Alternatives to AA: How To Stop Drinking Without AA

Last Updated: March 27, 2024

Ahmed Zayed, MD Authored by Dr. Ahmed Zayed
0 sources cited

Addiction is a serious concern among the general population. Unfortunately, for many addicts, AA recovery methods don’t work, even though it has become the standard treatment option for substance abuse disorder. People need to understand that drug abuse therapy does not only include AA, however. With as many as 60% of people who undergo treatment suffering a relapse, many are looking for AA alternatives that could offer them a better chance for long-term sobriety. Fortunately, several alternatives to AA programs exist and can often yield high success rates to help the patient overcome addiction.

Reasons For Seeking Non 12 Step Recovery Programs

There are multiple reasons why a person might want to consider learning how to stop drinking without AA. The same goes for those who have a drug-related addiction problem and would like to quit without the use of standard 12 steps of recovery.

The standard AA program provides an overview of how the addict is powerless against the disorder they are suffering from. The idea behind AA is to make the addict believe that there is a higher power to provide support for them.

Woman praying hoping that higher power will help her.

The 12-step program tells the patient in a group setting that they have certain moral defects and that the recovery process provided to them during treatment will “fix” or rectify this issue. The program also tells the addict that they are utterly powerless against the addiction. Even when following the program, they still need to look at themselves as an addict, as this is something that they will always be.

Although this way of thinking and treatment works for some people, it is a very specific approach. If someone sees their addiction as something separate from themselves, they may have a hard time adhering to the idea that they can never rid themselves of addiction, that it’s always doing to be around the corner. Some people need a different approach that separates the addiction from them and shows them that they can leave that life behind. They need help to stop drinking without AA.

12 Step Vs. Non 12 Step Programs

The main difference between a 12-step approach and AA alternatives is that the majority of the non 12-step programs do not use a “higher power” to assist the patient through the recovery process.

Instead, alternatives to 12-step programs will usually focus on self-reliance and assist in encouraging each individual with substance abuse problems to recover to total health. The patient is provided access to programs that will empower them. Education is usually offered.

Since many of the alternatives to AA for alcoholics and drug addicts are based on scientific evidence, it also means that research has been done on these methods. In turn, the person can rest assured that their treatment has been tested and proven to work effectively. Alternatives to AA will also change frequently, based on discoveries made through scientific research and clinical trials involving addicts.

12 Step Program Alternatives
Focuses on “You’re always an addict” Works towards a life where alcoholism can be left behind
Motivates patients by using a “higher power” to guide them Recovery is self-driven
Discourages patients to attend if they’ve relapsed Patients are invited to attend as long as they aren’t disrupting the environment for others
Somewhat forced participation in meetings Open discussions
Focused on a belief system/ Spirituality Research-based
Set 12 steps New methods added as research advances
Sponsors No Sponsors

Alternatives To AA (Non 12 Step Recovery Programs)

Several ways exist for people looking for information on quitting drinking without AA. It is essential to take note of these programs and see which one would suit the needs of the addict best. Below is an overview of some common alternatives to 12-step programs and recovery programs that individuals with a substance abuse disorder may opt for.

SMART Recovery

The “SMART” stands for “Self Management for Addiction Recovery.” The program uses a four-point system to help empower individuals, equipping them with the knowledge and skills needed to overcome addiction effectively. Both psychological and scientific research is used in the development of SMART recovery programs.

The SMART Recovery program uses four steps instead of 12. These four steps are realistic and research-based and are meant to help individuals understand how to get over their addiction and stay away from it. Then, in a way where they can easily, logically, say no to their addiction.

Group of people at a SMART recovery meeting.

There are over 2,000 SMART Recovery meetings held worldwide, and that popularity doesn’t come without reason. A 2018 study that compared SMART Recovery and other alternatives to AA program showed that it was just as effective as the 12-step program. It makes it a great alternative to 12 step programs if the individual doesn’t prefer the traditional group method.

With many SMART recovery support groups and meetings nearby in most areas today, many people are starting to turn to this non 12-step treatment method.


