Alcoholics Anonymous, both its teachings and its format, has become ubiquitous within the whole of addiction treatment. Groups can be found in virtually every major city in America and even internationally in approximately 180 nations–but that doesn’t mean Alcoholics Anonymous is for everyone. As unique and intimate a disease addiction is, it would be insane to assume that there’s one single program that would work for the millions that alcoholism affects every year. Here are some alternative alcohol support groups other than aa you should consider:
Alcohol Support Groups That Aren’t AA
Peer-based support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are great for being a low-commitment way to first find the motivation to stay sober and then keep that momentum going with the support of others who have been in a similar situation. However, there are a number of reasons why AA isn’t the right fit. If you find yourself in this camp, these 3 alternatives to AA can be just as effective in helping you find reasons to stay sober and stick to your decision.
One of the most popular alternatives to 12-Step programs is the Self-Management and Recovery Training, otherwise known as S.M.A.R.T. recovery. Although it also offers a community element as AA does, this program is secular and evidence-based, rather than faith-based, a huge selling point to those who are agnostic or non-religious.
Another key difference is that whereas AA’s attitude towards addiction is a disease that can never be cured, S.M.A.R.T. considers addiction as a behavior that can be changed. Further, S.M.A.R.T. is newer (AA was created in 1935, before much of the understanding of addiction we have today) and incorporates science in its treatment program, placing an emphasis on cognitive-behavioral techniques and coping with cravings. Valuing a scientific approach towards addiction treatment, S.M.A.R.T. welcomes those using MAT (medically assisted treatment) which AA has historically has not.
How It Works: Rather than 12 steps, there is a simple four-point program that does not have to be completed in any particular order:
- Building and maintaining the motivation to change
- Coping with urges to use
- Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in an effective way without addictive behaviors
- Living a balanced, positive, healthy life
Harm Reduction for Alcohol or H.A.M.S. is a peer-led group with the program goal of abstinence from alcohol or moderation. It was created by Kenneth Anderson in 2007 when AA didn’t work for him. In addition to helping those who struggle with drinking, H.A.M.S. also provides support for other “soft” drugs: marijuana, nicotine, and caffeine.
One of the greatest benefits of H.A.M.S. is also what makes it unique, the use of the harm reduction approach. It’s practical, and more importantly, much more realistic. Rather than demanding complete abstinence, as most other programs do, H.A.M.S. meets people where they are, giving them the grace to make changes in their drug use habits in a way that feels sustainable. Their slogan, “Better is better”, makes recovery less stressful by not seeing an inability to be abstinent as a failure.
How H.A.M.S. Works: It has 17 ‘elements’ (not steps) where members learn how to make small steps to change their behavior and change their drinking habits as well as harm reduction techniques for safer and reduced alcohol consumption. Each element has an official corresponding explanation video and a worksheet, making it super easy for self-guided recovery.
While Alcoholics Anonymous can provide a supportive setting for people to come to terms with their drinking problem, addiction isn’t a disease of willpower. It’s layers of physiological and psychological changes that repetitive drug use has caused, changing the way we think, feel, and act. No amount of self-reflection is going to fix an imbalance of neurotransmitters or prevent withdrawal symptoms from taking place.
Addiction is a medical condition that warrants medical attention. Specialized addiction treatment centers have staff that can help people safely get through detox and beyond. More importantly, they also have trained mental health professionals trained in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) to unlearn harmful behavior. For individuals struggling with severe addiction or who have had one for a very long time, a facility with formal treatment options is likely to be the most effective–and safest–option.
Still not sure which support groups for alcohol are the best for you? Check out these Alcoholics Anonymous FAQs to learn more about the program and whether or not AA is the right choice.