How To Quit Drinking Without AA
Key tips and strategies for giving up alcohol without the 12 steps
Ready for a change in your relationship with alcohol?
There are advantages to the 12 step method, and many people experience success with it. However, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) doesn’t mesh with everyone’s perspective. Some elements of the program, including the belief in a higher power, aren’t the right fit for everyone.
Fortunately, if AA doesn’t work for you, there are other choices. Different support groups exist to help you quit drinking without AA, some with a more secular approach. There are also other treatment options, including rehab, telehealth programs, and even quitting on your own (although you should speak to a doctor before doing this, as you may experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms).
Finally, treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) isn’t limited to the 12 steps. Other approaches like harm-reduction, medication-assisted treatment, and moderation-based programs may help you succeed if AA isn’t a good match for you.
Read on to learn how to stop drinking without AA—including the many alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous—and how to decide which approach can help you quit drinking.
Table of Contents
Why You Might Benefit From an AA Alternative
Before going further, we should recognize that Alcoholics Anonymous does work for some people—and there’s nothing wrong with choosing that path if it’s a good fit. While the program’s anonymous nature makes success rates hard to track, an independent 2020 study confirmed that AA is genuinely effective in plenty of cases.1 It has a loyal following, and for good reason.
But there have always been plenty of folks for whom AA doesn’t work. Some aren’t comfortable with surrendering control to a higher power, or declaring themselves “powerless” over alcohol. Others feel recovery is a private experience, and don’t want to share their struggles with people they don’t know. Still others feel uncomfortable with the label “alcoholic,” or simply want to cut back—not quit completely as AA requires.
Read more: Does AA Work for Everyone?
All of these and more are legitimate reasons to look for an AA alternative. And fortunately, there are many other effective choices out there.
5 Free Alcohol Support Groups That Aren’t AA
To start with, if you simply don’t connect with 12 step philosophy, there are other support groups you can join. Each has its own unique perspective, and each, just like Alcoholics Anonymous, is free of charge. Here are five of the best alternative support groups to AA:
1. SMART Recovery
SMART Recovery meetings are held throughout the country and are popular alternatives to AA meetings and 12-step groups. They’re based on a 4-point program—combining motivation, coping strategies, cognitive-behavioral management, and living a balanced life. SMART stands for “Self-Management and Recovery Training.”
- Mutual support meetings, both local and online
- Science-based cognitive therapy strategies
- Secular/non-religious approach
- International reach
2. Women For Sobriety
Women for Sobriety is another secular alternative to AA. This addiction recovery support group is for women with any type of substance use disorder, including AUD. Their New Life Program is based on 13 acceptance statements, and six levels of recovery. WFS puts particular emphasis on positive reinforcement, cognitive strategies, self-care, and group support.
- Certified moderators/chat leaders
- Online and in-person mutual support groups
- Phone volunteers for one-on-one support
- Welcomes all expressions of female identity
HAMS is a peer-led group that provides support and information to those who want to change their drinking habits. It’s an AA alternative that involves 17 steps instead of 12, and supports moderate drinking and harm reduction in addition to full sobriety.
- Self-directed with resources and peer support
- Live meetings
- Online support forum and chat room
- Email and Facebook groups
- Official HAMS book and articles
LifeRing is another alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous. It is abstinence-focused, and designed to be compatible with a variety of other treatment resources. The program’s philosophy emphasizes positivity, practicality, and staying focused on the present. Group participants share understanding, advice, and encouragement.
- Peer-based support
- Local and online meetings
- Email groups and online forums
5. SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety)
Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is a network of independent groups to help people achieve or maintain sobriety. It’s another strong option for those looking for secular alternatives to AA meetings.
- Open to alcohol and other drug dependencies
- Groups based on the Suggested Guidelines for Sobriety
- Both in-person and online groups
Other Ways To Stop Drinking Without AA
Aside from support groups, there are many other ways to get help for your alcohol use. Residential rehab centers are perhaps the best known. But if you don’t want to put your life on pause, there are also outpatient centers and telehealth programs that can fit within your schedule. And for those who don’t want to quit completely (as AA requires), harm-reduction and moderation-based approaches might be a good fit.
Detox and Rehab
For people with severe alcohol use disorder, or who expect intense withdrawal symptoms, some form of medical detox may be necessary. Sudden withdrawal from heavy drinking can be dangerous or even fatal, so it’s best to have a doctor’s supervision. If you have a milder drinking problem, you might be able to go it alone. But you should still check with your doctor beforehand.
Once you are past the initial detox phase, rehabilitation programs (or rehab) are one way to go. Residential treatment can last 30-90 days, and gives you a chance for a full reset. Outpatient rehab lets you continue living at home and attend treatment for several hours per day. Online rehab is the least disruptive, letting you talk to doctors and coaches from home via your phone.
