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Alternatives to 12-Step Programs

group therapy session

Community Support in Substance Use Treatment & Recovery

It is estimated that over 23 million adults in the United States have struggled with some type of problematic substance use at some point in their lives. Some admit that they have a substance use disorder, and others only admit that their bottle of wine or 6-pack in the fridge isn’t lasting as long as it used to. It would be pretty unrealistic to assume that support or substance use treatment for all of these people would look the same. Even needs for community support in recovery will likely look different as some people flourish in a group like Alcoholics Anonymous and others are searching for alternatives to 12-step programs.

The Most Well-Known 12-Step Programs

The most well-known support groups for addiction are Alcoholics Anonymous(AA) and its sister organization, Narcotics Anonymous (NA). AA and NA are self-sustaining, peer-led groups that have helped many people in their recovery, but it’s not right for everyone. The program’s foundational twelve steps are spiritual principles, which can feel like a turnoff to many people. While there is not a specific religion required with AA, the belief in a higher power is woven throughout the steps.

The way AA and NA operate may not be ideal for someone’s method of community support in recovery. Some people in substance use treatment will only attend AA for their program requirement even if they feel uncomfortable, which does not help foster a strong sober network. Additionally, 12-step models often encourage a focus on “defects” and “humility,” which can sometimes be detrimental or challenging to those with a trauma history or feelings of low self-worth.

Still, group involvement is a powerful tool in recovery and it is at its most powerful when people feel truly connected to their community. The great news is there are many other options for community support for recovery. Keep reading to learn about some well-established alternatives to 12-Step programs or groups.

Alternatives to 12-Step Programs & Your Choices for Community Support in Recovery

SMART Recovery

This recovery program is centered around four key points: building and maintaining the motivation to change, coping with cravings, finding new ways to manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without addictive habits, and living a balanced life. SMART itself stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training.

SMART Recovery’s substance use disorder therapy uses trained facilitators and they may or may not have struggled with addiction problems in the past. Their recovery meetings are focused on the present and future to explore ways how to create change and work towards recovery goals.

This community support for individuals in recovery is donation based and prides itself in being a place that is empowering and stigma-free, and a great alternative to 12-step programs.

women in group therapy session

Women for Sobriety (WFS)

WFS is a peer-support program that was made for women who are seeking community support in their recovery. They are inclusive to people of all backgrounds and offer both in-person and online meetings.

There are many supportive and outreach services through WFS and their main offering is the New Life Program. This program focuses on helping women to build a healthy sense of identity and addresses the unhealthy coping mechanisms inherent in addiction. The New Life Program is tailored for the emotional needs of women to address low to no self-esteem issues through dynamic group connection and is another great alternative to 12-step groups.

Refuge Recovery

Refuge Recovery meetings are open to individuals living with all forms of addiction such as substances, sex, technology, food, spending, etc. They are a Buddist-oriented, non-theistic recovery program and do not have any expectations on personal beliefs or prior experience with Buddhism.

Refuge is rooted in creating a safe space for the teaching and practice of awakening, truth, and community. Their only requirement is a wish to be free from addiction. Refuge Recovery offers daily options including meetings, meditation, personal inventory, and mentorship led by peers.


Both anonymous and secular, LifeRing offers an abstinence-based peer support group. The goal of this group is to cultivate non-judgmental recovery dialogue through their philosophy of sobriety, secularity, and self-help.

LifeRing takes a different approach than step work and instead encourages members to create their own personal recovery program. They hold the principle that a person has the power to strengthen their Sober Self and weaken their Addict Self.

The online or in-person meetings and resources are designed to give support and understanding while empowering each member that they know the most about themselves.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (S.O.S.)

S.O.S. groups are similar to AA in that they are self-sustaining, nonprofessional, and abstinence-based. The difference is they are secular! They hold the stance that addiction flourishes in isolation and community support encourages recovery. S.O.S. desires to empower people in their own recovery journey.

Their website provides several free tools and resources. Check it out for S.O.S. literature and an award-winning documentary, "No God at the Bottom of a Glass".

Moderation Management

Abstinence-based recovery does not need to be the only option to access support for addiction. Moderation Management is community support that is for anyone who wants to change their drinking in a positive way. They also offer many ways to gain encouragement outside of virtual and in-person meetings by having private online communities through Forum, Listserv, and Facebook.

This program offers several resources to help in reducing drinking like suggesting apps, having a therapist directory, and blogs to learn more. Moderation Management is also open to people who are striving for abstinence as well and has online communities dedicated to this. About 30% of their members choose total abstinence.

diverse group of people

Support through Substance Use Treatment

A more traditional substance use treatment provider is another option for individuals looking for alternatives to 12-step programs who require more structure and desire a more professional approach to recovery. Combining therapy with opportunities to connect with peers in recovery helps to build a network of encouragement and empowerment. Consider your unique needs and perspective when choosing what to be a part of!

At SagePoint IOP, we believe that community support in recovery is an integral piece of substance use treatment. We support each person’s unique needs in their recovery journey, including the search to find the right fit for a support group after formal treatment has ended. If you have more questions about recovery support programs or are interested in our services, please reach out today.


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