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Guide to 12-Step Alternatives

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 9, 2024

Table of Contents

Article at a Glance

  • Traditional 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, emphasize their spiritual basis and the concept of surrendering to a higher power
  • Alternatives to 12-step programs, including SMART Recovery, uses a 4-point program focusing on self-empowerment
  • Therapy-based approaches like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and medication-assisted treatment as part of a comprehensive addiction recovery plan

12-step alternatives might not receive as much publicity as 12-step programs like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and NA (Narcotics Anonymous), but there are many options for those moving from addiction to recovery, including our Orange County rehab. 

Research shows that remaining abstinent from alcohol or drugs for five years reduces the risk of relapse from 60% to 15%. Peer support groups, whether 12-step or 12-step recovery alternatives, can be an invaluable supplement to evidence-based treatment for many people looking to stay sober long-term.

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Why Do People Look for Alternatives to 12-Step Programs?

A 12-step program utilizes a framework of principles to help those battling addictions remain abstinent. These programs provide people with actionable steps to help them maintain ongoing abstinence from drugs (Narcotics Anonymous) or alcohol (Alcoholics Anonymous). 

Founded in 1935, AA was the first program launched using 12-step methodology. Members are invited to admit to a lack of control over alcohol with the aim of achieving spiritual awakening through the acknowledgment of a higher power and working through a series of linear steps. 

While 12-step groups were the only viable option for those in recovery until the 1970s, various 12 step alternatives have emerged since then. These programs work similarly to 12-step programs, with meetings led by members rather than medical professionals. Some offer online meetings in addition to in-person meetings, broadening access. 

People have many reasons for choosing an alternative to 12 step programs. These include: 

  • Personal beliefs and preferences: Some people do not find the spiritual component of 12-step programs appealing. Individuals with different belief systems or those who prefer a strictly secular approach to recovery may look for programs which align more closely with their worldviews.
  • Desire for a more personalized approach: Some people may find the structured nature of 12-step programs too rigid or generalized. They might look for recovery options that offer more personalized solutions.
  • Different approaches to addiction: The concept of powerlessness over addiction is a central tenet of 12-step programs. Many people prefer alternative programs that focus on personal empowerment and self-reliance in addressing substance use disorders (addictions).
  • Privacy concerns: Although 12-step programs are predicated on anonymity, the group setting of meetings might not be comfortable for everyone. Alternatives to 12-step that offer online or one-to-one counselling might be more inviting to those seeking a more private recovery process.
  • Cultural or lifestyle fit: Inclusivity and cultural sensitivity requirements lead many people to seek alternatives to 12-step programs that are targeted to address their needs and experiences.
  • Looking for evidence-based practices: Some people exploring peer support group options gravitate to those grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. 

Common Alternatives to 12-Step Recovery

Alternatives to 12-step groups use the same power of peer support, and they also provide you with tools to minimize the risk of relapse. Most of these programs are free. The only requirement is that you want to achieve and maintain abstinence from drugs or alcohol.

Search for some of the most common alternatives in your area online. Look for:

  • SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training)
  • SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety)
  • Women for Sobriety
  • Moderation Management

You can also look for local therapists offering evidence-based treatments for addiction recovery, as well as those offering holistic and experiential therapies.

Crucially, though, you should view either 12-step programs or 12-step alternatives as one component of an overarching treatment plan. That’s where we come in here at Renaissance Recovery.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is the most prominent alternative to 12-step programs, offering a different approach to addiction recovery. SMART Recovery is grounded in the principles of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and other science-based practices. It focuses on empowering people through self-reliance and self-empowerment techniques rather than relying on the concept of a higher power or the acceptance of powerlessness in the face of addiction. The program utilizes a trademarked 4-Point Program: 

  • Building ongoing motivation in recovery: Helps people identify their personal motivations for recovery and create a balanced life in line with their goals.
  • Coping with cravings: Cravings can lead many people in recovery to relapse. SMART teaches strategies to manage cravings and urges to use addictive substances.
  • Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors: Focuses on developing healthier patterns of thinking and emotional responses.
  • Living a balanced life: Aims to help people build fulfilling and meaningful lives, addressing areas like work, relationships, and hobbies. 

SMART Recovery offers a variety of tools and techniques designed to support people in recovery, including a handbook, worksheets, and online tools. Face-to-face or online meetings are educational and include open discussions, enabling people to share experiences and strategies with peers. There is also a vibrant online support community with forums and chat rooms providing support on-demand.

Get Help at Renaissance Recovery Today

Engage with alternative 12 step programs and effective addiction treatment at Renaissance Recovery in Florida and Southern California. 

At Renaissance, we appreciate that everyone has different needs and desires when it comes to recovery. Take advantage of highly targeted treatments and access 12-step alternatives like SMART Recovery to supplement treatment and provide a sense of support and accountability in recovery. 

Outpatient treatment at Renaissance enables you to fulfil your everyday obligations and participate in peer support groups while attending weekday therapy sessions at our rehab center in Huntington Beach, CA. treatments may include:

  • Talk therapy
  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Counseling (individual and group)
  • Family therapy
  • Motivational therapy
  • SMART Recovery
  • Holistic interventions
  • Aftercare planning

Call 866.330.9449 today and begin your recovery right away



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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