AA alternatives to 12 steps

Not everyone is interested in the spiritual dimension of the 12 steps and AA. Get answers from a psychotherapist about AA alternatives that have empirical support and are known to work for drug addiction and alcohol treatment here.

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12 step groups are not for everyone

There are a variety of reasons why some people avoid 12-step programs or Alcoholics Anonymous AA/ Narcotics Anonymous NA type of support groups. Some individuals bristle at the thought of the religious or spiritual dimensions while others do not want abstinence as their goal. In these cases, it may be helpful to consider some alternatives that are currently available.

Furthermore, not everyone is successful with traditional approaches to treatment for addiction problems. There are a number of treatments available that have empirical support and allow individuals seeking help to find a personalized solution to their struggle with addictive behavior.

3 types of treatment alternatives to 12-step, AA, & NA

1. Mindfulness based approaches

Mindfulness based approaches teach addicts and alcoholics techniques that focus on being present in the moment without being hijacked by emotions or overly critical/analytical. This type of treatment is constructed around the practice of mindfulness skills or mindfulness meditation. The premise is that, over time, individuals become practiced at being in the moment.  For people with addiction problems, mindfulness allows addicts to make decisions based on creating change, rather than being presented with a trigger. The practice of awareness,  in turn, helps people to be more present and less reactive in most situations.

2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for addictive behaviors

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT,  is really just what it sounds like: working with some combination of thoughts and behavior to change the way you think and feel about situations and ultimately to provide skills to change intractable behavior. In the case of addictive behavior, CBT helps people with drinking or drug problems identify the thoughts that mediate engaging in behavior they would like to change. For example, when an individual encounters a trigger like a beer commercial and thinks, “I can’t resist that desire for a cold beer while watching the game,” he is most likely going to drink beer as a response. But if that individual can identify that thought and change it to, “I have watched games without beer before, I can do it again”,  he will be far less likely to react to the impulse and drink the beer.

3. Non-12 step support

Along with individual therapy that you can receive from a licensed therapist, there are support groups available to assist individuals with the ongoing task of not just initiating change, but maintaining it. Groups like SMART recovery and Rational Recovery offer a supportive group experience with a focus on available research on what works to change addictive behavior, removes the spiritual component of AA type groups, and empowers individuals to make change. Where Moderation Management groups are designed for individuals who have experienced mild to moderate problems and want to change their addictive behavior, but do not want to meet the goal of abstinence. Certainly, one size does not fit all and there is a support group out there to meet the needs of most people grappling with an addiction problem.

Other alternatives to 12 step groups

Do you have any other suggestions or ideas about what works outside of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous , or other 12 step groups?  Please add your ideas here.  Or challenge ours!

About the author
Cindy is a clinical psychologist and founder of Clarity Path, an online counseling group that uses video chat therapy to help address drinking or drug problems. Cindy's 15 years of experience include a strong research background and expertise in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Cindy focuses on fostering collaboration as the basis for her therapeutic relationships with clients.


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  1. I feel their is a lack of re entry programs for recovering people.
    Most addicts lack functioning skills. I have searched and investigated this for yrs.
    I had to learn on my own basic functioning skills.
    These skills include. money management, living skills, ( such as maintaining living quarters,
    self care, and interaction skills.

    The average rehab treats an addict for 30- 60 days. than says go to meetings and function.
    There isn’t help with functioning and also finding resources to help.
    My personal experience is that only a few really have fellowship and support,
    I struggle with interaction. and have had little support.
    I found fifillment in training for trialaltons.

    1. Hi Edwin. Call a toll-free Alcohol Helpline on 1-888-675-1820 to find a high-quality alcohol addiction treatment program. This helpline is accessible 24/7 and gives you the chance to speak with trusted treatment consultants who can help you find an alcohol recovery program suited to your individual needs.

