Top 10 Best Alcoholics Anonymous Alternatives List

Over the past few years, I have examined the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous and a lively discussion has followed these posts. AA is a group that many have very strong feelings about - both positive and negative. For some, AA has been a life-saver and allowed them to manage their addictions, while for others, the experience has not been as positive, and, in fact, has been quite horrible. Based on all of the heated discussions, I wanted to take a moment and provide information on the top 10 alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12-Step programs that I have found on the internet for alcoholism and addiction support. I hope these will be helpful to those out there that are looking for a new (or additional) support group solution to managing your or a loved one’s addictive behaviors.

Listed in alphabetical order, they are:

HAMS: Harm Reduction: A harm reduction program empowers people to choose their own goal—safer drinking, reduced drinking, or quitting. It engages people with realistic goals which they can actually accomplish, and does not label people as “diseased” or “alcoholic”. HAMS views excessive drinking as a maladaptive coping strategy. There are 17 “elements” of HAMS, which you can do in any order, are optional, you get to pick and choose which ones work for you. Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies intended to reduce the negative consequences of high risk behaviors such as overdrinking or drug use. Harm reduction is a nonjudgmental approach that attempts to meet people "where they are at" with their drinking or drug use. Instead of demanding perfect abstinence, this pragmatic approach is supportive of anyone who wishes to minimize the harm associated with a high risk behavior such as drinking or drug use. HAMS offers information and support via a chat room, an email group and live meetings--as well is the articles on their web site

LifeRing Secular Recovery: LifeRing is a network of support groups for people who want to be free of alcohol and addictive drugs. They are a group for people who have learned through experience that the only solution that works is to abstain completely. They see the power to get clean and sober inside each person. Through the positive reinforcement of the group process, that power becomes dominant in each person and enables them to lead clean and sober lives. They believe that there are as many different ways to get clean and sober as there are alcoholics and addicts. Therefore, their approach to recovery emphasizes learning through experimentation. The basic LifeRing philosophy can be summed up in three words; Sobriety, Secularity and Self-Help. The website provides information about the group, including frequently asked questions, publications, an online forum area for support, and links to local meetings.

Pennsylvania Model: Pennsylvania Model is the use of medication, such as Naltrexone, which has been shown to suppress the intense craving to drink or use, in addition to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Enhancement Therapy and/or Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Alcohol abuse is treated as a bio-psycho-social condition, rather than a “spiritual disease”, where the physical component is treated with medication, which eliminates the physical cravings, so you can then deal with the psychological and social components of the addiction, changing the way you think about certain things and the social habits you spent your whole life developing. Assisted Recovery Centers of America (ARCA) was the first in the nation to offer a non 12-step program of recovery using this model.

Rational Recovery: Rational Recovery is a worldwide source of counseling, guidance, and direct instruction on self-recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs through planned, permanent abstinence. The group believes that individuals are on their own in staying sober, so there are no meetings or treatment centers as part of the approach, nor is there any counseling, therapy, psychology or spirituality. The website provides information about the method (Addictive Voice Recognition Technique® (AVRT®)), frequently asked questions, free information for those trying to stay sober, as well as their families, and information about subscription based services.

Recovery, Inc.: Recovery, Inc. is a self-help mental health program based on the work of their founder a neuropsychiatrist, the late Abraham A. Low, M.D. For over 75 years this method has helped members learn to identify and manage negative thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviors that can lead to emotional distress and related physical symptoms. Recovery, Inc. offers its members a free method to regain and maintain their mental health and the program is designed to work in conjunction with professional mental health services. The website provides information and background about the group, links to resources for group members and professionals, forum boards for discussions/support, and a directory of the over 700 group meetings in the U.S. and several other countries.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS): SOS is an alternative recovery method for those alcoholics or drug addicts who are uncomfortable with the spiritual content of widely available 12-Step programs. SOS takes a secular approach to recovery and maintains that sobriety is a separate issue from religion or spirituality. SOS believes that sobriety must be a priority for its members and that they must accept that drinking or using, no matter what the circumstances, is no longer an option for them. The website provides more information about the organization, including the history and brochures about the group, as well as links to live meetings around the world.

Sinclair Method: According to the Sinclair Method, drinking tends to be learned slowly, over a period of years. The brain produces natural opiates when alcohol is consumed and it is the act of releasing these natural opiates that produces the “high” or feelings of enjoyment. The brain begins to crave more and more alcohol. In other words, too much drinking leads to the production of too many natural opiates, so that over a period of time, it takes more alcohol to produce those same feelings of enjoyment that you had in the beginning. The brain begins to crave more and more alcohol. Sinclair believes that this process of drinking and craving can be reversed partly or wholly through the process of extinction.Dr. Sinclair was also one of the first to recognize how the use of Naltrexone can lead to an extinction, or elimination, of the craving for alcohol. by following this method, drinking and craving are extinguished, and this method can be used whether your goal is to moderate your drinking, or to stop drinking completely.

