AA Isn’t The Only Way: Exploring Alternative Recovery Programs

Let me start by saying that this is not an anti-AA post.  Alcoholics Anonymous is by far the most well-known and successful recovery program on the planet.  According to data from the Alcoholics Anonymous General Service Office, as of January 1, 2018, there were more than 120,000 groups operating with over 2 million members worldwide.  That includes over 60,000 groups with more than 1.2 million members in the U.S. alone.  AA has been around for over 80 years and has helped millions of people.  It works for many people.  It wouldn’t have the longevity and following it does if it didn’t.  I had success with AA for a while the first time I seriously attempted sobriety back in 2015.  And honestly, it wasn’t long after I trailed off from going to meetings that I relapsed.  I still attend meetings from time to time when I need support.
However, AA is not for everyone.  There are several reasons people do not like AA including its spiritual aspect, having to admit powerlessness, identifying as an alcoholic, working with a sponsor and just generally being judged & told what to do.  The biggest turn off for me personally is the close-mindedness that AA is the only way to stay sober for the long haul.  There seems to be a mindset among some that if you’re not doing everything in the program exactly how they think it should be done then you are not going to maintain your sobriety.  Some AA groups I’ve been to are really close-knit and it can be intimidating and difficult to be accepted.  Plus, a lot of people in early sobriety deal with heightened anxiety and going to an AA meeting adds more stress to an already difficult phase.  Regardless of the reason, there are people that are not getting the help they want and need because they don’t want to go to an AA meeting.  The good news is that it is 2018 and there are a plethora of other programs available both online and in-person.  And these alternatives may be just as effective.  A study published by the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment in May of this year found that three main alternative mutual help groups, SMART, LifeRing, and Women for Sobriety, work about as well as AA.
I am a big advocate of doing anything and everything you can to get and stay sober.  So my advice to anyone seeking to overcome a problem with alcohol will always be to try ALL of the programs that you can.  Find what works for you and what doesn’t.  Create your own program out of a mix of programs.  There are no rules, there is no one size fits all solution.  Make your recovery your own and make it as enjoyable as possible for YOU.
The Recovery Research Institute lists three types of pathways to recovery.  They are classified as clinical, non-clinical and self-management.  Clinical pathways are recovery processes aided by a licensed professional – doctor, nurse, pharmacologist, therapist, etc.  Non-clinical pathways are community-based and peer-supported processes.  Self-management pathways are informal processes, natural recovery processes and I’m going to add online recovery processes to this category as well.  I strongly suggest checking out the Recovery Research Institute’s website for a very informative and detailed list of these pathways to recovery.
Here is my list of alternative or supplemental recovery programs and methods.  I am presently in the process of researching and profiling each these resources individually so check back as I add additional sources and data.  I am not an official representative of any of these programs or companies and the views expressed here are mine and mine alone.  I may receive a commission from sales generated through any link to the Amazon.com website.
This Naked Mind – The first thing I personally recommend for anyone to do regardless of where you are at in your recovery, or even if you aren’t in recovery yet, is to read the book This Naked Mind by Annie Grace.  It’s also available as an audiobook.  This book helped to change the way I view alcohol.  Annie presents research-backed information in an easy-to-read way that will challenge anything you think that you are gaining from drinking.  She also has a great free podcast, blog, and community but definitely get the book.  If you fall in love with her approach like I did you’ll want to check out her paid intensive online program and keep an eye out for its next launch date.
SMART Recovery – Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART) is one of the more popular alternatives to 12 step programs.  SMART is a sensible self-help program that emphasizes four points, or key areas of change, including enhancing motivation; refusing to act on urges to use; managing life’s problems in a sensible and effective way without substances; and developing a positive, balanced, and healthy lifestyle.  The program offers all tools and resources online with daily online meetings, 24/7 chat rooms and weekly in-person group meetings all over the country.  At the very least you’ll want to check out their website’s SMART Recovery Toolbox for a bunch of free useful resources that you can take advantage of even if you don’t use the full SMART program.
Celebrate Recovery – Celebrate Recovery (CR) is a Christ-centered 12 step program with group meetings all around the country.  The steps are similar to AA with each one having a biblical comparison.  Unlike AA which does not require you to define a specific higher power, CR promotes Jesus Christ as the one and only higher power.  Typical meetings include a large group meeting, an open share small group, and a newcomers 101 meeting for your first week only.  You can find more info and a meeting near you on their website.
Refuge Recovery – Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist-inspired eight-fold path to recovery using mindfulness and meditation.  It is open to anyone who has a problem with addiction and promotes that “All individuals have the power and potential to free themselves from the suffering that is caused by addiction.”  Meetings include a 20 minute guided meditation, a weekly reading and group sharing.  Meetings online and in-person group meetings across the country can be found on their website.  The Refuge Recovery book is available in all major bookstores and online booksellers.
LifeRing Secular Recovery – LifeRing Secular Recovery is an organization of people who share practical experiences and sobriety support.  Many LifeRing members attend other kinds of meetings or recovery programs.  LifeRing uses an approach of supporting self-recovery without steps, higher powers or sponsors.  Meetings consist of people talking about what is currently going on in their recovery and encourages questions, comments, and feedback between participants during the hour-long meeting.  While in-person meetings are not as widely available across the country, their website does offer online meetings, chat rooms, and support groups.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety – Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is a nonprofit network of autonomous, non-professional local groups dedicated solely to helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety/abstinence from alcohol and drug addiction, food addiction and more.  SOS credits the individual for achieving and maintaining his/her own sobriety.  SOS respects recovery in any form, regardless of the path by which it is achieved.  SOS meetings do acknowledge that persons are alcoholics and addicts, they consist of introductions and an open sharing format.  Meetings are available in-person and there is a list of online groups at their website.
