Alternatives to 12-Step Programs

The Choice Is Yours

What will work for you?

Alternatives to 12-Step Programs

By Jerry Dorsman

The 12-Step Program has a proven track record. It works. Since its inception in 1935, this program has been used successfully by millions of individuals who have managed to break their addictions.

Currently, the number of 12-Step meetings that are available and the membership remains high. For example, AA has an estimated 1,297,396 members in the United States and they attend 61,904 groups, according to the AA General Service Office report on January 1, 2018. In addition, NA offers 27,677 meetings in the US, as reported by Narcotics Anonymous World Service Conference participants in 2018.

If you want to break an addiction, be sure to give this program a chance.

But the 12-Step Program does not work for everybody. Indeed, broad-based studies of Americans show that approximately 30 million of us report having “a problem with alcohol addiction” and about 20 million report being in recovery. AA has about 1.3 million so it is helping about 6 ½ percent of those in recovery. Similarly, AA’s own triennial surveys consistently have shown that it has a retention rate of about 5 percent.

So why doesn’t the 12-Step Program work for a larger percentage? Here are some reasons that people give:

  • “I didn’t connect with the 12-Step concept of spirituality.”
  • “I don’t feel comfortable in group situations.”
  • “I don’t agree that I’m powerless over my addiction.”

But what options do you have if the 12-Step Program doesn’t work for you? The answer may surprise you. There are many effective alternatives.

Indeed you can find dozens of practical interventions that lead to recovery. Some of the new programs offer group meetings while many do not require any group participation at all. In addition, most of the alternative programs incorporate an empowerment model of recovery that may help you get back in control faster than the belief that you’re powerless.

Some of the alternative programs provide a network of groups that meet regularly. Here’s a list of the main group programs that have been proven effective:

  • SMART Recovery: (SMART stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training.) This program has over 1,600 meetings in the U.S according to its Fall 2018 News & Views.
  • WFS: (Women for Sobriety.) Presently has 72 active meetings in the US and Canada.
  • SOS: (Stands for Secular Organizations for Sobriety or “Save Our Selves.”)
  • LifeRing: Reports 160 meetings in the United States, with meetings clustered primarily on the West Coast.
  • Charolette Kasl’s 16-Step Groups: Has 98 meetings in the United States.

In addition to these group programs, you can find more than 25 successful programs that are presented in books. Each of these can be used as a complete self-help program. Furthermore, independent research on effective treatments reveals a plethora of techniques that can assist with breaking addictions. This makes it possible for you to develop a personalized program by combining your own unique set of chosen techniques. That is actually what I help people do with the books that I wrote. In that sense, both of my books, How to Quit Drinking Without AA and How to Quit Drugs for Good, serve as complete self-help guides.

Here are some other books that offer complete programs for breaking addictions:

  • Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward by James Prochaska, Ph.D., John Norcross, Ph.D., and Carlo DiClemente, Ph.D.
  • The Addiction Recovery Skills Workbook: Changing Addictive Behaviors Using CBT, Mindfulness, and Motivational Interviewing Techniques by Suzette Glasner-Edwards, Ph.D.
  • The Truth About Addiction and Recovery by Stanton Peele, Ph.D. and Archie Brodsky with Mary Arnold.
  • Seven Weeks to Sobriety: The Proven Program to Fight Alcoholism through Nutrition by Joan Mathews Larson, Ph.D.
  • Sober for Good: New Solutions for Drinking Problems — Advice from Those Who Have Succeeded by Anne Fletcher.

But no matter what program or set of techniques you use, the starting point always looks the same. It starts with the realization that something needs to change. There’s a point where we’re telling ourselves, “I can’t keep living my life this way!” We realize that the alcohol or the drug that we’re using is causing more problems than it’s solving. And often these problems are so serious that they’re ruining our lives.

Reaching this conclusion, we’re presented with a choice. We can continue down the path of addiction and the destructive lifestyle. Or we can quit the addictive substances and get into recovery.

If we decide to quit, we need to put some power behind it. The single most important point in breaking a drug or alcohol addiction is the decision to quit. This decision needs to be strong enough to carry us through the toughest of times. It needs to be a commitment to ourselves to make a serious and permanent change, a vow that we will honor.

For that reason, this decision needs to be backed with the strongest evidence to support it. Often we remember the fun we had while using. That’s natural. Yes we did have some fun. But the fun happened less and less often and the problems kept getting worse. To break our addictions, we need to focus on the problems. We need to remember our worst drunk, our worst high. We need to remember the pain we felt on mornings-after, the relationships we destroyed, the legal hassles we brought upon ourselves, the drug and alcohol induced medical problems that became more and more life threatening. We need to remember the confusion the drugs and alcohol caused within our minds. We need to remember the money we spent and the time we lost while planning our highs, while getting high, and then while coming down and feeling so bad that we couldn’t do anything all day.

Keeping these problems in mind will help to strengthen our commitment to quit the alcohol or the drugs and not look back. Over time, the decision to stop using becomes strengthened and turns into a lasting commitment to ourselves.

The commitment you make to yourself starts you on a new journey, a new beginning. So now what program or set of techniques will you use to ensure your success? What will work for you?

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Jerry Dorsman is the author of two books on addiction recovery: How to Quit Drinking Without AA and How to Quit Drugs for Good, and the coauthor of How to Achieve Peace on Mind. 

See Self-Renewal home page here.

See more info on Breaking Addictions here.

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