Alternatives to Alcoholic Anonymous 12-Step Programs

Alcoholics Anonymous are not the only support group in existence in the United States. In fact, there are numerous alternatives to AA and their 12-step program that are gaining popularity across the nation due to the different way they approach addiction treatment counseling. Although the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program has existed for many years and many consider it the standard by which all other addiction recovery programs are measured, it isn’t the only one. There are currently many alternatives offering varying approaches to helping individuals overcome their alcohol addiction, many of which display high levels of satisfaction from their participants. In fact, the levels of involvement and satisfaction often rival, and even surpass, those of the AA 12-step solution.1

The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous focus on the central idea of addiction being a disease that you can overcome with the intervention and assistance from an external, higher power. The characteristics of such a program are meeting attendance, completing the AA’s 12 steps, as well as apologizing and amending the ones you’ve harmed. This program has managed to help many individuals overcome their addiction. However, it isn’t suitable for everyone and many people find it difficult to focus on their recovery with the religious element of the program remaining a focal point. Also, there are individuals who find the very structure of this program overly stringent and confining.1, 2

These are just some of the reasons why there are so many alternatives to alternatives to AA meetings and programs. Some of the most widespread ones are SMART and LifeRing, offering a secular experience in contrast with the profoundly religious Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programs.3

Which 12 Steps Does the AA promote?

Alcoholics Anonymous 12 steps represent a set of guidelines and principles designed to assist individuals overcome their addiction. The 12 steps have seen many iterations across the recovery community, helping countless people attain and maintain their sobriety.2

The AA’s 12 steps were envisioned by Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson in the 1930s. They based the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program on Christianity’s principles, aiming to foster recovery.3

It’s essential to state that Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t represent a program for addiction recovery. Instead, it offers a supporting environment through group therapy, allowing recovering individuals to form peer bonds and sponsor relationships in an effort to achieve sobriety.3

The 12 steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous program include:5

  1. Understanding how alcohol has affected your life negatively and admitting you’re powerless to prevent it from causing further negative effects.
  2. Believing in a higher power that will help you restore your sanity and bring order to your life.
  3. Trusting said higher power, allowing it to help you and devoting yourself and your life to it.
  4. Taking an honest and fearless moral inventory.
  5. Confessing to this higher power, to your peers and to yourself.
  6. Preparing yourself for purification at the hand of the higher power.
  7. Trusting the higher power to resolve your shortcomings.
  8. Recognizing the wrongs you’ve done and rectifying them.
  9. Offering amends to individuals you’ve wronged.
  10. Acknowledging your mistakes.
  11. Connecting yourself with the higher power by meditation and prayer.
  12. Cultivating all these steps until you achieve spiritual awakening and sharing the message of the program with others.

Which Advantages Does the AA 12-Step Program Offer?

There are millions of individuals across the globe struggling with overcoming their alcohol addiction. The Alcoholic Anonymous 12 steps represent a widespread program designed to assist individuals get sober and remain sober. Participating in an AA program brings numerous benefits to recovering individuals, including:6

  • Spiritual connection: One of the most important characteristics of Alcoholics Anonymous is forming a spiritual connection which helps them maintain their sobriety and finding a new purpose in life. 
  • Structure: 12-step AA programs focus on a clear structure which paves the road to complete recovery. This type of structure offers purpose and direction to all individuals looking for a way out of their addiction.
  • Accountability: This is another important part of the AA, as peers hold each other accountable for maintaining their sobriety. This accountability often helps individuals remain on track and provides the necessary incentive to remain on the right track.
  • Support: Among the vital benefits of the AA 12-step program is the support recovering alcoholics receive from their peers. Participants share their experiences with other individuals who are in similar struggles. This can be very helpful in remaining motivated and sober throughout the process.

What Are the Disadvantages of Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Programs?

