AA is probably the best known way to quit drinking. It is 80 years old and has millions of members worldwide. Most people are familiar with the basic ideas behind 12-step programs, including the higher power, the moral inventory, making amends, sharing, and sponsorship. If you need help for addiction and aren’t sure what to do, there is probably a 12-step meeting near where you live.
However, 12-step programs aren’t for everyone. Some people need additional treatment for co-occurring conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, OCD, or other conditions. 12-step hardliners frown on taking medication, even if it’s necessary to control a mental health issue. Other people just don’t like the 12-step format. Many people have reasonable objections to the disease model espoused by 12-step programs. Others object to the idea that you have to embrace a higher power to overcome addiction.
Fortunately, for these people there are alternatives to 12-step programs. These include programs like SMART Recovery, which emphasizes the use of evidence-based tools to manage addictive behavior, Refuge Recovery, which uses a Buddhist framework and meditation to manage cravings, LifeRing, which is indifferent to methods and emphasizes positive reinforcement, and Women for Sobriety, which focuses on the unique problems women face in recovery.
A recent study has found that these alternatives can be just as effective as 12-step programs. The study, which was conducted by the Alcohol Research Group at the Public Health Institute in California surveyed more than 600 people with alcohol use disorder. Researchers followed up with participants at six and 12 months and asked questions about their group involvement, and substance use outcomes, including abstinence and any problems related to substance use. After controlling for several factors, researchers found that SMART Recovery, LifeRing, and Women for Sobriety were just as effective for treating alcohol use disorder as AA.
There were some differences in outcomes. SMART participants had slightly more negative outcomes related to substance use and LifeRing participants had slightly lower levels of abstinence. However, these differences might reflect different goals among members. While AA is abstinence-only, other groups are more flexible in their definitions of recovery. When these individual goals were factored in, the differences among programs disappeared.
Many studies of AA and other 12-step programs have revealed a similar pattern: about a third of people do really well and get a lot out of the 12 steps, about a third of people get something out of the program but continue to struggle, and about a third of people get nothing at all out of the program. Other studies have found that the most powerful aspect of 12-step programs is not the method itself, but rather engagement with a sober group. This provides social support and accountability, which are major factors in sobriety and it’s a factor all mutual aid groups share. The best approach is to seek professional help for addiction, including treatment for co-occurring disorders, and use a 12-step program or alternative program as a way to stay engaged in the recovery community.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.