6 Popular Alternatives to 12 Step Recovery

6 Popular Alternatives to 12 Step Recovery

6 Popular Alternatives to 12 Step Recovery

People seeking recovery from addiction often turn to 12-Step programs because that’s what they’re most familiar with. However, if you find that these aren’t right for you, then what are your options for recovery? Actually, there are many alternatives to 12 Step Recovery.

Why Seek Alternatives to 12 Step Recovery?

12-Step Recovery, such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous, is one of the most popular treatment approaches for both substance use and behavioral addictions. However, many people don’t feel like it’s the right approach for them. Here are some of the most common reasons that people seek alternatives to traditional 12-Step Recovery:

Preference for a Non-Religious or Secular Perspective

12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) have spiritual components that may not resonate with individuals who do not adhere to a religious belief system. Some people prefer a more secular or non-religious approach to their recovery journey. In fact, this is one of the most common reasons that people seek alternatives to 12-Step Recovery.

Focus on Individual Responsibility

Some individuals prefer approaches that emphasize personal responsibility and self-management in their recovery. They may want to explore alternative programs that prioritize individual agency and self-directed change. This relates a bit to the issue of religion because 12-Step Programs ask that you rely on a higher power than yourself.

Desire for a Different Framework

While 12-step programs have helped many individuals, some people may prefer a different framework or philosophy that aligns more closely with their personal values and beliefs. They may be seeking an approach that emphasizes a different understanding of addiction.

Previous Unsuccessful Experience with 12-Step Programs

Not everyone finds success or resonance with 12-step programs. Individuals who have previously tried 12-step recovery and did not find it effective or compatible with their needs may seek alternative approaches that provide different perspectives and strategies.

Stigma Concerns

Some individuals may be hesitant to engage in 12-step programs due to concerns about stigma or anonymity. While 12-Step is supposed to be anonymous, anyone can attend the meetings. Therefore, you might run into someone that you know, especially if you live in a small town. Therefore, some people may prefer alternative approaches that offer a more confidential or private setting.

Different Cultural or Identity Factors

Individuals from diverse cultural or identity backgrounds may seek alternatives that specifically address their unique experiences or provide a culturally sensitive approach to recovery. They may look for programs that embrace and respect their specific cultural, ethnic, or LGBTQ+ identities in a way that they don’t experience in 12-Step Recovery.

Desire for a More Structured or Evidence-Based Approach

Some individuals may prefer treatment approaches that provide a more structured framework or are grounded in evidence-based practices. They may seek alternatives that offer a clear structure, specific interventions, or therapies with established efficacy.

Need for Flexibility or Customization

Some individuals may require a more flexible approach to recovery that can be tailored to their specific needs, schedules, or circumstances. They may seek alternatives that provide customizable treatment plans or flexible support options.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders may seek alternative programs that offer integrated or specialized treatment for both their addiction and mental health concerns. They may look for programs that prioritize the simultaneous treatment of addiction and mental health conditions.

Desire for Different Therapeutic Techniques

Some individuals may be looking for therapy approaches or techniques that are not typically utilized in 12-step programs. They may be seeking evidence-based modalities such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or other forms of therapy that offer different therapeutic techniques.

Personal Preference and Fit

Ultimately, recovery is a highly individualized process. What works for one person may not work for another. Some individuals may simply have a personal preference for an alternative to 12 Step Recovery based on their unique needs, experiences, and goals. Any reason that you seek an alternative is perfectly okay.

Why Seek Alternatives to 12 Step Recovery?

Alternatives to 12 Step Recovery

There are a variety of different alternatives to 12-Step Recovery. In another article, we’ll discuss harm reduction approaches, in which abstinence from the addictive substance or behavior is not necessarily the goal. In this article, we’ll review abstinence-based alternatives to 12-Step Recovery. These include:

1. SMART Recovery

SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is a science-based, cognitive-behavioral approach that emphasizes self-empowerment and evidence-based strategies. SMART Recovery is inclusive and welcomes individuals with various types of addictions or addictive behaviors, including substance use disorders and behavioral addictions. It is secular in nature and does not require adherence to any specific spiritual or religious beliefs. Other key features of SMART Recovery include:

Focus on Self-Empowerment

SMART Recovery encourages individuals to take an active role in their recovery process, promoting self-empowerment and self-reliance. It provides tools and techniques for individuals to develop and maintain motivation, make positive changes, and manage their addictive behaviors.