Rehab programs are the right choice for some people, but they can be too expensive for others. Also, with the exception of online rehab, these programs can be very disruptive to work and family life. Finally, many residential and outpatient programs are based on 12 step philosophy. If this perspective is a reason you want to stop drinking without AA, these won’t be suitable.
If you don’t want to quit alcohol completely, or have had too much trouble staying 100% sober in the past, harm reduction might be the right approach. Alcoholics Anonymous, and many older treatment programs, emphasize total abstinence from drinking as the only solution. However, newer perspectives on treatment now accept moderation, or cutting back, as an acceptable answer to problem drinking.
Harm reduction is exactly what it sounds like: Finding the solution that leads to the smallest amount of possible harm from substance use. In the context of a treatment program, this might mean a physician helping you cut back and monitor your alcohol use. In other cases, this might mean joining moderation-based groups or utilizing anti-craving medication to reach an ideal drinking goal.
Either way, if you find yourself avoiding AA because you don’t want to quit drinking completely, this is a good solution to look into—and there are many ways to access it.
Related to harm reduction, but also useful for complete sobriety, medications for alcohol use disorder are gaining increased popularity. Options like naltrexone and disulfiram have been around for several decades, and there are now half a dozen effective choices in total. These medications can help reduce alcohol cravings, helping people to either cut back or stay sober after they’ve quit.
One of the challenges of getting sober with AA is about willpower. 12 step philosophy emphasizes surrendering control to higher power. Nevertheless, many people in the rooms end up “white-knucking” their way through sobriety, especially in the early stages. Strong cravings can make it feel like a battle of wills between you and alcohol.
Medications can reduce these cravings by rebalancing your brain chemistry, and even blocking some of the effects of alcohol. This can help you move forward more quickly, and makes it easier to focus on behavior change or establishing new habits. It’s a science-backed approach to treatment, and an empowering, modern way to quit drinking without AA.
Quitting On Your Own
Finally, if you find all of these options too time consuming, expensive, or fussy, you can always go it alone. This can be a lot more difficult—and even dangerous if you have a severe enough addiction. That said, there have always been people who are able to quit drinking without a group or a program.
Start by talking to a doctor to make sure it is safe for you to go through withdrawal without medical care, and create a list of people to call just in case. If you think you can stick with it, creating a tapering schedule and gradually reducing how much you drink is usually the best approach. If you plan to quit cold turkey (all at once), make sure you are well-stocked with everything you’ll need for the week—withdrawal can make you feel very ill.
Of course, quitting or cutting back to your ideal amount is only the first step. Many people struggle with alcohol cravings for months or even years after quitting, and there are many pitfalls to overcome, including post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Ultimately, finding some kind of support group or coaching program can make it much easier, and much less stressful, to stay sober long-term.
Top Tips For Quitting Alcohol Without AA
Regardless of the approach you choose, certain tips and strategies can make you much more likely to succeed at quitting alcohol long-term.
Find a Support System
One of the strengths of AA is that it provides a community of people facing a similar challenge, and gives you access to others further along in the process. If you prefer not to attend AA, look for other ways to access this kind of community—whether that’s through other groups, a supportive social circle, or through a recovery coach or counselor.
Track Your Drinking
If you are tapering off alcohol or pursuing moderation, it helps to give yourself objective data. Use a drink-tracking app, a notebook, or a breathalyzer to record how much you are actually drinking every day. This will keep you honest with yourself and your support system, and help you stick to your goals.
Practically every person in recovery has people, places, and experiences that bring up the urge to drink. Part of the art of staying sober (or moderate) long-term is knowing what these triggers are, and how to manage them. Make a list of the things you find challenging, practice how you will respond in advance, and give yourself credit when you succeed.
Take Up New Hobbies
All too often, alcohol takes up a major part of our leisure time, and can replace other healthy ways to unwind or socialize. A big part of long-term recovery is building a sober life you are happy with. Identify some things you enjoy doing that don’t involve drinking, and cultivate those new rituals and activities.
Read more: 15 Tips To Stop Drinking Alcohol
Choosing the Best Aproach For You
In summary, when it comes to how to quit drinking without AA, there are many options and many effective paths. You can look for alternative groups with perspectives closer to your own. There are also non-group-based options, such as medication-assisted treatment, traditional rehab centers, and online alcohol programs. You can even try quitting on your own if you expect only minor withdrawal symptoms.
One of the best middle-ground options out there is online treatment. Although it can’t help with medical detox, practically every other aspect of a well-rounded rehab program can be done through your phone. Not only is this much more flexible to your schedule, it’s also significantly more affordable.
Many online options offer support groups, but also add in expert one-on-one counseling, medical supervision, access to anti-craving medications, and flexible treatment goals—including harm reduction and moderation as an option. Ria Health has already supported thousands of people to lasting recovery—without having to attend AA meetings. Learn more about our approach, or get started with us today.