AA Alternatives: Types of Support Networks for People in Recovery

AA Alternatives: Types of Support Networks for People in Recovery
Published:
November 21, 2023
|   Updated:
November 30, 2023

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), or what is more commonly referred to as alcoholism, is a lifelong disease that nearly 30 million people reportedly struggled with just last year.

Those with AUD suffer from the inability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. Therefore, once an individual is diagnosed, it is crucial to manage this disease for the remainder of their life.

Many people looking for help in managing their alcohol addiction immediately turn to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) due to its popularity and accessibility. AA is a 12-step program whose essential recovery principles are honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. Step 1 in AA states: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.” While some may have difficulty with this statement, many AA members find that, “our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built.” (AA Basic Text, page 21)

Additionally, though while AA continues to be successful to many, nearly 40% of people drop out of the program in their first year.

Fortunately, many AA alternatives are available for those looking for a different type of recovery fellowship.  

 

Support group

The Benefits of Support Groups in Recovery

Finding support during recovery is essential for managing AUD. The benefits of remaining in a support group during recovery include:

  • Lower chance of relapse
  • Higher level of treatment engagement
  • Finding like-minded community and support
  • Creating routine and stability
  • Improved relationships with treatment professionals
  • Improved relationships with loved ones and your community

Utilizing a support group and maximizing these benefits is not only crucial to addiction management, but also makes the journey a bit more manageable.

 

Man speaking to his support group

What to Look for in AA Alternatives

Because support is a necessity during recovery, finding a support group where you feel welcome and encouraged is vital. When choosing between support groups, it is important that whichever you pick follows the key pillars of addiction treatment.

Alcoholics Anonymous has remained active since its beginnings in 1935 because it utilizes key tools for recovery: community and accountability. With meetings daily and worldwide and the relationship between a sponsor and sponsee, AA does, in fact, engage and encourage constant community and accountability.

These core values of community and accountability are necessary when deciding among alternatives to AA.

Community is important because, when in treatment or recovery, finding like-minded people is vital for your health. Having a judgment-free space to discuss your past experiences, fears, and struggles through your sober journey reminds you that you are not alone on the journey. The people you surround yourself with when trying to achieve the same goals can inspire and motivate you to keep your own sobriety in check; everything is easier in life with proper support, AUD recovery included.

 

Two women having a conversation

AA uses a sponsor/sponsee relationship that provides support for new and existing members.

“Sponsorship assures the newcomer that there is at least one person who understands the situation fully and cares — one person to turn to without embarrassment when doubts, questions, or problems linked to alcoholism arise. Sponsorship gives the newcomer an understanding, sympathetic friend when one is needed most.” (AA literature “Questions and Answers on Sponsorship”)

This one-on-one partnership may not work for someone, but some form of accountability is a required part of a recovery plan. Staying accountable to others not only helps an individual to stay sober -, but it also cultivates improved self-esteem and personal responsibility.

 

Relaxed man in nature

AA Alternatives

If recovery is your goal, but AA is not the best fit for you, here are seven alternatives to AA.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery, which stands for “Self Management and Recovery Training,” is an international organization focusing on long-lasting recovery by utilizing evidence-based tools to achieve success. 

SMART operates with four key pillars as its guiding stars:

  • Diving within to locate and sustain the drive to change
  • Finding healthy coping mechanisms to manage drinking urges
  • Taking control over your thoughts, desires, and actions
  • Building and maintaining a well-rounded or balanced lifestyle 

SMART believes in equipping an individual in recovery with the necessary tools to help sustain sobriety. They believe in autonomy over one's experience and emphasize both self-empowerment and self-reliance as they assist their members with creating their own individualized recovery plans. 

SMART insists that with science-backed tools and strategy, individuals in recovery can have power over their addiction and their recovery.

Cognitive behavioral therapy book

SMART shies away from labels like “alcoholic” and instead employs scientifically backed tools, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, to find the root of an individual's destructive drinking habits to help manage their alcoholism. SMART believes in moving forward, not dwelling in the past, and utilizing proven tools to help propel you toward the next steps in your recovery. They offer both online and in-person classes across the globe.

LifeRing Recovery 

LifeRing is another secular AA alternative that focuses on the individual experiencing recovery through their 3-S philosophy: Sobriety, Secularity, and Self-Help.

LifeRing believes each individual has two “beings” or selves: The Sober Self and the Addict Self. Their philosophy argues that each of these selves exists in a constant battle within an addict’s mind. The Sober Self desires sobriety and ridding of drinking triggers, but an Addict Self can be much stronger and is what leads to continuous poor decisions. 

LifeRing believes in looking within to learn about yourself, your past, and your drinking triggers to take back control of your life. While they acknowledge the strength of the Addict Self, they believe through meetings and constant self-evaluation and betterment, your Sober Self can push through and overcome your disease.

As each case of AUD ranges from person to person, LifeRing believes individualized recovery plans are necessary. The biggest difference that LifeRing provides from AA is the amount of responsibility and autonomy they give their members. While there are always people to lean on during meetings or through the community, they believe each member must create and control their own path through recovery.

By providing practical and actionable steps, LifeRing believes that each individual has the power to take control over their drinking and provide themselves with a life they are proud of.

