Non 12 Step Recovery Programs

Last Edited: September 29, 2020

Patricia Howard, LMFT, CADC

Clinically Reviewed
Jim Brown, CDCA

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Non 12 Step Substance Abuse Recovery Programs

If you need help with your addiction but do not want to adopt the traditional 12 step program due to personal reasons, there are other options available. Check out the list below and see if one of these organizations suit your needs. If you do not know what you need but know that you do not want to work the step, call (866) 578-7471 to talk to a representative that may help you make a decision that you are comfortable with.

These programs often focus on self-reliance and personal empowerment. They do not require a surrender to a higher power nor do they ask that you reminisce about your drug influenced life. Non-traditional 12-step programs look at addiction to drugs and alcohol as the primary problem. Unlike traditional 12-step programs, these programs suggest that it is a problem with a solution. They are non-profit organizations and have their own values and methods of achieve sobriety.

Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement. -Golda Meir

SMART Recovery

Year established: 1994

Description: SMART Recovery stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training.

Four-Point Program Philosophy:

  1. Focus on building and maintaining motivation for living a clean and sober lifestyle
  2. Develop your own coping mechanisms to combat cravings
  3. Control thoughts, feelings, and behaviors for sustaining sobriety long term
  4. Achieve a balanced life for sustaining sobriety.

SMART Recovery Approach for Sobriety

  • Positive reinforcement through self-reliance.
  • Meetings that focus on educating, providing support through peer interaction, and open discussions about struggles and fears about handling cravings.
  • Access to SMART Handbook that has meeting information, strategies, and SMART Tools.
  • SMART Recovery is a recognized resource for substance abuse and addiction recovery by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Center for Health Care Evaluation, The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), US Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
  • Programs are available for Teen & Youth Support

Frequently Asked Questions About the SMART Program

  1. How is SMART Recovery different from 12 Step programs? (A.) SMART Recovery uses a scientific foundation that does not rely on a spiritual connection to a higher power. SMART Recovery focuses on self-reliance, rather than powerlessness. SMART Recovery meetings are discussion meetings that emphasize individuals talk with one another, rather than to one another. SMART Recovery encourages involvement for months to years, but discourages lifetime involvement. There are no sponsors in SMART Recovery. SMART Recovery discourages use of labels such as “alcoholic” or “addict”.
  2. Is SMART Recovery as effective as AA? (A.) From a scientific perspective, the effectiveness of all support groups for addictive behavior is unproven. The only way to answer that question is to attend meetings from all available groups, and reach a personal conclusion about the best approach to recovery.
  3. What is the scientific foundation on which SMART Recovery is built? (A.) There are literally hundreds of scientific references that might be used to provide a foundation for the SMART Recovery Program. A good place to begin reviewing them is, in particular, Hester & Miller, 1995 (Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches: Effective Alternatives, Boston: Allyn & Bacon). This provides a good overview.


Year established: 2001

Description: LifeRing has a “3-S” philosophy:

  1. Sobriety that focuses on complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs
  2. Secularity that focuses on human potential and not surrendering to divine intervention
  3. Self-help that focuses on personal motivation

How is LifeRing different from AA/NA?

We see the power to get clean and sober inside of each person (the “sober self”). You can get clean and sober regardless of your belief or disbelief in a ‘higher power.’ We welcome people regardless of their ‘drug of choice.’ We encourage cross-talk in meetings. We each build Personal Recovery Programs tailored to our individual makeup.

Is LifeRing mainly for atheists or agnostics?

No. About 40 per cent of LifeRing participants attend church (or other place of worship) at least once a year. Since the LifeRing recovery process does not rely on a “higher power” or similar concepts, LifeRing participants’ religious and/or spiritual beliefs remain private and don’t become an issue in the meeting. Neither religious proselytizing nor attacks on religion are permitted in our meetings.

Moderation Management

Year established: 1994

Description: Moderation Management is designed specifically for alcoholics or those who believe their drinking is becoming out of control. Moderation Management (MM) focuses on behavioral changes by providing a national support network for those who need to change their life due to the abuse of alcohol. By empowering people through positive reinforcement they emphasize personal responsibility for making rational decisions about alcohol consumption, whether moderation or abstinence.

The Values that guide Moderation Management:

  1. Personal responsibility for their recovery regarding alcohol consumption.
  2. Strength of the organization relies on people helping other with similar problems.
  3. Self-reliance is essential for recovery.
  4. Members must treat others with respect without judgment or criticism.

Neukrug, E. (2011). Counseling theory and practice. Australia: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
Kelly, J. F., & White, W. L. (2012). Broadening the base of addiction mutual-help organizations.Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 7(2-4), 82-101.