  2. I’m someone who is celebrating 10 years of recovery this year and I went an alternative path. I always appreciate seeing articles and resources provided so that people can empower themselves and make choices that are a fit for them. I’m currently working on putting together a tele-summit on Alternatives so that people can have more access to resources:) I’m a Recovery Life Coach who specializes in working with people connecting to Alternative Recovery. Much love to you all!

  3. my 12 step expereience has been awful! i struggle socially and i was fresh meat for 12 sep preditors. i have been abondooned by where i went to rehab because i don’t want to be in a click. it akes me time to interact. i paid money to attend a high end rehab , just to be abandoned treated better t my local bar!

    i don’t have friends in recovery. i struggle with interaction meetings are not for me. its still a male oriented program! its safe for a female who keeps to her self.
    i talk to many to find them selves suck socially in recovery!

  4. 12 step groups are for me. If you are not in the click than you are not accepted. I don’t like
    people I don’t know getting in my face! I am shy and don’t like being pushed into groups.
    Rehab was hell for me!

  5. Check out the 16 step empowerment model developed by Dr. Charlotte Kasl

    -Wesley Copp
    Peer Mentor
    Pathways Addiction Resource Centre

  6. Although a minority in Twelve & Twelve culture, nonbelievers can be found trudging the happy road to destiny sans-God. Some, like me, attend agnostic Twelve Step groups and spend time online in AA/NA google and facebook groups for Humanists, Atheists,Buddhists, Agnostics and a growing of “Apostates” who after buying the “God-conscious” solution as the only way to fly clean and sober, start questioning after a few years in the program or a few laps around the Twelve Step track. I was a closet-atheist, who thought that believing and belonging synonymous. Other atheists I know reject the Steps as anecdotal quackery. Others like myself find that they have a secular application that makes sense to me.

    There is a lot of fear or rejection among non-believers. I have doubted my ability to fit in with a population that largely believes that an interfering God is keeping them sober and answering their prayers.

    Mindfulness has been a key tool to a “spiritual experience of the educational variety.” I think addicts should exercise meditation and mindfulness right from the get-go; why wait until Step 11 (If you subscribe to the Step recovery model).

    Great article, great comments.

  7. HI Jake. How about either online NA meetings or SMART Recovery? Both have options for “real-live” meetings…but the programs are different.

  8. I have been attending N/A to help in my recovery. I am not pleased with the group of people attending. Some of the people are rude and indifferent. I live in a small town and there are no other alternatives. Please advise.

  9. I absolutely love practicing meditation! I never thought it could work before I tried it… I wish everyone would try it. When I started I just felt a bit more balanced and was amazed that this peaceful feeling stayed with me the whole time or at least a few days. Now I can’t imagine living without it

  10. Well… I for one want to thank you a lot for this post…

    It made me not give up on my search for non-AA help and thanks to the names provided in the article I was able to find a secular group.

    I am going to my first meeting tonight.

    Once again, Thanks!!!

  11. Don’t forget Lifering, which advocates Sobriety, Secularity and Self-help (making a sobriety plan which can include “making amends” if that feels constructive).

    While I am happy for “Scenerio”s sobriety, a huge benefit of non-AA methods is that people cannot dictate what you should “take into consideration” and what will or will not “haunt (you) forever”. We change the “you need to___” into “I find power in ____”.

  12. In my experience, recovery is a self-change journey. Everyone’s recovery is different and I agree that one size does not fit all. I found your post to be a clear and concise summary of some viable options for alternative and/or supplemental support for recovery. If I may, I would like to mention that the peer-support option available through SMART Recovery is available online, and is a wonderful resource. The website offers extensive resources (science based, as noted) and you can’t beat the commute time to an online meeting or chat 🙂

  13. Do these kinds of treatments have an element of going back and making amends for the past? I speak for myself that this part of my recovery from addiction required that I take responsibility for my mistakes and try to make them right before I could move on. It was essential to getting better. And if CBT or mindfulness don’t take this into consideration, I think that these treatment options are only addressing 1/2 the story of an addict’s life and that guilt and remorse will haunt him/her.

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