How to Find a Non-Faith Support Group: Alternatives for AA

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Joining a support group can be a crucial part of your recovery. Unfortunately, only 20 to 25 percent of those who attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or a similar group stick with it after their first meeting. This is likely because the 12-step approach isn’t one-size-fits-all. In addition, many 12-step programs take a religious or spiritual approach to recovery, which might deter those who aren’t personally religious or spiritual. If this describes you, fear not: there are support group alternatives to AA and other 12-step programs. Here is what to look for and how to find the best program for you.

12-Step Alternatives for Drug & Alcohol Addiction Recovery

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery focuses on personal motivation and confidence-building. Based on scientific findings and approaches, it uses cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to rewire the brain to not want drugs or alcohol. SMART Recovery requires its members to be totally abstinent. 

Women for Sobriety (WFS)

Women for Sobriety focuses on the specific needs of women. Because men disproportionately experience alcohol addiction, many recovery support groups are tailored to them. Women for Sobriety allows woman-to-woman support. It encourages the adoption of 13 affirmations that are generally more self-empowering than the passive statements in the 12-step programs. WFS does require its members to be totally abstinent.

LifeRing Secular Recovery

Despite its name, LifeRing does open its doors to religious members — however, spirituality is not the guiding force of its program. Like SMART Recovery, it uses CBT and focuses on self-empowerment through science. LifeRing is also an abstinence-based program.

Secular Organization for Sobriety (SOS)

SOS was specifically created for those who do not want a faith-based recovery program. It offers mutual support opportunities in a loose, customizable structure. SOS is also an abstinence-based program

Moderation Management (MM)

The only alternative program that does not require full abstinence, Moderation Management is quite different than other addiction recovery support groups. Designed for both problem drinkers and those who fear they might have a problem, MM is a telephone- and digital-based collective of people supporting each other as they track and reduce their drinking. After an initial period of abstinence, members are encouraged to develop healthy habits and a healthier relationship with alcohol. Obviously, this method will not work for all people and should be used with caution. Severe addiction often requires full abstinence, at least for a prolonged amount of time while entering recovery.
So with these options, how can you decide which is best for you or your non-religious loved one?

Figure Out Your Recovery Needs.

12-step programs use the idea of a higher power to motivate recovery. However, that approach doesn’t work for everyone. Different support groups alternatives to AA or NA have different styles, but many take evidence-based treatment that teaches positive thinking and motivational tools.
To choose the best support structure for your personal recovery, evaluate what you need and what you struggle with.

Do you need an external force to motivate you to take personal responsibility?

If you need someone to keep you on task, there is an alternative to the sponsor relationship common in 12-step programs: ePals, offered through the LifeRing program. Other programs, such as S.O.S, appeal to science and logic to provide external motivation for you to practice abstinence from drugs and alcohol. 

Do you like structured group activities or sharing on an individual basis?

If you prefer to work on projects with other people or do well with facilitated activities, try out a SMART Recovery group, which offers classroom-like meet-ups with homework for participants. If you prefer a looser, more conversational format, try LifeRing, which uses a “convener” to guide the group discussion.

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Do you prefer face-to-face meetings or online meetings?

If you’re introverted or shy, face-to-face meetings can be daunting. Alternatively, you may simply want the convenience and ease of online meetings. SMART Recovery offers daily online meetings, a 24/7 chat room, and an online forum, so you can always be in touch with your support group. LifeRing, as mentioned above, connects people with ePals, and also offers an online community.

Do you plan on permanently abstaining from drugs and alcohol?

Perhaps you just want to stop problem drinking and be able to drink on special occasions. Perhaps you want to nip a potential addiction in the bud. The Moderation Management program would be good for you. It is a 9-step program that encourages the development of healthy habits instead of using alcohol on a daily basis or as one’s hobby. 

Make a Daily Plan of Action

Although the 12-step approach may not be right for you, recovery does involve adherence to certain principles and practices. Secular alternatives to AA tend to emphasize the formation of positive habits and mantras, rather than passively submitting oneself to a higher power.
With a non-faith approach, what these empowering thoughts and practices end up being is entirely up to you. Be open to feedback and guidance from your support group’s moderator or facilitator, as well as its members.

Know Your Rights

Many judges will attempt to order those who are brought up on drug- or alcohol-related charges to attend a 12-step program. However, this is not lawful according to several court rulings that found specific mandates to attend a faith-based group to be a violation of the separation between church and state. Patients may initially be forced into inpatient facilities to treat substance abuse (and only if they’ve become a danger to themselves or others), but they retain the right to attend a support program of their choosing during their recovery.


If you’re uncomfortable with a faith-based group, it doesn’t resonate with you, or a 12-step program is too rigid or passive, an alternative support group can be a great option. These groups use a combination of evidence-based techniques and self-empowerment practices to encourage abstinence or moderation while encouraging a social, healthy lifestyle.
If you or a loved one needs help, call us at 949-625-4019.

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