Who Uses The 12-Steps?

Support group programs offer a non-medicinal approach to dealing with substance use disorders. Joining a group of people who are experiencing the same issues you are can be an immensely validating experience and the support you find there is truly helpful. Most 12-step support groups are offered nationally and internationally; however, many organizations do not offer 12-step groups to give a national or international framework. There are many benefits to these groups, such as that they are free and readily available. These meetings teach individuals new coping skills and strategies for staying sober and connect members with others who relate and understand through their own personal experiences. One of the most famous support groups is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which founded the 12-step philosophy.

Simply stated, the 12 steps are a series of moral and behavioral guidelines that are meant to reinforce what these types of organizations see as the most important values and behaviors for recovery. These programs have worked for many people in the past, especially for people who find comfort and compatibility in a program that references spirituality and God frequently. For those people who don’t feel welcome in a spiritual space, there are options for more secular support groups.

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Non-12-step Treatment Groups

SMART Recovery™

SMART™ stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. This organization focuses on self-empowerment and coping strategies in order to help people reach a healthier lifestyle. As an international organization, they emphasize the efficacy of their programs and the importance of community support. Participating in SMART Recovery™ group meetups is free, as is using their online resources. They sell published materials aimed at broadening knowledge around substance use and addiction, but otherwise their services are free.

The SMART system focuses on a 4-Point Self-Empowerment Program™:

  1. Build and maintain motivation.
  2. Cope with urges.
  3. Manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  4. Lead a balanced life.

Instead of 12-steps, these 4 principles guide the way meetings and group communication takes place in the SMART™ system. In person meeting hosts undergo at least 30 hours of training to prepare them to conduct useful gatherings. Online meetings can be hosted by people with less experience but there’s still a vetting process in place.

SMART™ emphasizes the importance of helping people develop every part of themselves from habits and behaviors to emotions and beliefs. Goal-setting plays a big role in progress within SMART Recovery™ because it gives people satisfaction as well as an indication of how far they’ve come.

There are specific programs for individuals facing addiction on their own, family and friends of people dealing with addiction, and teens. Any increases in specificity help the professionals at SMART™ deliver more coordinated aid to those in need.

SMART™ also works with treatment providers and the court system to better help people dealing with addiction. Treatment providers can be trained in SMART Recovery™ methods and use their goal setting system in therapy, or they can volunteer in arranging meetings and helping people in the community. SMART™ works with the courts and corrections officials in order to lighten the sentences and focus more on rehabilitation rather than punishment when addiction is involved. Some courts will require someone to join a 12-step program and SMART™ works to give them another option if that type of spiritual program does not fit their needs.

Life Ring Secular Treatment

While many addiction support organizations implement religious dynamics in treatment, Life Ring chooses to avoid them. Since 2009 the proportion of US adults that consider themselves atheist or agnostic has risen from 5% to 9%. This nearly doubled population suffers from the same issues of substance abuse as religiously affiliated adults, but when seeking treatment, they may find it uncomfortable to take on a prescribed spirituality.

Rather than rely on the 12-step program in many popular recovery organizations, Life Ring believes the person in recovery should be able to have a say in their path and healing. Once out of any formal treatment, it’s ultimately up to the individual to heal, so Life Ring places emphasis on developing the skills and network necessary to organize a lifelong recovery plan and stick to it. Life Ring believes each person should have their own Personal Recovery Program (PRP) that is personalized to their needs. Participants are encouraged to discover their own path while using the group process as a workshop for that purpose. Many members of Life Ring also participate in other recovery groups, giving themselves a variety of support. There are 3 fundamental principles of Life Ring, called 3-S: Sobriety, Secularity, and Self-Help.

  • Sobriety: The basic membership requirement is a desire to remain abstinent from alcohol, illicit drugs, and other mood-altering substances.
  • Secularity: All people are welcome regardless of faith or lack of faith.
  • Self-Help: The most important factor in recovery is the individual’s personal motivation and effort for sobriety.

People participating in Life Ring treatment may be unable to find nearby in person meet ups due to availability or COVID-19 regulations. Regardless of reason, the organization offers online meetups to offer remote support to members as well as a 24/7 chat room for constant access to other members. If you’re interested in starting a group in your area, reach out to Life Ring Treatment and they can provide resources for how to hold meetings and help organize in your community.

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Women For Sobriety

As the name suggests, this organization focuses on giving women the help they need in combating substance use disorder. In 1975, Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick founded Women for Sobriety given her expertise in sociology and her history of alcohol use disorder. Throughout WWII and afterwards Dr. Kirkpatrick struggled with alcohol and found the existing organizations like AA to fall short of her recovery needs.

Women for Sobriety focuses on addressing the challenges unique to women in recovery. Mutual aid groups and community development resources are key in this organization. Online forums and chat rooms for around-the-clock support are available to women looking for help from this organization.

Instead of the 12-step approach, Women for Sobriety go for 6 levels of recovery:

  1. Acceptance of having a substance use disorder, one that requires cessation of the use.
  2. Discarding negative thoughts, leaving guilt behind, and accepting new ways of viewing and solving the problems.
  3. Creating and practicing a new self-image.
  4. Using new attitudes to enforce new behaviors.
  5. Improving relationships as a result of our new feelings about ourselves.
  6. Recognizing life’s priorities: emotional and spiritual growth, self-responsibility.

The Women for Sobriety New Life Program organizes its efforts around these levels of recovery. The focus in the organization’s recovery plan is the relationship someone has with their body and mind. By repairing these relationships, it gives the person a stable foundation to continue healing and moving further from addiction.

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Like many mutual aid-based programs, the meetings and online forums are free for use by anyone in need. They sell books and pamphlets based on their programs for a price for those who want a more detailed look into the strategies they use to structure their methodologies. For those curious, you can also find The Soberful Podcast and Beyond Addiction Show for more information about addiction and Women for Sobriety.

These 3 groups are not the only non-12-steps organizations available but are some of the largest. They have national and international reach, but if you can’t find nearby associated group meeting locations, other organizations exist and can help you.

Finding Help

If you’re here trying to learn about treatment options for yourself or a loved one, then you’ve made important steps forward. When trying to combat addiction, even small steps can be hard and that progress is worth recognition. If this information on support groups has piqued your interest into other treatment options, like rehab, contact a treatment provider today.

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Michael Muldoon

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  • Michael Muldoon earned a B.A. in Media Studies from Penn State University, but instead of shifting into an academic career in social science, he has decided to put his skills to work in the pursuit of helping those struggling with addiction. He enjoys spending his free time at the climbing gym with friends.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional

Theresa Parisi

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  • Theresa Parisi is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) with over 12 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.

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