Evidence-Based Techniques

SMART Recovery draws on evidence-based practices, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). It incorporates these techniques to help individuals identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and behaviors, develop coping skills, and make sustainable changes.

Four-Point Program

SMART Recovery utilizes a Four-Point Program to guide individuals in their recovery journey. The four points are building and maintaining motivation, coping with urges, managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and leading a balanced and fulfilling life.

Tools and Exercises

SMART Recovery provides a range of practical tools and exercises that individuals can use to support their recovery. These tools include cost-benefit analysis, decision-making exercises, ABC (Activating Event, Beliefs, Consequences) analysis, and tools for managing urges and cravings.

Meetings and Online Support

SMART Recovery offers both in-person and online meetings, where individuals can connect with others in recovery, share experiences, and receive support. The meetings are facilitated by trained volunteers or professionals who provide guidance and encourage the application of SMART Recovery principles and techniques.

Continuous Support

SMART Recovery encourages ongoing participation and support beyond the initial stages of recovery. It provides resources and materials for individuals to continue practicing SMART Recovery principles in their everyday lives, even outside of meetings.

Why Seek Alternatives to 12 Step Recovery?

2. LifeRing Secular Recovery

LifeRing Secular Recovery is a global network of support groups and a non-profit organization that offers a secular, abstinence-based approach to recovery from addiction. LifeRing provides a supportive and inclusive community for individuals seeking to overcome substance use disorders and addictive behaviors. This approach is designed to complement and support other recovery resources and approaches. Key features of LifeRing Secular Recovery include:

Secular and Non-Religious Approach

LifeRing is a secular organization that does not incorporate spiritual or religious elements into its program. It welcomes individuals of all beliefs or non-beliefs, providing a supportive environment that respects personal autonomy and diverse perspectives.


LifeRing promotes abstinence as the primary goal of recovery. It encourages individuals to abstain from all mind-altering substances or behaviors, emphasizing personal responsibility and the pursuit of a clean and sober lifestyle.

Mutual Support Groups

LifeRing offers face-to-face and online support group meetings where individuals can connect with others in recovery, share experiences, and provide mutual support. These meetings provide a space for individuals to discuss their challenges, celebrate successes, and gain insights from others who have faced similar struggles.

Positive Reinforcement

LifeRing focuses on positive reinforcement and celebrating personal achievements. It encourages individuals to recognize and build on their strengths, develop self-confidence, and cultivate a positive mindset towards their recovery journey.

Personal Choice and Self-Help Principles

LifeRing emphasizes personal choice and self-help principles. It empowers individuals to take charge of their recovery, make informed decisions, and develop their own strategies for maintaining abstinence and achieving their goals.

Tools and Techniques

LifeRing provides practical tools and techniques to support individuals in their recovery process. These tools include self-assessment exercises, goal setting, relapse prevention strategies, and strategies for coping with cravings and triggers.

Focus on the Present

LifeRing places a strong emphasis on the present moment and the here-and-now. It encourages individuals to focus on what they can control in the present, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying excessively about the future.

women in recovery

3. Women for Sobriety (WFS)

Women for Sobriety (WFS) is a non-profit organization and support group specifically designed to address the unique needs and experiences of women in recovery from alcoholism and other substance use disorders. It provides a supportive community and program that focuses on personal growth, empowerment, and building a new life free from addiction. Key features of Women for Sobriety (WFS) include:

Focus on Women’s Recovery

WFS recognizes that women may face distinct challenges and issues in their recovery journey. The program provides a safe and supportive space for women to address these challenges, share their experiences, and receive support from others who have faced similar struggles.

New Life Program

WFS offers the New Life Program, which is a set of thirteen positive affirmations and strategies for personal growth and recovery. The program emphasizes building self-esteem, creating a positive mindset, developing coping skills, and fostering personal responsibility.

