The fact of the matter is, AA doesn’t work for everyone. Looking for an alternative or a second chance at recovery? There are many alternative programs available.

For a person who uses or abuses drugs or alcohol, it can be particularly difficult to find alternatives to traditional recovery programs. It has been shown that one of the most important factors in drug or alcohol treatment is the support system around the person in need of help.

The standard support group that most people are familiar with is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Despite its reputation, AA is not for everyone. In these cases, several alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous are available.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery, or Self-Management and Recovery Training, is a secular alternative to AA and similar spirituality-based interventions. SMART has several meetings per week in many cities and uses non-confrontational methods to help people overcome addiction problems. This program is centered around positive, rather than negative, reinforcement.


LifeRing secular recovery is a support group that embraces whatever works for a particular individual. According to their website: “There are as many ways to live free of drugs and alcohol as there are stories of successful sober people.”

LifeRing secular recovery allows each member to design their own recovery pathway, with peer and structural support along the way. Some of their available resources are face-to-face meetings, online materials and publications. LifeRing also provides online meetings for those who are more comfortable communicating this way or do not have access to face-to-face meetings in their city.


Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)  is another non-spirituality focused organization that focuses on sobriety and mutual support. SOS was founded by James Christopher, a former AA attendee that became frustrated with the emphasis on God and religion. He expressed that frustration by writing “Sobriety Without Superstition,” published in Free Inquiry, a secular humanist journal. He received enough positive feedback that he founded SOS.

SOS recovery focuses on factors outside of spirituality like genetics and environmental factors. Importantly, SOS allows its members to determine for themselves whether they believe alcoholism is a disease.


Harm reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support (HAMS) is “a set of practical strategies intended to reduce the negative consequences of high-risk behaviors such as overdrinking or drug use.” This method is a nonjudgmental approach that tries to meet people “where they are at” instead of demanding complete abstinence.

HAMS harm reduction for alcohol encourages its members to set their own goals regarding alcohol and drug use. Harm reduction for one person might mean drinking two drinks a day instead of ten, while it might mean complete sobriety for someone else. As long as the individual is making an improvement and reducing self-harm, their goals align with HAMS.

Women for Sobriety

Women for Sobriety (WFS) is an abstinence-based self-help program for women who need help with alcohol and drug addiction issues. The group encourages nurturing self-value and self-worth while discarding feelings of guilt, shame and humiliation. Women in WFS live by the philosophy “Release the past — plan for tomorrow — live for today.”

WFS also focuses on the unique needs of women in the setting of rehab and recovery. The idea is that most sobriety programs have historically been designed with men in mind, which is reflected in the fact that men showed higher recovery rates with traditional programs. WFS welcomes all expressions of female identity, along with members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Rational Recovery

Rational Recovery (RR) is an individual-based recovery program centered around the Addictive Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT®). RR takes a radically different approach to recovery and acts as a complete counterpoint to AA. Within the framework of RR, recovery is a private and personal experience. There is no place for addiction treatment centers, group therapy and counseling outside the self. RR stresses the idea that substances both quell and cause anxiety. The desire to use substances comes from the internal addictive voice, which AVRT® seeks to help one recognize.

Refuge Recovery

Refugee Recovery is built on Buddhist teachings. Their page describes the program as “an approach to recovery that understands: all individuals have the power and potential to free themselves from the suffering that is caused by addiction.”

The four “truths of refuge recovery” are:

  1. Addiction creates suffering
  2. The cause of addiction is repetitive craving
  3. Recovery is possible
  4. The path to recovery is available

For those looking for a spiritual approach that is different from AA or traditional sobriety programs, Refuge Recovery may be a strong option.

Celebrate Recovery

Celebrate Recovery is a 12-step program that incorporates Christian teachings as its spiritual component. Celebrate Recovery may be ideal for someone who would like to combine their Christian spirituality with their journey to sobriety. This program supports reducing the stigma associated with mental health and helping pastors with addiction find their road to recovery. Celebrate Recovery has group meetings available in most states.

Moderation Management

Like some other groups supporting those who abuse alcohol, Moderation Management takes a harm reduction approach to recovery. It is directed at non-dependent problem drinkers that do not want to stop drinking but want to reduce their alcohol use. This approach disregards the “disease theory of alcoholism” because they believe it may erode self-confidence in some people. Moderation Management is built upon principles of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Members set their own drinking goals and use CBT techniques to achieve them.

Why 12-Step Alternatives are Important

12-steps programs follow a regimented set of guidelines that work for some people. For others, they can be alienating and contribute to their lack of success in recovery. There is no one-size-fits-all model, and AA alternatives provide another avenue for long-term sobriety that some people find more effective.

List of Non-12-Step Recovery Programs

The following is a compiled list of all groups discussed in this article:

If you have questions about these programs or other treatment options for alcohol and drug abuse, reach out to The Recovery Village for more information.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS, CACP
Dr. Sheehy completed his BS in Molecular Biology at the University of Idaho and went on to complete his Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Read more

SMART Recovery. “Homepage.” Accessed May 10, 2019.

LifeRing Secular Recovery. “Homepage.” Accessed May 10, 2019.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety. “Homepage.” Accessed May 10, 2019.

HAMS. “What Is HAMS?” Accessed May 10, 2019.

Women for Sobriety. “Homepage.” Accessed May 10, 2019.

Rational Recovery. “Homepage.” Accessed May 10, 2019.

Refuge Recovery. “Homepage.” Accessed May 10, 2019.

Celebrate Recovery. “Homepage.” Accessed May 10, 2019.

Moderation Management. “Homepage” Accessed May 10, 2019.



Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.