While perhaps the best known organization for treating alcoholism, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is certainly not the only group that can help those struggling with alcohol issues and addiction. Even though it has a wide reputation as the main alcoholic treatment plan, many people are not comfortable with the program and some of its requirements. Fortunately, for those reluctant to join AA, there are other alternatives that can address their alcohol problems and concerns.
But What’s Wrong With AA?
There is nothing “wrong” with AA, but not all treatments fit the needs of every individual seeking help. AA began informally in 1935, when two alcoholics, Bill Wilson and Bill Smith, got together and discussed the nature of alcoholism and how to overcome the issues related to it. Today, less than 100 years later, it is estimated that, as of 2018, over 2,000,000 people are members of AA. Clearly, they have done some excellent work to generate such an impressive number of members to their voluntary organization!
So why isn’t everyone flocking to AA?
Here are some of the reasons some people are not attracted to AA:
- Religious Undertones – many people, atheists and agnostics in particular, are repelled by the religious undertones used in AA; six of the twelves steps mention God or a Higher Power
- Time Consuming – it is not uncommon for new members to be required to commit to a large number of meetings; “90 sessions in 90 days” is a typical edict for new members, a requirement to attend AA sessions every day for the first three months
- Court Ordered – some members “join” AA to avoid a prison sentence, often lacking any true motivation to recover from alcoholism; associating with such company can be detrimental to those truly desirous of breaking the drinking habit
- Potential Abuse – women especially have complained of sexual abuse and harassment; some members claim there is a hidden 13th step which involves striking up sexual relationships with other members in the group
- Neither Medical Nor Therapeutic – AA does not claim to offer medical or therapeutic assistance in dealing with alcoholism; it is strictly educational in approach and sessions are headed by lay persons
- Hard on Relapses – members of AA have earned reputations for being unsupportive towards other members who have relapsed; many people have expressed a sense of shame rather than support when being reprimanded by an AA member
What Are the Alternatives To AA?
While AA is the best known, operating in 180 nations worldwide, it is definitely not the only solution to treating alcoholism today. If certain aspects of AA make you uncomfortable, consider one of the following organizations, all of which have proven themselves as viable treatment alternatives to AA.
Utilizing a research-based foundation instead of using a spiritual approach, the SMART Recovery program developed techniques and methods using scientific research and evidence to support its members. They offer in-person meetings as well as support via daily online meetings and a 24/7 chat board. Members are not labeled as alcoholics, nor do they approach treatment through the disease model of addiction.
Instead of the AA 12-step program, SMART Recovery employs a four-point program focusing on:
- Establishing the motivation to change, growing that motivation, and learning how to sustain it for the long haul
- Educating oneself on how to manage and deal with urges and cravings
- Learning new methods of managing negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors
- Building, sustaining, and learning to live a life of balance
Members are encouraged to learn self-empowerment as part of the process of taking charge of their recovery.
Another secular help group, LifeRing works under the concept that each person has a “sober self” which can be enhanced while at the same time they are weakening their “addict self.” Veering away from the religious aura surrounding AA, LifeRing believes that each individual holds their own key to recovery, instead of needing to give up control to a spiritual power.
LifeRing offers both online support options and local meetings throughout the United States. The focus at the meetings is about the present; instead of dredging up past sins and regrets, members typically talk about their victories and the positive aspects of living sober. The overall focus is to enhance the sober self while diminishing the power of the addict self.
Women for Sobriety
Structured exclusively for women, Women for Sobriety (WFS) was created to assist women in finding the treatment plan which will best support their recovery. Similar to the 12-step program, WFS has created 13 acceptance statements in its “New Life” program intended to shift thinking and energies from a negative to a positive state of mind. They are further encouraged to repeat these statements each morning, reflect upon them during the activities of their day, and to evaluate how you are integrating them into your life in the evening.
While not projecting a strong religious attitude, both emotion and spiritual healing and growth free from alcohol abuse and addition is encouraged by group moderators. Women can find face-to-face meetings in most American cities, often finding more comfort and security in an all-female setting. In the final analysis, WFS encourages women to realize their own worth and competence, to take responsibility for their choices, and to learn how to take better control of their own lives and circumstances.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety
Sometimes called “Save Our Selves” and usually going by “SOS,” the Secular Organizations for Sobriety is a loosely-connected network of autonomous non-professional groups (both local and online) focused on aiding alcoholics in their recovery process. In addition to helping find meetings, both online and face-to-face, SOS serves as a wonderful resource center, offering news, information, and downloadable literature to support you on your journey.
You can even watch a short 8-minute film entitled “No God at the Bottom of the Boat,” featuring founder James Christopher talking about the origins of SOS and it purposes, contrasting it against AA. Christopher is also the author of two related books: SOS Sobriety and Unhooked: Staying Sober and Drug-Free.
This service takes an entire different approach to managing alcohol consumption and use, which some may consider controversial. Moderation Management (or MM) describes their organization as a “lay-led non-profit dedicated to reducing the harm caused by the abuse of alcohol.” In contrast to the other programs described above, MM does not impose the condition of complete abstinence to become a member. Their focus instead is geared towards shifting away from problematic drinking and destructive behaviors towards positive lifestyle practices. At MM, it is believed that not all problem drinking is an addiction, and sometimes only moderation (instead of abstinence) is required.
They do offer a program, which includes face-to-face meetings, where new members are asked to stop drinking for a 30-day period. They are also encouraged to maintain a diary tracking drinking patterns and behaviors in an attempt to gain a better overview of their drinking habits. Download their Guide to Moderation Management Steps of Change for more detailed explanations of the program, along with a breakdown of their 7 step approach towards that change (you can also download your own Drinking Diary and Tracking Cards on the same page).
Individuals wishing to find treatment options other than AA find this list to be the best start to their search (and sometimes the only spot needed to visit). Just as no one religion can meet the needs of every human being, neither is one alcohol treatment plan capable of fulfilling the wants of every alcoholic; this above list serves well as a reliable guide to viable alternatives to AA.