Emotional and Psychological Wellbeing

WFS acknowledges the importance of addressing emotional and psychological aspects of recovery. The program encourages self-reflection, emotional healing, and personal growth through tools and techniques such as positive affirmations, meditation, journaling, and cognitive restructuring.

Peer Support

WFS provides a supportive community of women in recovery. Through face-to-face meetings, online forums, and other platforms, women can connect with others, share their challenges and successes, and receive support and encouragement.

Online Resources and Support

WFS offers online resources, including a forum and chat room, where women can connect with each other, share experiences, and find additional support outside of the meetings.

Focus on Personal Empowerment

WFS emphasizes personal empowerment and self-reliance in recovery. The program encourages women to take charge of their own recovery journey, make positive choices, and develop skills to create a fulfilling and sober life.

Non-Religious Approach

WFS is a secular organization that does not have a religious or spiritual component. It respects individual beliefs and values while providing a supportive environment that focuses on personal growth and recovery.

4. Refuge Recovery

Refuge Recovery

Refuge Recovery is a non-profit organization and support group that offers a mindfulness-based approach to addiction recovery. It was founded by Noah Levine, drawing from Buddhist principles and practices to support individuals in their journey to overcome addiction. It provides individuals with tools and practices to develop a sense of inner peace, reduce suffering, and build a fulfilling life free from addiction. Key features of Refuge Recovery include:

Mindfulness-Based Approach

Refuge Recovery incorporates mindfulness practices as a central element of its program. Mindfulness involves developing present-moment awareness, non-judgmental observation of thoughts and emotions, and cultivating compassion towards oneself and others.

Four Truths and Eightfold Path

Refuge Recovery is guided by the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which are foundational principles in Buddhist philosophy. These principles serve as a framework for understanding the nature of suffering, the causes of addiction, and the path to recovery.

Group Meetings

Refuge Recovery offers group meetings where individuals in recovery can come together, share their experiences, and support one another. These meetings provide a supportive environment for practicing mindfulness, discussing recovery-related topics, and exploring the application of Buddhist principles in daily life.

Refuge Recovery Book

The organization has published a book titled “Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction.” The book provides teachings, meditations, personal stories, and practical tools for individuals seeking recovery through the Refuge Recovery approach.

Non-Theistic Approach

Refuge Recovery is a non-theistic program that does not require adherence to any particular religious or spiritual beliefs. It is inclusive and respects individual autonomy and diverse perspectives.

Integration of Eastern and Western Approaches

Refuge Recovery integrates Buddhist philosophy and mindfulness practices with evidence-based approaches from Western psychology, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and trauma-informed principles. It combines these elements to support individuals in their recovery process.

Emphasis on Personal Responsibility and Compassion

Refuge Recovery encourages individuals to take personal responsibility for their recovery and develop compassion towards themselves and others. It emphasizes the importance of self-care, ethical conduct, and cultivating positive relationships.

addiction recovery

5. Rational Recovery

Rational Recovery is a non-profit organization and self-help program that offers an alternative approach to addiction recovery. Rational Recovery offers an alternative perspective on addiction recovery, focusing on personal agency, rational decision-making, and recognizing and overcoming the addictive voice. It is designed to provide individuals with a structured framework to help them achieve and maintain sobriety. Key features of Rational Recovery include:

Addictive Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT)

AVRT is a central component of Rational Recovery. It focuses on identifying and separating the addictive voice, which represents the cravings and urges for substance use or addictive behaviors, from the rational voice, which represents one’s true self and desire for sobriety. The goal is to empower individuals to recognize and overcome the addictive voice.

Abstinence-Based Approach

Rational Recovery promotes abstinence as the only solution to addiction. It emphasizes personal responsibility and self-reliance in achieving and maintaining sobriety.

Focus on Self-Recovery

Rational Recovery emphasizes that individuals have the power to recover from addiction on their own, without the need for external support groups or ongoing therapy. It encourages self-reliance and personal accountability.

Rejecting the Concept of Powerlessness

Rational Recovery challenges the idea of powerlessness that is often emphasized in traditional 12-step programs. It asserts that individuals have the power and control to make choices that lead to recovery.

Four Rules of AVRT

Rational Recovery outlines four rules of AVRT to guide individuals in their recovery process. These rules include recognizing the addictive voice, refusing to negotiate or compromise with it, separating oneself from addiction, and living a substance-free life.

