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Alternatives to the 12 Steps 

Getting sober is a uniquely personal experience. There are undoubtedly certain proven methods and therapies to help people recover from drug and alcohol addiction in Ohio but not every method works for everyone. 

One of the most popular forms of addiction treatment in the world is working the steps of 12-step recovery programs. 12 step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) have been used by recovering addicts for several decades but despite their success – the 12 steps aren’t for everybody. 

If you’ve tried the rooms of AA or NA but failed to gleam any type of lesson or find yourself stagnant in recovery, it might be time to consider some alternatives to the 12 steps. Let’s learn more about finding 12 step alternatives so you can have great recovery tools without being pigeonholed into one type of recovery.

Why Some People Have Problems With The 12-step Model

One of the first things you’ll notice in 12 step meeting rooms is the mention of ‘God’ or a ‘higher power.’ 12 step programs encourage spirituality and leaning on an outside source of power to help you progress in your recovery. The theory goes that if you could get yourself sober, you already would have. 

Though the word God is mentioned, the full phrase is ‘God, as we understood him.’ Your ‘God’ can be the God of your upbringing, it could your own theory of a higher power, or it could even be your house cat – if you place your trust outside of yourself. 

Though your higher power is one of your choosing, many people are still turned off by the God and spiritual aspect of 12 step meetings. If you can’t get past the ‘God’ notion, it will be difficult for you to make any progress in the rooms of AA or NA. Let’s learn about some of the more popular 12 step alternatives.

SMART Recovery 

Self- Management and Recovery Training (SMART) was developed in 1992 as the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Self-Help Network but began operating under the SMART name in 1994. Unlike 12 step meetings, there is no mention of God or a higher power and you are not required to turn your power and life over to a higher power. 

SMART believes in using current scientific knowledge to help alleviate addiction and boasts that it changes when new discoveries are made. Instead of 12 steps, SMART utilizes a combination of motivational interviewing and motivational enhancement therapy along with group meetings to aid in recovery. 

alternatives to 12 steps

The SMART Program emphasizes four unique areas of improvement known as the 4-Point Program which include Building Motivation, Coping with Urges, Problem Solving, and Lifestyle Balance. SMART also utilizes 6 states of change to enhance progress at different points of recovery. The 6 states of change include:

  1. Precontemplation – Before the addict recognizes they have a problem.
  2. Contemplation – SMART uses a cost/benefit analysis to help participants weigh their addiction. 
  3. Preparation / Determination – The participant decides to pursue change.
  4. Action – Participant finds ways to handle their addictive behaviors. This includes counseling, self-help, and other individual preferences. 
  5. Maintenance – Participant maintains their personal progress and builds upon it.
  6. Graduation – Participants can choose to leave the SMART program if they feel they have laid the best path for recovery. 


Like SMART, Lifering is considered a secular recovery program if you’re too turned off by the mention of a higher power in 12 step programs. Lifering was founded in 1994 in California as a branch of the Secular Organizations for Sobriety and currently boasts dozens of meetings across the country including online meetings. The Lifering approach to recovery utilizes the 3-S philosophy of Sobriety, Secularity, and Self-Empowerment. 


Group counseling like the 12 steps or SMART Recovery are always recommended due to fellowship and being able to bounce thoughts and ideas off others in recovery but not everyone responds to group therapy. If you choose not to participate in group style counseling, you’re strongly encouraged to participate in proper education and counseling from a professional like a psychiatrist or certified addiction counselor. 

There are many types of counseling but talk therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been demonstrated many times over as an effective counseling style for addiction. Talk with your counselor about alternatives to 12 steps after they get to know you for a personalized recommendation. 

Try Multiple Meeting Styles 

Don’t throw the 12 steps out the door if you don’t like your first 12 step meeting. Because they’re so popular, they’re dozens of different types of 12 step meetings to match the recovering individual.

 If you’re a heroin addict and didn’t like AA – try NA. If you’re a female and find the rooms of AA too testosterone drive – try a women’s only meeting. You don’t need to force yourself to continually try meetings for days or weeks on end, but you’d be surprised how much your view of the 12 steps changes if you’re in the right room with the right people. 

There is also no rule stating you can’t use a secular group therapy like SMART or Lifering, along with a spiritual program like AA. If both work you, use both. 

Finding 12 Step Alternatives

The 12 steps are most popular group therapy for drug and alcohol addiction, but they don’t work for everyone. If you’re struggling in 12 step rooms or want to start your recovery off without the 12 steps you can try alternatives like SMART, Lifering, and several others.

No matter if you choose an alternative or don’t want group therapy at all, you should always receive some form of counseling from a professional to help you progress in your recovery. Give 12 step meetings a chance even if you don’t like your first meeting and keep your nose to the recovery grindstone for a better chance at a fulfilling and happy life.  

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