LifeRing recovery is another relatively popular alternative to 12-step programs that people often a. In Lifering meetings, addicts are encouraged to share their experiences with the group, along with the techniques that seem to be working most effectively to keep their health in mind while battling the addiction.

Each person is encouraged to continue strengthening the existing recovery system that they are using while also providing others with critical tips that could be helpful in their recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. Lifering secular recovery programs also focus on empowering each individual in the group to overcome a substance abuse issue and protect their long-term health.

A 1999 study showed that some people respond better to treatment when they’re the ones that chose said treatment. It’s important that the treatment attends to multiple needs of the individual, not only their addiction. This is something that makes AA alternatives like LifeRing effective!

Women For Sobriety

Women for sobriety is a nonprofit organization that is one of the most popular alternatives to alcoholics anonymous and focuses specifically on female patients who have become a victim of alcohol or drug addiction. These non 12-step recovery programs work with a very specific 13-statement system to assist in the recovery from addiction and back to good health.

Women interested can find addiction support groups online, as well as several offline meetups. In these settings, the woman will be able to obtain a more personalized level of support. Growth and positivity are generally the two major focus points of programs offered by Women for Sobriety.

Women supporting each other at a Women for Sobriety meeting.

A comparison study conducted in 2017 showed that the Women For Sobriety program participants were more satisfied with the treatment. In addition, there was a higher participation ratio and cohesion when compared with the 12 step program.

SOS (Secular Organization for Sobriety)

SOS is a non 12-step recovery program with some things in common with the SMART recovery method. The SOS program does not hold on to just a single theory to explaining addiction and substance abuse recovery. Instead, the program uses the latest scientific research to develop recovery systems that work effectively.

Research has shown that part of why SOS is effective might have to do with the fact that it’s a program that’s easy to follow, and most people can follow through and use the tools without fail as fast as 5 minutes. The easier it is to step into the road to recovery to good health, the faster and easier it is to stick to the recovery method.

Moderation Management

People who have drinking problems, but don’t have it bad enough to classify as alcohol addiction, usually don’t get help. They assume that they can only get help if they’re addicted and have health problems and that usually wastes enough time that they actually get addicted.

With Moderation Management, they have the usual meetings and talking about the addiction, trying to get out of it, and online support groups and meetings and even group chats. But there’s one difference, there’s no abstinence at all. The program encourages self-help and helps the individuals find a balance on their own, where they can still drink but do so within a safe limit. It gives them more control over their drinking problem and teaches them to keep it from becoming an addiction.

IGNTD Recovery

One of the main differences between the 12-step program and alternatives to alcoholics anonymous like the IGNTD Recovery program is that abstinence isn’t a prerequisite. In this program, group members have access to a recovery coach that can help them set goals and reach them. There’s no pressure to hit a particular target in a certain amount of time, and slip-ups aren’t treated as an end-all type of situation. Instead, every kind of situation is dealt with compassion and for the overall betterment of the member.

A 2011 study showed that self-help intervention is a great way to curb alcohol addiction, even without the help of a professional. So when a counselor is thrown into the mix, things speed up a lot more!

HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol

HAMS is an all-inclusive platform that welcomes people who want to drink more safely, reduce the amount they drink, or quit cold turkey. This is an online program that’s peer-led and free of charge. Individuals that use it have access to live chats, forums, live group meetings, Facebook groups, and email groups to keep them on track with their own goals.

Doctor showing a patient online alternatives to AA.

A 1996 study found that harm reduction is an effective way of not developing an outright addiction in the first place. Since the individuals will be less likely to drink heavily, they’ll have a lower chance of developing dependence and will be safer in the long run compared to if they didn’t take any action at all.

Seek Treatment That Works

When an individual is struggling with heavy drinking or alcohol addiction and has found the 12-step program to be ineffective for them, they must explore the other options that are out there – alternatives to alcoholics anonymous. At the end of the day, the treatment that might work for someone else might not work for them. Seeking the proper treatment that works for them is the key to a happier, addiction-free life.

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Page Sources

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Published on: April 23rd, 2018

Updated on: March 27th, 2024

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