Rational Recovery Crash Course

The organization offers a self-guided recovery program called the Rational Recovery Crash Course. It is a step-by-step guide that provides individuals with the knowledge, tools, and techniques to overcome addiction using the AVRT approach.

Personal Responsibility and Self-Determination

Rational Recovery emphasizes personal responsibility and self-determination in recovery. It encourages individuals to take full ownership of their addiction and recovery journey.

6. Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), also known as Save Our Selves, is a non-profit organization and support group that provides a secular alternative to traditional 12-step programs for individuals seeking recovery from addiction. It offers a supportive community and program that focuses on self-empowerment and individual responsibility. Key features of Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) include:

Secular and Non-Religious Approach

SOS is a secular organization that provides a supportive environment for individuals who do not resonate with religious or spiritual components in recovery programs. It welcomes individuals of all beliefs or non-beliefs and respects personal autonomy.

Emphasis on Self-Empowerment

SOS encourages individuals to take control of their own recovery journey and empowers them to make positive choices. It emphasizes personal responsibility, self-reliance, and the development of individual coping strategies.

Mutual Support Groups

SOS offers face-to-face and online support group meetings where individuals in recovery can connect with others, share their experiences, and provide mutual support. These meetings provide a safe space for open discussion and the sharing of practical strategies for maintaining sobriety.

Focus on Sobriety and Abstinence

SOS promotes abstinence from alcohol and other addictive substances. It encourages individuals to commit to a lifestyle of sobriety, providing tools and support to help individuals achieve and maintain their sobriety goals.

Rational Recovery Techniques

SOS draws on techniques and strategies from Rational Recovery, such as recognizing and managing addictive thinking, identifying triggers, and developing personal strategies for avoiding relapse.

Online Resources and Support

SOS provides online resources, including forums and chat rooms, where individuals can connect, share their experiences, and find additional support outside of the meetings.

Peer-Based Support

SOS emphasizes the importance of peer support in the recovery process. It encourages individuals to build a support network of like-minded individuals who understand the challenges of recovery.

How a Therapist Can Help

How a Therapist Can Help

A therapist can play a valuable role in helping you choose the right alternative to 12-step recovery program. Here’s how a therapist can assist you in this process:

Assessment and Understanding

A therapist can conduct an initial assessment to understand your unique needs, preferences, and goals for recovery. They can explore the specific substances or behaviors involved in your addiction, any co-occurring mental health conditions, and other factors relevant to your recovery journey.

Education and Information

Therapists have knowledge and expertise about different alternative programs to 12-step recovery. They can provide you with information and resources about various options, explaining their principles, approaches, and the type of support they offer. This can help you make an informed decision based on accurate information.

Personalized Recommendations

Based on their assessment and understanding of your specific situation, a therapist can offer personalized recommendations tailored to your needs. They can help you identify alternative programs that align with your preferences, values, and goals for recovery.

Discussion and Reflection

Your therapist can engage in open and supportive discussions with you, allowing you to explore your thoughts, concerns, and questions about different alternatives. They can help you reflect on your experiences, beliefs, and expectations, facilitating clarity and insight as you navigate your decision-making process.

Exploration of Readiness and Fit

A therapist can help you assess your readiness for change and your readiness to engage in a particular alternative program. They can explore the program’s compatibility with your personality, lifestyle, and support needs, considering factors such as group dynamics, time commitments, and access to resources.

Supportive Counseling

Throughout the decision-making process, a therapist can provide supportive counseling to help you explore your emotions, fears, and uncertainties. They can offer guidance and help you navigate any potential challenges or barriers you may encounter in choosing and engaging with an alternative program.

Ongoing Support

Once you have chosen an alternative program, your therapist can continue to provide ongoing support and integrate the chosen program into your therapy sessions. They can help you apply the principles and techniques of the program, address any obstacles that arise, and monitor your progress in achieving your recovery goals.

Ready to find your therapist? You can contact us today for a consultation. Alternatively, browse our therapist directory to find the therapist who is right for you. You can use the dropdown boxes in the directory to filter for therapists who understand addiction.

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