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9 Alternatives to AA: How Modern Science Can Help You Drink Less

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Alcohol abuse is a tale as old as time, and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been around since the 1930s. This program has helped many people, but there have always been those for whom AA doesn’t work. Fortunately, scientific breakthroughs in the last few decades have brought about effective alternatives to AA.

In fact, life-changing medications for alcohol addiction have been FDA-approved and available for many years. But the culture at large—including the medical establishment—is only just catching up.

In this post, we’re comparing these modern methods of alcohol abuse treatment to older, more traditional approaches. We’ll also detail nine alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-step programs. Who knows, you may finally find the approach that’s right for you!

Traditional vs. New Alcohol Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment is an effective alternative to AA.
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For many decades, those with alcohol dependence have had limited treatment options—most of them 12 step-based, and requiring complete abstinence. We’ll refer to these as “traditional treatments.”

In recent years, doctors, organizations, and experts have teamed up to develop a new way of thinking about alcohol addiction. This has led to a number of newer science-backed treatments. We’ll refer to these as “new treatments.”

It’s important to understand that both traditional and new treatments work to varying extents. As with most health problems, certain treatments work better for certain people. For example, AA requires that people get a sponsor, cycle through the 12 steps, believe in a higher power, and remain sober. For some people, this works perfectly well.

However, other people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) find abstinence daunting, don’t consider themselves spiritual, or cannot commit the time to attend meetings. Those individuals may be a better fit for other sobriety support groups, or alternative recovery programs.

Below, we’ll outline the main differences between new and traditional treatments, and some of the big advantages of the newer approaches.

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The Old Way →  The New Way

Here’s how treatment has been revolutionized over the decades.

The Old Way The New Way
Requires belief in a higher power Secular options are available, and science-based methods can be combined with faith
More reliant on willpower Incorporates FDA-approved medication to stop physical cravings
Often structured around in-person meetings Peer-based support is optional, based on an individual’s needs
People in AA are paired with a sponsor Licensed recovery coaches are available
Measures progress anecdotally Uses medical tools to accurately assess your progress
Reliant on a code of anonymity Anonymity is guaranteed through a HIPAA-compliant app
In-patient rehab is often expensive Telemedicine makes care more affordable
Meetings and rehab programs can be time-consuming Counseling can be done at home, on your schedule
The goal of treatment is the same for everyone (ex. sobriety) Treatment is customized to an individual’s goals (ex. abstinence or moderation)
Follows a set series of steps Applies a variety of medical and counseling approaches
Uses stigmatized language (ex. “alcoholic”) Uses judgment-free language

9 Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous (Alternatives to AA Meetings & the 12 Step Program)

If you’ve decided that traditional Alcoholics Anonymous meetings aren’t for you, there are several secular alternatives to AA.

As we describe each, begin to picture yourself in the program or meetings. Consider which AA alternatives best align with your beliefs and goals.

1. Ria Health

Ria Health is a non-AA, app-based treatment program that combines anti-craving medication and counseling. This at-home program gives you access to online support groups, medical support, and a personal recovery coach. Unlike many support group-based programs, your Ria Health journey is led by healthcare professionals and addiction experts. They can customize treatment to your personal goal, whether that’s drinking less or not at all. 

Program Goal: Moderation or Abstinence

Program Highlights:

  • Evidence-based, with the average member reducing drinking by 70% in 6 months
  • Addresses physical and psychological factors behind alcohol use
  • Entirely from home through an app
  • Access to FDA-approved anti-craving medication
  • Medical counseling via video chat
  • 1X1 recovery coaching support
  • Weekly group calls for peer support
  • Mobile breathalyzer to monitor your progress
  • Low time commitment and flexible scheduling
  • Secular/non-religious alternative to AA
  • Alternative to 12-step treatment
  • Private and non-judgemental
  • Customizable to each person (can adjust goals for abstinence)

Participants Learn:

  • How to overcome cravings (using medication and cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • Coping strategies to break habits and reduce stress levels
  • How to overcome shame, stigma, and triggers
  • Tools to maintain a healthier relationship with alcohol long-term

Program Length: Customizable (1-12 months)

Cost: $350/month

Learn more about How It Works or Schedule a Call with a team member today.

2. 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.”

Program Goal: Abstinence

Program Highlights:

  • Mutual support meetings
  • Science-based
  • Secular/non-religious

Learn:

  • Coping skills
  • Cognitive-behavioral skills
  • Motivation

Program Length: Ongoing

Cost: Free (not-for-profit)

3. Moderation Management

Moderation management is designed for problem drinkers who are in the early stages of dependence. Meetings focus on behavior change.