The fact is that this program has been instrumental in assisting numerous individuals achieve their sobriety and maintain it for long periods of time. However, the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program isn’t without its shortcomings, as many critics would point out. One of the foremost criticisms of this program is that it fails to tackle the essential causes of addiction, with others being.7

Inconclusive Evidence

There are many studies investigating the effectiveness of this program. On the surface, the success rate of the AA program is positive and very broad. However, many participants don’t stay engaged with the program in the long-term, excluding them from these studies. Generally, the effectiveness of the 12-step program remains mixed when perceived over extended periods of time.6

Less Effective for Women

Assessing gender influence when examining the effectiveness of the 12-step AA program illustrates how the rate of abstinence was higher in studies analyzing men-only groups when compared to mixed groups. This can indicate how participation in Alcoholics Anonymous might not be as effective for women when compared to men. One of the explanations might be that women necessitate a different approach to treatment as well as a different environment, for example one-on-one sessions alongside comprehensive treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders.7

Requires Spiritual Belief

The AA 12 steps heavily rely on the principle of God, or unnamed “higher power”. This can be extremely off-putting for numerous individuals who can find it extremely difficult to engage in a program that focuses so much on religion and spirituality. Not all those who are members of the Alcoholics Anonymous are believers, but this belief still remains prevalent within the organization.6

Lack of Empowerment

The Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program can also be perceived as a solution designed to take the power out of the individual’s hands and place it into a “higher power”. For many, this disempowerment proves ineffective when treating serious conditions such as alcohol abuse addiction.8

Are There Alternatives to AA?

Although not as widespread as the AA, there are still many alternatives to this program. Individuals often find different treatment programs to be better suited to their individual needs and requirements. Some of the most popular alternatives to the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program are listed below.3

SMART Recovery

This is a program that represents a support group for all individuals looking to overcome their alcohol addiction. This organization fosters a supportive and safe environment where all their members can freely share and discuss their experiences and learn from each other. SMART Recovery focuses on four core principles:9

  • Critical thinking: Members of this program implement their critical thinking skills in an effort to evaluate their behaviors and thoughts, identify unhealthy patterns, and learn how to make healthier choices in the future.
  • Support: Similar to the AA, SMART Recovery also fosters peer support throughout the entire process of attaining and maintaining sobriety.
  • Motivation: Members of the SMART Recovery program don’t rely on a higher power or other individuals for support in reaching sobriety, but rather set their own goals and desires.
  • Empowerment: All individuals involved in this program are responsible for their own actions during recovery and rely on themselves, not others, creating a self-empowering recovery atmosphere.

Women For Sobriety

WFS represents a nationwide alternative to AA designed to help specifically women who are recovering from alcohol addiction. This organization originated in 1976 from an idea by Jean Kirkpatrick, a recovering alcoholic at the time. This group has the goal of helping women reach sobriety and free themselves from their addiction through encouraging healthy lifestyle habits and offering a supportive environment for women looking to overcome their issues.10

This organization offers access to numerous resources and programs, including local meetings, online forums, and magazines. Their meetings provide their participants with and opportunity to freely share their different experiences while connecting with other peers during recovery.10


LifeRing is another popular alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous. This is a support group aimed at individuals attempting to maintain sobriety from substance use. This is a non-judgemental and non-religious AA alternative offering a safe and supportive environment for individuals to find assistance.11

This organization offers a non-judgemental environment designed to foster recovery through experience-sharing in anonymous and abstinence-based groups. The 3-S philosophy of LifeRing is Self-Help, Secularity, and Sobriety.11

Moderation Management

This is a recovery program for helping individuals who are struggling to overcome their problems with drugs and alcohol. It helps participants understand how to moderate the use of the aforementioned substances. In that sense it differs from the AA’s 12-steps by not requiring complete abstinence.12

Moderation Management regularly meets to offer encouragement and support between peers struggling with substance abuse. Here, individuals share both their failures and successes while offering suggestions and advice.12


Secular Organizations for Sobriety is an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous composed of different autonomous and non-profit local groups who aim to offer assistance to all individuals who are trying to overcome their substance abuse issues. What’s more, it also assists people struggling with food and many other types of addictions. The organization was founded in 1985 by James Christopher.13

