Alcoholics Anonymous saved my life and I don’t care if that makes me a cliché. When I stopped using opioids cold turkey after an addiction in 2017, my life was a mess, I needed a plan, and AA delivered. But as I got deeper into my recovery process, AA started to feel itchy. I quickly found that I was wholly allergic to the thinly veiled Jesus-y underpinnings. The world’s most famous recovery support group is based firmly in traditional platitudes of Christian faith and guess what? Not everyone is Christian. A lot of young people, especially, aren’t even religious at all. For that reason (and a few others, including the heteronormativity of the program), I’ve explored a lot of alternatives to AA over the past two years.
No one should have to adhere to "mainstream" ideals just to get a little support during addiction recovery. If you don’t feel like you fit in at traditional meetings because their religious ideals don’t align with yours — or their ideas about identity or addiction feel outdated — here are some other recovery support programs that have proven track records.
Recovery programs for folks who aren’t sure about the whole God thing
SMART Recovery is an evidence-based (versus spirituality-based) “self-management and recovery training” program. Their 4-Point Program is designed to help people change their behaviors in a gradual, step-by-step process. According to their literature, individuals struggling with addiction must first build the motivation to change, cope with urges, learn to manage their emotional state effectively, and finally, make a plan for living a healthy sober life. SMART Recovery is shown to be an option with positive benefits for people who have substance abuse issues as well as those with behavioral compulsions, like overeating. Their program is free and they have meetings worldwide.
If that doesn't sound like a solid fit, there are a bunch of other secular recovery alternatives to AA. LifeRing is a group geared towards personal empowerment (think Tony Robbins style positivity). SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety) is a network of local autonomous secular recovery groups, and they provide a loose connection between unaffiliated local secular groups. There's even AA Agnostica, an organization explicitly formed to counteract the negative experiences that some non-religious folks had in AA.
Recovery programs for people who aren’t into abstinence
A lot of programs have been developed that don’t ask you to abstain from all substances now and forever, since abstinence is not necessarily the best way to get sober for some people. While most established programs encourage a period of total abstinence from your addiction, whether it’s to sex or to Sazeracs, there’s some research that suggests that some folks who want to cut back on drinking can still dabble with it.
Moderation Management is a support group network for people who want to change their lives by drinking less. It’s based on the seemingly simple idea that people can change their behavior (as opposed to AA’s notion that the alcoholic is powerless over alcohol) and the kinda revolutionary (in traditional recovery circles) idea that folks should be offered choices about how to change their behavior. MM is free and they have meetings all over. HAMS, or Harm Reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support is also a very useful peer-run resource.
Recovery programs for people who are spiritual, but not Christian
Y12SR, or Yoga for 12-Step Recovery, is a yoga-centered holistic recovery program that has both the physical postures and philosophy of yoga as its foundation. It is an up-and-coming approach to recovery that integrates somatic trauma recovery techniques with 12 step-inspired group support techniques. Founded by Nikki Meyers, it's also the only internationally recognized recovery group created by a woman of color. Y12SR is free for individuals, and while there aren’t as many meetings as some other options, new groups are constantly forming.
Recovery Dharma — formerly Refuge Recovery — is one of my favorite programs, despite the fact that its previous ownership experienced some alleged controversy. (When I contacted a local former Refuge Recovery leader for comment about Noah Levine, who still runs Refuge Recovery, he said that Levine is not affiliated with Recovery Dharma.) Recovery Dharma is a program based on Buddhist principles. The meetings center around meditation and mindfulness practices, are free and world wide, and are full of punks and feminists with an eye for social justice.
There are, unfortunately, no organized programs for sober witches, but there’s a book for pagans in recovery and also a guide for sober Satanists. Amen. I mean, Blessed Be. I mean, Ave Lucifer. Whatever works for you.
Recovery programs geared more toward women and LGBTQ
I’m not the only one who has complaints about the heteronormativity of AA, or about 13th Steppers (old-timers in AA who hit on newcomers). As a result, recovery options have developed specifically to meet the needs of women and queer folx.
Women For Sobriety is a program designed to “meet the very special needs women have in recovery,” as they say on their site. The rhetoric sounds a little trite but the program itself is actually pretty feminist. WFS is free and while they don’t have very many meeting options, they can connect with you by phone. LGBTeetotaler is a blog that is working to connect sober queers. Tempest is a paid online “sobriety school” that promises to teach you how to be a happy sober person, and is mostly geared toward young-ish women.
Some people balk at for-profit addiction recovery resources, but personally, I think there’s a big difference between medicalized treatment centers that make billions off of people managing addiction, and recovery coaches who are just trying to make a living helping people, like Holly Whitaker, who runs The Tempest and Hip Sobriety.
I still go to AA-related meetings, but I stick with Al-Anon and ACoA (Adult Children of Alcoholics & Dysfunctional Families), both groups for folks whose lives have been affected by alcoholics or people with other addiction issues. I’ve personally found that those groups tend to have an approach that is more accepting of difference, and definitely less predatory, than some of the rooms.
If you or someone you love is in crisis, please call the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration) hotline 24/7 at 1-800-662-HELP.
This post has been updated to reflect a response from a recovery organization's representative.