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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