If Not A.A., Then What?

An exploration of some of the most effective alternatives to A.A. here, with a section at the end for your questions.

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Most Well-Known Does Not Equal Most Effective

For the past 75 years, the most common method of recovery for someone with an alcohol or drug problem has been Alcoholics Anonymous, “A.A.”, or other 12-step programs. However, the most widely known does not necessarily equal the most effective. If you are looking for addiction recovery options, what are your other choices?

We explore some of the most effective alternatives to A.A. here. Then, we invite your questions in the comments section at the end. In fact, we try to respond to all real-life situations personally.

What the Research Says

Recommendations to attend A.A. exclusively in addiction recovery made sense back in the 1930’s when it originated. Firstly, it was the only thing available, other than being locked up in a mental institution. Additionally, there was very limited understanding on the whole theory of addiction. To put things in perspective, behavioral treatments at the time included shock therapy.

There has been much research since that time. A.A. does not take any of it into account.

Research is showing that A.A. only has a “success” rate at around 5%, which is hardly a proven method. Since there are still so many people not getting the help they need, it has become imperative that the alternatives become more widely known and available. Luckily, we are getting to be at a time when a large portion of the treatment industry now accepts that 12-step programs are only one way of getting recovery, and therefore, are offering choices.

Choices in Addiction Recovery

So, what are some of the best alternatives to A.A. ?

The choices are vast so it is important to understand the specific program to see if it is right for you. The methods range from total abstinence to advocating for harm reduction….from individual, one-on-one help to mutual aid groups….all the way down to whether or not to include spirituality as part of your recovery.

What is important is that the treatment is individualized because what works for one, may not work for another.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse seems to agree, stating: “No single treatment program is right for everybody. Matching the treatment program to each individual’s needs is critical to success.”

Here are some ideas to get you started:

OPTION 1: SMART Recovery®, a.k.a. Self-Management And Recovery Training

This program helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors. They emphasize four main points: Motivation to abstain, coping with urges, problem solving and lifestyle balance, balancing long and short term satisfactions by following a path based on ones highest values, all using cognitive behavioral and motivational enhancement therapy techniques. SMART views addiction as a bad habit. It does NOT view it as a disease, and therefore, there are no labels used, such as “alcoholics” or “addicts”.

OPTION 2: Women For Sobriety (WFS)

This program is based upon a Thirteen Statement Program of positivity that encourages emotional and spiritual growth. WFS believe that drinking or using began to overcome stress, loneliness, frustration, emotional deprivation. They believe that this physiological addiction can only be overcome by abstinence, and those mental and emotional addictions are overcome with the knowledge of self that is gained through this program. Members live by the WFS philosophy: Forget the past, plan for tomorrow, and live today.

OPTION 3: HAMS: Harm Reduction

This program empowers people to choose their own goal—safer drinking, reduced drinking, or quitting. It engages people with realistic goals which they can actually accomplish, and does not label people as “diseased” or “alcoholic”. HAMS views excessive drinking as a maladaptive coping strategy.

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies intended to reduce the negative consequences of high risk behaviors such as overdrinking or drug use. Harm reduction is a nonjudgmental approach that attempts to meet people “where they are at” with their drinking or drug use. Instead of demanding perfect abstinence, this pragmatic approach is supportive of anyone who wishes to minimize the harm associated with a high risk behavior such as drinking or drug use.

OPTION 4: Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy is used to treat several mental illnesses in addition to substance abuse and addiction. DBT helps recovering addicts learn several skills—mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotional regulation—that are effective at helping addicted people stop using drugs and alcohol.

OPTION 5: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT teaches recovering addicts to find connections between their thoughts, feelings and actions and increase awareness of how these things impact recovery. Alongside addiction, CBT also treats co-occurring disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and post- traumatic stress disorder. It provides skills to change undesirable behavior.

OPTION 6: Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be described as “a non-judgmental way of paying attention to emotions in the present moment.” This means mindfulness seeks to allow us to focus our attention on the present moment. When your mind wonders to the future or past, or when powerful emotions such as cravings arise, mindfulness refocuses our mind to the present moment. Guiding patients’ attention back to the present moment increases their awareness of their habitual habits and cravings so “uncoupling” of cravings and addictive behaviors may take place.

OPTION 7: Acupuncture

This is an Eastern medicine technique that has been utilized for centuries. It not only releases endorphins, but also encourages the body to promote natural healing and improve functioning. It aids in patient detoxification by supporting the main organs of elimination in the body, speeding the body’s ability to rid itself of toxins. Treatment can improve mental clarity and ability to focus. It has also been shown to provide some people with a sense of calmness and serenity. Proponents of acupuncture in addiction recovery claim that it helps such things as reducing cravings, easing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and pain, while helping to regulate sleep.

OPTION 8: Naltrexone

Naltrexone is used to prevent substance abuse in people who have been addicted to alcohol or opioid pain medications. The medicine is not a cure for addiction. It is used as part of an overall program that may include counseling, attending support group meetings, and other treatment recommended by your doctor. It has been shown to curb cravings in some people.

OPTION 9: Affirmations

The most important addiction-treatment tool for your personal addiction recovery is YOU; your thinking, feelings and behaviors. Affirmations are simply statements of positive truth. When we “do” affirmations, we take charge of that loud, critical inner dialogue, which most addicts have to deal with every day.

Most of us have been talking negatively to ourselves all of the time for many, many years, and this must be changed! This is because much of our behavior or action is determined non-consciously to support our personal values or ingrained beliefs, and we will go to all kinds of lengths to support those beliefs, including self-destructive behavior. We can, however, by effort and practice, change these thoughts.

Once you are able to change your thinking, from negative to positive, such as from, “I am not good enough,” to “I am successful in all that I do,” your whole experience of life will change too. Need a place to get started? Here’s an interview that Addiction Blog did with Urban FLRT (Freely Living Real & True) on affirmations for addiction recovery that can help.

Options Other Than A.A.

Still have questions?

Please leave us a comment in the section below. We love hearing from our readers. And we’ll do our best to respond to you personally!

About the author
Melanie Solomon is the author of AA-Not the Only Way; Your One Stop Resource Guide to 12-Step Alternatives 2nd Ed. A full-time writer and lecturer, she has taught at the Huntington Beach School District's Drug and Alcohol Program and The learning Annex in California. For the past five years, Melanie has also been providing personal coaching for those with alcohol and drug problems, where she helps clients find the treatment plan that is the best match for their particular situation.
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