For the better part of eight decades, 12 Step programs have provided countless millions of addicts worldwide the help they need to overcome addiction and maintain sobriety. Starting in 1935 with the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-Step groups provide those struggling with substance abuse the blueprint to recovery through a series of steps that center on a specific theme. With many drug treatment facilities adopting 12-Step based philosophy in their effective treatment programs, it is indeed an excellent tool to have in one’s “recovery toolkit”.
While 12 Step programs are indeed effective, what if they don’t fit your unique and specific needs? Recovery isn’t a one size fits all proposition, and if AA, NA or another 12-Step based support group, what options do you have? Fortunately, there are several alternatives to 12-Step programs that may provide the structure and support you need to achieve and maintain your hard-earned sobriety. The following are a few examples of the most well-known alternatives to 12-Step groups.
Founded in 1994 by Dr. Bob Gerstein, SMART Recovery is a non-profit, nationwide organization which offers free support groups to those who are looking to break the cycle of drug addiction and other similar behaviors. For those who participate in SMART Recovery, they will the tools for addiction recovery that are based on scientific research and are based on four fundamental principles:
Building and Maintaining Motivation
Coping with Urges
Manage Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors
Living a Balanced Life
By focusing on these principles, people can learn to change themselves from within and encourages them to be proactive which leads to self-empowerment. This concept stands as alternatives to 12 step programs philosophy in which people gain the understanding they are powerless in in regards to their substance abuse.
During meetings, individuals are encouraged to talk with one another, as opposed to talking to one another. The techniques taught in SMART Recovery change as scientific knowledge and research evolve. In addition to holding meetings in the traditional “meeting room” setting, people can also participate in online meeting forums.
Life Process Program
Developed by Dr. Stanton Peele, the Life Process Program is another one of the popular alternatives to 12-step programs. This non-12 step based program is internet-based and operates on the belief that people are not powerless in regards to their addiction, and as a result they don’t need to participate in any kind of mutual self-help support group in order to overcome substance abuse.
There are four basic tenets on which the program operates and are the following:
Values and purpose
Life skills and real-world rewards
The building and mending of community and relationships
The Life Process Programs was initially utilized in luxury rehab facilities, then made available as a comprehensive online course in which people receive both online and telephone coaching. This unique alternative recovery program utilizes relapse prevention techniques at its core, and participants learn how to build positive self-worth, values and purpose in life.
Another popular 12-step alternative are harm reduction programs. These programs are based on teaching those struggling with substance abuse a set of practical strategies which are intended to reduce the negative consequences of high-risk behaviors associated with drug abuse. Harm reduction programs utilize a nonjudgmental approach that attempts to meet people “where they are at” with their drinking or drug use.
Meetings allow and encourage the use of open dialogue and debate in order to discuss the specific risks associated with alcohol and drug use, what causes those risks, and what they can do to reduce or eliminate those risks. The most interesting features of harm reduction groups is that while abstinence is desirable, harm reduction is also supportive of anyone who wishes to minimize the harm associated with a high-risk behavior such as drinking or drug use which can include moderating one’s drug use. This approach is highly controversial for some of those in the recovery community.
LifeRing Secular Recovery
A non-12 Step support group that is gaining popularity is LifeRing Secular Recovery. This group is an abstinence-based, worldwide network of individuals seeking to live in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Life Ring Secular Recovery operates under a unique 3-S philosophy which is the following:
Sobriety–for those who wish to be in LifeRing, the only requirement is they desire to remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol. Participants practice what is called the sobriety priority which states that nothing will interfere with staying abstinent from alcohol and other substances.
Secularity–LifeRing welcomes people of all faiths and those who don’t have a faith system. People who attend LifeRing are not pressured to subscribe to any particular religious belief and they can keep those beliefs private. LifeRing is of the belief that recovery efforts are based on human efforts over any form of divine intervention.
Self-Help–LifeRing is seen as a “personal workshop” in which they can create and modify their own personal plan of recovery. The main people of group meetings is to reinforce the individual’s drive to stay clean and sober. LifeRing does not prescribe any particular “steps” other than abstinence and is compatible with a wide variety of abstinence-based therapeutic or counseling programs.
Women in Sobriety
Women for Sobriety is another alternative 12-step program, and it was the very first national self-help program specifically created for women. Formed in 1976, and it has over 300 chapters throughout the United States. At the core of Women for Sobriety is a program known as the New Life Program, and it is based on on a set of principles called the Thirteen Acceptance Statements which are similar to the Twelve Steps in terms of addressing powerlessness in addiction and the development of emotional and spiritual growth.
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Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery Network team.
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