Program Goal: Moderation (but step #2 requires 30 days of abstinence)

Program Highlights:

  • Peer meetings
  • 9-step program (alternative to 12-step treatment)
  • Early intervention and harm reduction
  • Promotes early self-recognition
  • May move on to abstinence-only groups
  • Secular/non-religious

Learn:

  • Drinking guidelines/limits
  • Drinking monitoring exercises
  • Goal setting
  • Self-management strategies
  • Coping strategies

Program Length: Ongoing (meetings after program completion)

Cost: Free (not-for-profit)

4. Women for Sobriety

Women for Sobriety is a non-religious alternative to AA. This addiction recovery support group is for women with substance abuse disorders, including AUD. Their New Life Program is based on 13 “acceptance statements” aimed to encourage growth.

Program Goal: Abstinence

Program Highlights:

  • Open to women with all forms of substance abuse
  • Based on 13 “acceptance statements” and 6 recovery levels
  • Certified moderators/chat leaders
  • Online and in-person mutual support groups
  • Phone volunteers for one-on-one support
  • Welcomes all expressions of female identity
  • Secular/non-religious

Learn:

  • Identify and address problems that created substance abuse
  • Identify and address problems created by substance abuse
  • New ways of problem-solving
  • Cognitive-behavioral strategies

Program Length: Ongoing

Cost: Free (not-for-profit)

5. HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol

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.

Program Goal: Moderation or Abstinence

Program Highlights:

  • Self-directed with resources and peer support
  • Online support forum
  • Chat room
  • Email group
  • Facebook group
  • Live meetings
  • Official HAMS book and articles
  • Sample recovery plans

Learn:

  • Change drinking habits
  • Safer, reduced drinking, or abstinence
  • Small steps to change behavior

Program Length: For duration of 17 steps (or stay to volunteer)

Cost: Free (not-for-profit)

6. This Naked Mind (Annie Grace)

This Naked Mind is an online alcohol awareness program that incorporates community and a variety of informational products. It aims to eliminate cravings by deconstructing your beliefs about alcohol.

Program Goal: Abstinence

Program Highlights:

  • Focuses on psychological dependence
  • Book
  • Video course
  • Audio program
  • Coaching
  • Web classes, challenges, and live events

Learn:

  • Liminal thinking (understanding and changing your beliefs about alcohol)
  • Conscious and unconscious roles in addiction
  • How conditioning contributes to addiction

Program Length: Depends on product/program

Cost: Varies (From free web classes to $600+ for video program and other products)

7. IGNTD Recovery

The IGNTD Hero Program is an online addiction program for those with alcohol and other drug dependencies. This addiction treatment alternative to AA also offers live group support chats. Users have access to the program for a year.

Program Goal: Moderation or Abstinence

Program Highlights:

  • Online course for alcohol and other drug addictions
  • Teaches a variety of approaches to tailor your recovery to your own needs
  • Live group support chats
  • Shame-free

Learn:

  • Habit change strategies
  • Cognitive-behavioral strategies
  • Dialectical behavior strategies
  • Mindfulness
  • Exercise
  • Medication
  • Hypnosis
  • Mindset coaching

Program Length: 2-6 months

Cost: $23-$273/month

8. SOS Sobriety

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is a network of independent groups to help people achieve or maintain sobriety. It’s an option for those looking for secular alternatives to AA meetings.

Program Goal: Abstinence

Program Highlights:

  • Open to alcohol and other drug dependencies
  • Groups based on the Suggested Guidelines for Sobriety
  • Local groups
  • Online groups
  • Mutual support

Learn:

  • Achieve sobriety
  • Maintain sobriety
  • Factors contributing to addiction
  • Rational decision making
  • Cycle of sobriety: acknowledgment, acceptance, and prioritizing sobriety

Program Length: Ongoing

Cost: Free (not-for-profit)

9. LifeRing

Another alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous, LifeRing is an organization to support sobriety. They offer peer-to-peer in-person support, and online meetings and resources.

Program Goal: Abstinence

Program Highlights:

  • Supports a variety of treatment approaches
  • Peer-to-peer
  • Local meetings
  • Online meetings
  • Email groups
  • Forum
  • Secular alternative to AA

Learn:

  • How to design your own program
  • How to support the “Sober Self” and weaken the “Addict Self”
  • Stories and advice from others

Program Length: Ongoing

Cost: Free (not-for-profit)

Summary of Alternative Alcohol Treatment Programs

Over the decades, society has changed the way it treats AUD. Traditional treatments—such as AA or rehab—work for some, but aren’t successful for everyone. New, alternative alcohol treatment programs incorporate counseling and anti-craving medication to maximize results.

These 9 alternatives to AA are a great choice for anyone looking to reduce or stop drinking alcohol:

1. Ria Health

2. SMART Recovery

3. Moderation Management

4. Women For Sobriety

5. HAMS: Harm Reduction for Alcohol

6. This Naked Mind

7. IGNTD Recovery

8. SOS Sobriety

9. LifeRing

Looking for a non-abstinence-based treatment program? Learn more about our approach.

Written By:
Riannon Westall
Toronto-based health writer. Background in newsroom journalism, content marketing, and research.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Writer specializing in targeted, informative content. Dedicated to making the abstract accessible.
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