Non 12-Step Addiction Recovery Programs

The 12-Step recovery group model is a popular approach to addiction recovery, and many people find the support structure they need in groups that are based around it. However, the road to recovery is different for everyone who struggles with addiction, and some individuals do not thrive in a faith-based approach like the 12-Step program. Fortunately, there are effective  alternatives to traditional 12-Step programs.

What Are the Alternatives to 12-Step Programs?

Not everyone benefits from following the 12-Step model, but most people in recovery from addiction find that they need some kind of support structure in place. For individuals looking for alternatives to 12-step programs, there are a wealth of options available.

Women for Sobriety

Women for Sobriety (WFS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women overcome alcohol and drug addiction by providing a safe space for members to share their experiences and encouragement with one another. It was founded in 1976 by Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick, a woman who struggled with alcohol addiction for decades at a time. Dr. Kirkpatrick believed that women suffering from addiction have different needs than men, and she wanted to address them through Women for Sobriety.

WFS focuses on helping women replace self-destructive thought patterns with more constructive ones, and it relies on 13 positive affirmations to increase self-worth, promote emotional and spiritual growth, and live in the present. Like other mutual support groups, WFS groups are run by a moderator in a conversation-like format and usually have 6-10 participants.

Moderation Management

Moderation Management was established in 1994 and is designed for individuals who acknowledge that their alcohol use is affecting their life in a negative way and who want to moderate their consumption before they can no longer control it.

Participants begin the Moderation Management program by abstaining from drinking for 30 days. During this abstinence period, they are encouraged to examine how alcohol has affected all aspects of their lives, as well as which circumstances prompt them to drink the most. After the 30 days are up, participants receive guidelines on how to drink in moderation. Those who struggle with controlling their drinking are encouraged to abstain from alcohol entirely.

This approach to drinking has proven to be fairly effective for some individuals. According to a study originally published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, participants who used the online resources provided by Moderation Management and a web-based protocol called Moderate Drinking experienced a reduction in alcohol-related problems and abstained from drinking on more days than the control group did.

SMART Recovery

Founded in 1994, SMART Recovery has a four-point program that focuses on developing and maintaining the motivation to stop succumbing to cravings and to abstain from other types of addictive behavior. SMART stands for “self-management and recovery training,” and it relies on methods often used in cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing to prompt positive changes in the lives of its participants. Some strategies of motivational interviewing that SMART Recovery participants can use to elicit change in others are:

  • Asking evocative, open-ended questions of each person.
  • Exploring the pros and cons of both staying the same and changing.
  • Exploring potential themes, like triggers and harmful behaviors, that always lead to using.
  • Looking back and discussing a time before the addiction developed.
  • Looking forward and exploring how certain scenarios might pan out.
  • Examining goals and values.

Unlike 12-Step support groups, whose principles have remained largely unchanged since the program’s inception, SMART Recovery makes an attempt to evolve with the latest scientific discoveries in addiction treatment.


LifeRing Secular Recovery was formed in 2001 and takes a secular approach to sobriety with its core tenants of sobriety, secularity, and self-help. Individuals who do not like the faith-based approach of traditional 12-Step groups appreciate LifeRing’s methods for staying sober, which rely on the strength of human efforts and not on divine intervention.

People from all faiths are welcome, and participants at meetings help each other find the motivation needed to abstain from both drugs and alcohol.

Celebrate Recovery

Individuals who are not opposed to a religious approach to recovery but have not been able to find success with the 12-Step program might find it with Celebrate Recovery. This Christian support group is part of the Saddleback Church of Rick Warren, who wrote The Purpose Driven Life.

The eight principles for recovery of this program are based on the beatitudes in the Bible, and though it has its own step system, it is different from that of Alcoholics Anonymous. The steps in the Celebrate Recovery program aim to treat people with addictions of all kinds and strive to free them of past hurts, hang-ups, and habits.

Professional Addiction Treatment

Many professional addiction treatment programs offer the inclusion of the 12-Step program to each patient’s overall care plan, however that does not mean that participating in one is a requirement. At Sunrise House, we offer residential treatment that includes several other therapeutic mediums and evidence-based therapies outside of the 12-Step program. You can still obtain effective care without having to participate in the 12-Steps if you are uncomfortable doing so.

Additionally, American Addiction Centers, the parent company of Sunrise House, has several other facilities throughout the country that offer other levels of care including outpatient programming and sober living – both of which can offer treatment options that are not centered around the 12-Step principles.

12-Step vs Non 12-Step Addiction Recovery Programs

When deciding which form of addiction recovery support program will work best for you, understanding the difference between 12-Step and non 12-Step programs can be helpful. Many people find that a blend of the recovery models works best, while others prefer one or the other.

Both12-Step and non 12-Step programs work toward helping people achieve long-term recovery. They share common principles, such as the importance of peer support, having a recovery community, and fixing relationships in addiction recovery. Additionally, 12-Step and non 12-Step programs often encourage sponsors in recovery.

Some differences between 12-Step and non 12-Step programs include:

  • Self-reliance — 12-Step programs emphasize that people are powerless over their addiction and that recovery begins by relying on a higher power. Non 12-Step models put an emphasis on personal responsibility and the individual’s ability to manage their substance use disorders and recovery themselves.
  • Religion and spirituality — At the core of the 12-Step tradition is a belief in a higher power. Some people may find this reliance on a spiritual being off-putting. Still others may prefer a more specific adherence to Biblical traditions and would rather participate in a program that is geared more toward the Christian faith.
  • How addiction is viewed — Historically, 12-Step traditions have viewed addiction as a moral defect and something that needs to be corrected. Non 12-Step programs often view addiction as a disease that needs to be treated, rather than a character flaw or weakness.
  • Adaptability — 12-Step programs’ core principles have remained largely unchanged over the decades. Non 12-Step programs are often more adaptable, adjusting best practices as new and updated scientific data becomes available.

Are Non 12-Step Programs Effective?

While 12-Step programs have been around for decades and are more common, many people find non 12-Step programs effective. However, each individual will have a different experience based on their own needs and wants. Countless people have found non 12-Step programs to be immensely effective in helping them to maintain their recovery efforts.

The Importance of an Aftercare Plan

When it comes to addiction treatment, the exact components of an aftercare plan don’t matter nearly so much as establishing one in the first place. Individuals who are in recovery are one trigger away from feeling the urge to use again, but with an appropriate aftercare plan in place, which might include a mutual support group and relapse prevention plan, they are often able to find the strength and courage to avoid relapse.

If you have questions about aftercare planning for you or a loved one, or want to learn more information about types of addiction treatment in New Jersey, contact our helpful and knowledgeable rehab admissions navigators at today.

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