SOS isn’t an organization that focuses on abstinence and 12-steps of the Alcoholics Anonymous but rather adopts a harm-reduction approach based on core principles of self-reliance and self-empowerment. Members of the SOS are advised to look for their own recovery path either through group therapy, outpatient treatment, AA meetings, and other solutions.13

Celebrate Recovery

This program assists individuals overcome their addiction and deal with other unhealthy behavioral patterns and it also adopts the core principles of Alcoholics Anonymous 12-steps. It fosters an environment of support and fellowship to all individuals recovering from substance abuse addiction by providing a safe and nurturing environment where they can share experiences, find strength, and work together toward attaining sobriety.14

Up to this point in time, the number of churches within the Celebrate Recovery program have grown significantly. Currently, there are more than 35,000 churches across the world with data suggesting that more than 5 million individuals have completed this program.14

Refuge Recovery

This organization aims to help all individuals struggling with overcoming their addiction by basing its core principles on the ideals of the Buddhist philosophy, providing a supportive environment to all people looking for AA alternative recovery-support programs. This is a completely secular program welcoming individuals from all backgrounds and faiths.15

This is a program which aims to assist people in developing inner clarity and strength, encouraging them to attain their individual recovery goals. This is a growing movement with a rising number of chapters in all the major cities of the United States of America.15

Rational Recovery

This program fosters a disease-focused approach to helping individuals overcome addiction. It perceives substance abuse addictions as diseases, meaning that individuals affected by them are unable to control their harmful behavior. Rational Recovery focuses on teaching people to manage addiction through self-control and self-reliance. Data suggests that Rational Recovery is an effective method and is among the more popular alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programs.16

How Do I Locate AA Alternative Meetings?

Alternatives to the AA’s 12-step program are many and all of them serve the same purpose of helping individuals overcome their substance abuse issues. They offer comprehensive guidance and peer support while focusing less on the spiritual and religious aspects traditionally associated with Alcoholics Anonymous and their methods. These alternatives are, therefore, a great choice for all individuals unwilling to commit to a non-secular recovery assistance program.3

SAMHSA represents an extremely helpful resource for locating suitable programs aimed at assisting recovering alcoholics maintain sobriety. You can use the treatment locator on their website to find a suitable program and other related services.17

You can also turn to NIAAA, or the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and use their treatment navigator to locate a rehab facility and a recovery assistance program suited to your particular needs and requirements. Their resources offer assistance for individuals struggling with substance abuse, including e-health and telehealth programs.18

Finally, if you’re looking for safe, nurturing, supportive, and intensive alcohol addiction rehab solutions, you can always turn to American Addiction Centers, or AAC, the leading provider of comprehensive addiction treatment solutions across the nation. They offer professional guidance and support no matter the details of your condition, so feel free to contact them.

How Can I Receive Help from AA Alternatives?    

In case you’re struggling to successfully overcome your substance or alcohol addiction, you can find assistance from numerous resources, including Alcoholics Anonymous. However, this organization isn’t your only option, as there are many AA alternatives available. Some of the free resources and addiction helplines are:19

  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse assistance for veterans.
  • SAMHSA treatment locator.
  • HRSA Data Warehouse locator for health centers.
  • SAMHSA’s national hotline available at 1-800-662-HELP.
  • Suicide and Crisis Lifeline available at 1-800-273-TALK.

Finally, feel free to turn to AAC for any assistance you require regarding alcohol and substance abuse. Their experienced professionals will help you diagnose the severity of your alcohol abuse disorder while comprehensively assessing the details of your alcohol abuse based on the expressed signs and symptoms of your addiction. What’s more, they’ll recommend the most suitable method of medical detox to help stave off the negative withdrawal symptoms and make the beginning of your recovery process as easy as possible. Finally, you can inquire about the different payment options available for financing your rehab. Feel free to reach out to them today.

Frequently Asked Questions