduction programs attempt to meet the addict or alcoholic “where they are at”. These programs attempt to help those in need find resources to minimize the risk of overdose. Harm reduction programs also recognize the fact that some people do not want to stop using drugs and/or alcohol, or are unwilling to accept treatment.

Obviously, this approach is very controversial. While some programs may see moderation or reduction as the best option in certain circumstances, harm reduction programs take it the step further.

Women in Sobriety

For women who are struggling to find sobriety, Women in Sobriety is a self-help group that is designed for their unique recovery needs. Formed in the mid-1970’s, the group operates on a unique set of principles called the Thirteen Acceptance Agreements, these principles mirror the 12 Steps and focus on empowerment as well as emotional and spiritual growth. Group meetings are designed to be small with 6 to 10 members. These small groups foster a deeper sense of community, safety, and well-being.

What is Right for You?

As stated earlier, your recovery isn’t a one size fits all proposition. While it may involve a fair amount of trial and error, you need to be fearless in finding the support group that will be the best fit for your specific needs. If you are looking for treatment, you need to find a facility that offers you a wide variety of options, alternatives to 12 step programs and expert support that empowers you to change. With one phone call to NuView Integrative Recovery Center, you can accomplish just that.

Our expert team of addiction professionals will work with you to create an individual treatment plan that is the perfect fit. No matter how over your head you may feel, NuView’s rehab Los Angeles will help you regain control of your life. Call us toll-free today.

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Written By: Linda Whiteside

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor who has been providing mental health services for over 10 years.

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Ryan Peterson

Went to medical school at The George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

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