While 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) have well-established records for success — they aren’t always the right fit for everyone. Whether it’s because of discomfort with elements of spirituality or some other aspect of these programs, some people prefer to explore alternatives to AA and NA. 

This Achieve Wellness and Recovery article explores the alternatives to AA and NA which fall outside of the conventional 12-step model. 

Why do Some People Want NA or AA Alternatives? 

People look for alternatives to NA or AA for different reasons, but one of the most common reasons is discomfort with spirituality or talk of “higher powers” or God. They may have had negative experiences with religion or just identify as atheists or agnostics. 

Some people don’t feel comfortable with the idea of identifying themselves as an alcoholic or addict, even after many years of sobriety. Regardless of the reasons, if someone tries AA or NA and finds it’s not for them, there are at least a dozen AA or NA alternatives out there available for them to try. Most are free of charge or ask for a modest donation. 

Where Did AA and the 12 Steps Come From Anyway?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and all other 12-step programs are both based upon the 12 steps and traditions developed by AA in 1935. These steps were adapted from the 6 steps of a spiritual reformation organization called the Oxford Groups (today called Initiatives of Change). 

The Oxford Group’s 6 steps evolved from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, a medieval Spanish priest who founded the Jesuits. The Spiritual Exercises were intended to foster spiritual awakening and bring a person in closer contact with God.  

What are Alternatives to AA and NA?

Alternatives to AA and NA generally consist of support groups and self-help programs designed to help people maintain a sober and drug-free lifestyle. Some have spiritual or religious elements, but most do not. These NA and AA alternatives exist for one very simple reason. Everyone deserves sobriety and it should be accessible to anyone, regardless of their belief system or willingness to explore spirituality. 

A List of AA and NA Alternatives 

SMART Recovery

The SMART Recovery program is a popular choice among people who prefer an AA or NA alternative primarily because of the spiritual aspects of 12-step programs. In SMART Recovery, the focus is on personal empowerment and behavior modification. Addiction is seen as nothing more than a problematic coping mechanism to be overcome. Although SMART Recovery is a 12-step alternative, it does offer group meetings and structure. 

The Four Points of SMART Recovery are:

1.) Building and maintaining the motivation for change.

2.) Coping with urges to use.

3.) Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in an effective way without addictive behaviors.

4.) Living a balanced, positive, and healthy life. 

LifeRing Secular Recovery

LifeRing provides an abstinence-based, and peer-run support network for individuals seeking recovery. It emphasizes the three “S”s: Sobriety, Secularity, and Self-Help, allowing participants to map their personal recovery journey in a supportive community environment. Like SMART Recovery and many other 12-step alternatives, LifeRing Secular Recovery offers group meetings both in-person and online. 

The Three S’s of LifeRing Secular Recovery are:

  1. Sobriety
  2. Secularity 
  3. Self-Help

Refuge Recovery

Refuge Recovery offers a sort of middle ground for people who don’t care for traditional 12-step groups but aren’t entirely opposed to all aspects of spirituality. It can be a particularly good fit for people who are agnostic, but not atheist or who identify with Buddhist principles. In Buddhism, desire is seen as the root of suffering. Addiction is an example of suffering caused by desire. Refuge Recovery espouses a non-theistic approach to spirituality. Participants are not asked to believe in anything in particular, but just to trust the process. Refuge Recovery also has online and in-person meetings. 

The Four Truths of Refuge Recovery are:

1.) Addiction creates suffering.

2.) The cause of addiction is repetitive craving.

3.) Recovery is possible.

4.) The path to recovery is available. 

Recovery is for Everyone Who Really Wants it

One of the many clever recovery sayings goes something like this: “Recovery isn’t for those who need it, it’s for those who want it. The meaning is simple. Recovery is hard work. Anyone can benefit from it — the only requirements are willingness and honesty. 

Sobriety is one destination with many paths leading toward it. AA and NA are the most popular paths today and are considered evidence-based and have been scientifically proven effective. However, they aren’t always the right fit for everyone. We encourage anyone to explore these 12-step alternatives as well as part of their journey if they aren’t sure AA or NA is right for them. 

If you or the one you love is seeking sobriety — Please call Achieve Wellness and Recovery at (833) 680-0142.

You can also click here to find out how our program can work with your insurance.

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