Women for Sobriety – Women for Sobriety (WFS) is a non-profit dedicated to helping women discover a happy new life in recovery from substance use disorders.  Founded in 1975, the WFS New Life program is based on 13 Acceptance Statements which encourage emotional and spiritual growth.  Meetings are available both in-person and online via their website.  Meetings begin with each woman introducing herself by saying, “My name is ____ and I am a competent woman.” She then shares a positive action (how she handled a situation differently) or a feeling (she was able to identify and/or respond to differently) and selects one of the 13 Statements to which it relates.  There is then a sharing portion and discussion on a topic typically from the WFS literature.
The Sinclair Method – The Sinclair Method (TSM) is a treatment for alcohol addiction that uses a technique called pharmacological extinction—the use of a prescription opiate blocker to turn habit-forming behaviors into habit erasing behaviors. The effect returns a person’s craving for alcohol to its pre-addiction state.  TSM (developed by Dr. David Sinclair) uses an opiate blocker called Naltrexone.  The process involves taking one tablet of the prescription medication one to two hours before drinking before your first drink of the day for the rest of your life as long as you continue to drink. The tablet chemically disrupts the body’s behavior/reward cycle causing you to want to drink less instead of more.  **This should only be done in cooperation with your doctor.**  I encourage you to do your research and consult with your doctor before even seriously entertaining this method.  Self-disclosure: I have chosen total abstinence and have not tried this method, but I do receive a monthly Vivitrol (Naltrexone extended-release) injection to help with cravings and that has worked for me to reduce cravings.
Recovery International – Recovery International (RI) offers meetings to men and women of all ages that ease the suffering from mental health issues by gaining skills to lead more peaceful and productive lives.  RI offers a cognitive behavioral training (CBT) method that helps members learn to identify and manage negative thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors that can lead to emotional distress and related physical symptoms.  Meetings involve 5 parts including reading from program books; examples, or sharing, of life events that cause distress; spotting, or commenting, on other members examples; mutual aid, or discussion, on how members are using RI tools; and voluntary contributions collected to support the organization.  The RI website provides meeting materials (free and for purchase) for use before and during meetings.  Meetings are offered in-person, online, via telephone, and online chat.  This is a paid membership group with dues of $35 for a regular membership (unsure of length) or $1,000 for a lifetime membership.
Moderation Management (warning: ugly website alert) – Moderation Management (MM) is a lay-led non-profit dedicated to reducing the harm caused by the abuse of alcohol.  MM is a behavioral change program and national support group network for people concerned about their drinking and who desire to make positive lifestyle changes.  MM empowers individuals to accept personal responsibility for choosing and maintaining their own path, whether moderation or abstinence.  MM meetings are based around nine steps toward moderation and positive lifestyle changes as well as the guidelines of a moderate drinker and moderation limits.  Meetings are offered both in-person and online at their website.
Recovery 2.0 – Recovery 2.0 (R20) is a membership site for people in recovery, their families and people who work in the field.  Membership gives you access to exclusive expert presentations and live workshops, daily practice videos, featured videos from a library of over 200 videos, wellness and tips videos, the Recovery 2.0 book, and member-only author’s notes, access to the Ask Tommy library, weekly membership emails, a private Facebook group and more.  Membership is $140 per year.  Check out the website for more info.
Hip Sobriety School – Hip Sobriety School (HSS) is an 8-week (paid) sobriety school and virtual group coaching program by Holly Whitaker of Hip Sobriety, one of the most popular sobriety blogs on the web.  HSS is a paid program open to anyone looking to get started on a path to sobriety, or already in some sort of recovery program. It is not a detox or 12-step program, but it can work as either a compliment or supplement to other programs and therapies or as a first step towards healing. It is open to a limited number of participants every eight months who will come together as a tribe and work to become masters of their own recovery paths.  HSS consists of one class module per week focused on a different area of recovery including the brain & habit, ritual, yoga, breathe & meditation, nutrition & body, relationships & community, therapy & trauma, and much more.  The next class begins in October 2018 (price undisclosed) and you can join the waiting list for free on the website.  If nothing else, you’ll want to check out Holly’s blog.
One Year No Beer – One Year No Beer (OYNB) is an online program (paid) that promotes three levels of sobriety challenges – 28 days, 90 days and 365 days.  By taking the challenge you pay a fee for access to online support tools to help you on your journey including email support, access to a private Facebook group and forum, daily videos, an audio program, ebooks and guest training in fitness, diet, and mindset.  Over 25,000 people from 71 countries have taken the challenge.  Price and features depend on the length of the challenge you want to take.  Watch the videos and read more about the program on their website.
Again, the point is to educate yourself on what’s out there and try out the programs that are available.  Find what works and what doesn’t, commit to one or take parts from all of them.  Just do something.  Feel free to contact me if you need any additional information or help with these resources.
This video provides a good description of four alternatives to 12 step programs – SMART Recovery, Women for Sobriety, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (S.O.S.), And LifeRing Secular Recovery:
Tell me what you think!  What have programs have you tried?  What programs are missing?  What has worked for you?  Comment below, contact me on social media or via the contact page.  If you got some value out of this information please share and help spread the word!
Whatever you do, OWN it!
***Please note that I am not an official representative of any of the programs or websites mentioned in this post.  All view expressed are mine and mine alone and should be taken as such.***