 

Woman holding a Soberlink Device

Soberlink Alcohol Monitoring 

The Soberlink Remote Alcohol Monitoring system offers a compelling option for individuals who are exploring alternatives to AA, thanks to its user-friendly technology and ability to provide consistent support in managing alcohol consumption effectively.

Soberlink's advanced monthly report on an iPad

Soberlink's Remote Alcohol Breathalyzer is an all-encompassing monitoring system designed to assist individuals in recovery by promoting accountability. This system enables users to schedule tests, delivering real-time results directly to their support network. These test records are displayed in a color-coded chart, facilitating easy sharing with friends, family, treatment professionals, and others within a user's Recovery Circle. This sharing feature fosters accountability and rebuilds trust by allowing individuals to share their progress with those who support them on their recovery journey.

With its state-of-the-art technology, including facial recognition and built-in tamper sensors, Soberlink’s alcohol monitoring system is safe, discrete, and provides a real-time, ongoing record of an individual’s sobriety to their Recovery Circle.

Soberlink can work as an AA alternative inherently through their system; users get to practice accountability while strengthening or rebuilding relationships that may have been damaged from an individual's alcohol use.

Women support group

Women for Sobriety

Finding common ground in addiction recovery is necessary, and Women for Sobriety (WFS) is helping women nationwide do just that. While the group is only accessible to women (including those identifying as women and/or members of the LGBTQIA+ community), their five core values of compassion, connection, empowerment, love, and respect help women achieve sobriety. They believe that through these values and the ability to lean on one another through the trials and successes of recovery, women can live the sober life they’ve dreamed of. WFS provides an alternative to AA for women, specifically those who want to be in a recovery community with only women guided by the philosophy: “Release the past – plan for tomorrow- live for today.”

When WFS was founded in 1975, they noticed that men were finding more success than women in recovery; while the physical recovery from alcohol may look the same, WFS discovered that the mental and emotional needs of women must be treated differently and adjusted their practices to do so.

WFS’ New Life Program includes “13 Acceptance Statements,” which should be practiced throughout each day. These statements outline challenges to recovery with supportive positive affirmations.   

WFS focuses on the thoughts we have and the power we have over them. “If we think it, we’ll do it” is what they encourage, so ensuring their members' minds are filled with positive thoughts helps them combat negative thought patterns while creating new and healthy ones, they believe.

While meetings take place nationally, WFS is mostly a self-led and guided practice. Their program is accessible online with materials, including organized booklets that can help navigate you through recovery and the qualms that precede it.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is an additional AA alternative that focuses on a secular approach to recovery. Unlike the AA alternatives that came before, SOS is not a specific organization but instead a collection of individual organizations or programs to utilize. While they do have meetings, SOS is limited in accessibility. Fortunately, they have resources like their guide for the “First 30 Days” of recovery and pamphlets to pass on to friends and family as you go through this new part of your life.

SOS believes all members must desire to change, find the motivation within to make new choices, and, most importantly, remain abstinent from alcohol while in the organization.

Moderation Management (MM)

While most recovery support groups require abstinence in their programs, Moderation Management (MM) believes in the management of an individual's drinking habits and damaging behaviors. 

This AA alternative is much different than other recovery fellowships, but it can act as a productive stepping stone for someone looking to start making a change. MM focuses on the difference between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence and believes a person can safely consume alcohol if they fall into the latter category.

MM believes that early intervention is key, and through their Steps of Change 7-step program, members must continually reflect on their relationship with alcohol. Completing the program includes 30 days of self-monitoring your drinking via a personal journal while noticing trigger patterns or repeated negative behaviors. This is preceded by 30 days of drinking abstinence, where each member must continue monitoring their feelings. After 30 days, it is up to the member whether drinking should or should not continue.

MM focuses on self-monitoring through their program with group meetings throughout, which some may find as a successful alternative to AA. However, if you are diagnosed with AUD or suffer from alcohol dependence, MM may not be for you.

 

Person speaking to their therapist

Therapy

For those who desire a one-on-one relationship with a bit more anonymity, addiction-focused therapy may be the best AA alternative for you.

Addiction management therapists utilize specific methodologies, like Cognitive Behavioral or Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, to help clients rewire brain patterns. This assists clients with ridding of drinking triggers and making healthier decisions in the future. While this program option only allows community with an individual therapist, it still calls for accountability while giving you tools to utilize moving forward in your recovery.

While therapy can work alone, it often is most effective when paired with other recovery tools on this list. 

FAQ: AA Alternatives

How Do I Know if I Need an Addiction Support Group?

If you have been diagnosed with AUD or are currently in recovery, finding support is mandatory for managing your addiction. Without it, rates of relapse rise drastically.

If you feel like your drinking has gotten out of control and/or negatively affecting different parts of your life, a support group is an excellent place to start. Early intervention is key, and finding the tools and community support earlier in your journey will make sobriety much more manageable in the long run.

Is There an Alternative to The 12-Steps?

Whether it is from the resources listed above or from other recovery communities found online, there are many AA alternatives available to those who are not interested in the 12-step model.

Choosing a source that works for you and your individualized recovery is the most important when trying to manage your alcoholism, as finding support is crucial to staying sober.

What is the Best Alcoholics Anonymous Alternative?

The best AA alternative is one that you can fully commit to. Alcoholism is not one size fits all, and neither is recovery. Be open to exploring the many options available and find what you need to be successful. By trying different alternatives, you decide what works best for your personal recovery journey.

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