Smart Recovery: SMART Recovery® (Self-Management And Recovery Training) helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors, including: alcoholism, drug abuse, substance abuse, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, gambling addiction, cocaine addiction, and addiction to other substances and activities. They emphasize four main points: Motivation to abstain, coping with urges, problem solving and lifestyle balance. SMART views addiction as a bad habit. It does NOT view it as a disease, and therefore, there are no labels used, such as “alcoholics” or “addicts”. It stresses self-responsibility, self-motivation and self-discipline as the primary means of stopping substance use. SMART Recovery® offers free face-to-face and online mutual help groups. The website provides more information about the group, as well as links to the 300+ face-to-face meetings offered around the world, 16+ online meetings per week and their online message board for additional support.

Women For Sobriety: Women For Sobriety, Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women overcome alcoholism and other addictions. Their "New Life" program is based upon a Thirteen Statement Program of positivity that encourages emotional and spiritual growth. WFS believes that drinking or using began to overcome stress, loneliness, frustration, emotional deprivation, or any number of other kinds of harassment from which dependence and addiction resulted. They believe that this physiological addiction can only be overcome by abstinence, and that mental and emotional addiction are overcome with the knowledge of self that is gained through this program. Members live by the WFS philosophy: Forget the past, plan for tomorrow, and live today. The website provides additional information about the group, the thirteen statements of the program, and links to find groups in your area. They also have a “Men for Sobriety”.

16-Step for Discovery and Empowerment Model: This is a holistic approach to overcoming addiction that views people in their entirety-mind, body and spirit. Created by Charlotte Kasl, Ph.D., this 16-step model helps people to develop ego strength which is seen as having a healthy ability to be introspective and to ask oneself the questions: “Who am I? What do I value, believe and want?” Addiction is seen as complex, encompassing social factors, physical factors, pre-disposition and personal history. This method believes that a major task in recovering from addiction is to validate the underlying, positive survival goals for safety, connection, pleasure, love and power that using used to accomplish, and then to find non-addictive and positive ways to meet those needs. The steps are about taking charge of your life, and rebuilding your self-esteem and self-worth. The steps are quite powerful.

So, here I provided you with the top TEN alternative self-help groups that are available to you. But there are other alternatives as well that have nothing to do with having to attend a group for help. These are alternative methods that have proved to work well for people with alcohol or drug problems, such as anything from Hypnotherapy and Acupuncture, to Mindfulness and Neurofeedback. I will be covering some of these in a future post in more detail. There are just so many alternatives, which are not mutually exclusive of each other, that they need to be presented over the course of several articles. This is a good start for those needing information about their options and short description to see if they might desire to check one, or several of them out. I wish you nothing but the best in discovering what your unique journey will be.

It would be great if you shared some of your experience with these methods, 12-step or any alternative, or combination of things. This can be not only very informative, but healing as well. When we see the similarities in our stories in black and white, and we see that there are, in fact, many solutions to this all-consuming problem, the dread of isolation disappears, and hope can seep in and take its place.

PASS this information on ...give others the chance to see them too!

Author's Bio: 


For over a decade, Melanie battled with addiction to prescription pills. Her life became an all-too-common vicious cycle of rehabs, sober livings, 12-step meetings and relapse. She is finally now living a peaceful, balanced, functioning life.

Her odyssey began just before graduating with honors from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in psychology. One doctor prescribed Stadol nasal spray for migraines; another, Vicodin for menstrual pain. Given her genetic predisposition, within days, she became an accidental addict. Every attempt to stop brought on the sickness of withdrawal and escalating use. She had to drop out of UCLA Law School, after completing just one year, and enter a well- regarded, conventional rehab - her first indoctrination into AA and the 12-Steps. This treatment plan only served to diminish her already plummeting self- esteem. It took a near-fatal overdose for her to awaken to the realization that there had to be a better approach.

So she became the consummate researcher, finding new purpose in compiling information on evidence-based alternative recovery options that might better suit the complex and individualized needs of people suffering with substance abuse problems. In the process, she discovered that she was far from being alone in her AA "failure." Indeed, it was instead a customized path that would help her create enduring sobriety. The result was her book, "AA Not the Only Way- Your One Stop Resource Guide to 12-Step Alternatives," an bestseller in its 2nd Edition.

For the past five years, in addition to being a full-time writer and speaker, Melanie has been providing personal coaching for those with alcohol and drug problems. As a Recovery Coach, she helps clients find the treatment plan that is the best match for their particular situation while motivating and supporting them in taking action on their own behalf. She has also taught at the Huntington Beach School District's Drug and Alcohol Program, led workshops for The Learning Annex in California and been interviewed on over 30 radio shows nationwide.