Ongoing Support Options

Support OptionsAlthough Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) is the most well known support group for those in recovery, there are several other alternatives for those who are looking for non twelve-step recovery help. Once treatment for substance abuse has been addressed, ongoing support can be crucial in maintaining long term sobriety. Addressing the underlying issues that coexist with addiction is the most common factor in all of these therapies, but beyond that they differ in regards to self empowerment, spiritual and motivational components.

Since A.A. is the most commonly used aftercare support group, we will cover that last. Other groups include:

  • Rational Recovery
  • SMART Recovery (Self Management and Recovery Training)
  • Women For Sobriety (WFS)
  • HAMS (Harm Reduction Abstinence and Moderation Support)
  • SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety)
  • LifeRing
  • Behavioral Therapy Associates
  • Pennsylvania Model
  • 16-Step for Discovery and Empowerment Model
  • Recovery Inc.
  • My Way Out

These alternatives for aftercare support each have their own philosophy s and basic tenets. Many were created as an alternative to twelve-step programs for those who had objections to either the spiritual or ego-deflating components of AA in favor of personal empowerment and improving self esteem. The common factors of all these therapy s seems to be mutual support shared through meetings and literature, plus guidelines to assess personal needs and plan of action. Some of the alternatives are guided by therapists or professional advisers, but all include guidelines that involve the mutual support of other addict/alcoholics.

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Which One is Right for Me?

Rational Recovery

Rational Recovery is one of the more well-know alternative support therapies for addict/alcoholics. While this non-profit shares the AA principles of abstinence and confidentiality, it doesn’t accept the principle of powerlessness. RR believes that it is not a higher power that keeps one sober, but personal strength. Their theme is “think yourself sober,” and they don’t use sponsors (personal mentors), steps, going back through one’s whole life or making amends. Based on Rational Emotive Therapy, the group does believe in the concept of accepting oneself for who you are. Rather than going back through the past, they believe in staying in the now while looking within for strength. While AA encourages ongoing attendance throughout the whole of one’s sobriety. RR’s goal is to wean the addict first from the dependance on the substance, then off the dependance on people, and finally off the dependance on the group.

Attendees make a decision to never drink again and generally use the group for about a year. Their basic text is called The Small Book, intended to note their differences from AA There are no meetings or treatment centers in this approach, nor counseling, therapy, psychology or spirituality. Their website outlines their Addictive Voice Recognition Technique and information for those in recovery as well as their families.


SMART Recovery (Self Management and Recovery Training):

SMART Recovery is all about building personal skills to maintain sobriety. Another non-profit, this organization emphasizes four main points: motivation to abstain, coping with urges, problem solving, and lifestyle balance. They do not believe in the disease model approach, but instead view addiction as a “bad habit” so they abstain from using labels like “addict” or “alcoholic.” They rely on the principles of self responsibility, self motivation, and self discipline to maintain sobriety. This group does utilize free face-to-face meetings for mutual support.

Women for Sobriety

The first obvious difference with this support group is that it is not co-ed. WFS believes that certain principles in the AA program may do more harm than good for women, who often become addicted due to low self-esteem and maladaptive coping methods. While AA’s ego deflating tactics may be great for many, WFS believes these strategies may further erode the self esteem of recovering women, who tend to turn to addiction as a coping mechanism. WFS is a 13 statement program that stresses personal empowerment with attention to positive emotional and spiritual growth, while overcoming negative attitudes. Skill building is also emphasized. Their philosophy is Forget the past, Plan for tomorrow and Live today. Meetings occur throughout the country and there are also Men for Sobriety meetings.

HAMS (Harm Reduction Abstinence and Moderation Support)

The methodology of this group is a bit different from the above mentioned groups by encouraging it’s members to first set their own goals, be it safe drinking, reduced drinking or abstinence, then provide the means of support to achieve that goal. Informational and Peer support includes online chats, email groups, live meetings and a book. The HAMS premise is about meeting people “where they’re at” rather than pigeon holing or using labels. “Hamsters” deal with life’s issues by making a plan, evaluating issues and monitoring progress either on their own or with the help of a therapist or support group. The “harm reduction” is a set of practical strategies including 17 elements which may be done in any order or not at all. This is a non-judgmental type of support without the spiritual aspects incorporated in some of the other programs.


SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety)

Another route available for those who object to the spiritual or religious aspect of some programs is SOS. This non-professional, non-for-profit doesn’t discourage the use of AA or other programs in adjunct with their six- tenet philosophy as follows:

  • to break denial; to reaffirm daily the decision to abstain from drinking or using
  • to do what’s entailed to make sobriety a lifelong priority
  • to achieve a high quality of life by practicing acceptance of both the good and bad in life, without using to cope
  • to gain support through confidential sharing and peer mentoring
  • to encourage taking personal responsibility for one’s life and sobriety

Support through live meetings is encouraged and with the exception of spiritual concepts, this organization is the most closely related to12-step programs.


This group is something of an offshoot of SOS with many similarities. LifeRing believes each addict (or alcoholic) has an A (addictive) self and an S (Sober) self. The meetings are designed to enhance the sober self through mutual support and positive reinforcement of the personal strengths one already has. Their three “S” principles are Sobriety, Secularity, and self-help. LifeRing believes there are many ways for an individual to maintain sobriety and don’t have a problem exploring these options. The meetings are conversational and allow cross-talk discussions, but discourage the use of personal histories.

Behavioral Therapy Associates

This particular model of treatment deals primarily with compiling evidence and researching what works and what doesn’t when it comes to treating alcohol and drug addiction. Comprised of psychologists, this model provides research and training to professionals working in the substance abuse realms, including mental health workers and healthcare providers. They also compile lists and statistics on what works and what doesn’t. This model for individuals consists of web courses plus a list of therapists who deal specifically with methods they have found beneficial. Their Drinker’s Check Up methodology has been used with military personnel and college students. Their focus is on moderation or abstinence.

Pennsylvania Model

This form of treatment believes alcoholism and and addiction are bio-psycho-social conditions rather than spiritual maladies. They advocate the use of medications such as Naltrexone (an opioid receptor antagonist discovered in 1992 to help craving and withdrawal symptoms) combined with cognitive behavioral, motivational enhancement and/or rational emotive behavioral therapies. The premise of this non 12-step model is that once the physical withdrawal symptoms have been taken care of, the addict is is better able to focus is on changing his thought process and social habits to facilitate not only abstinence, but also recovery principles and relapse prevention.

16-Step for Discovery and Empowerment Model

This approach, created by Charlotte Kasl Phd is an holistic approach addressing mind, body and spirit. To do this the focus is on finding alternatives to drinking that fill the social, physical predisposition and personal history components of addiction. Since they view addiction as a complex, multifaceted malady, the goal is to validate the underlying survival needs such as personal safety, connection, pleasure, love and power, that were once satisfied by the addiction. To find alternative ways to accommodate these needs, this model encourages introspective and ego-building strategies. The steps are powerful tools aimed at taking charge of one’s life and building self-esteem.

Recovery Inc.

With more than 700 group meetings throughout the world, Recovery, Inc. is a self-help program designed to work in adjunct with treatment by a mental health professional. In addition to meetings, this approach also has web links to resources, forums, discussion groups and directories based on the work of founder, neuropsychiatrist Abraham A. Low M.D. The focus is on maintaining mental health in addition to recovery.

My Way Out

My Way Out is another group utilizing a multifaceted treatment that includes medication such as Topamax (an anti-seizure medicine prescribed off-label to treat alcoholism), herbs (Kudzu, Milk Thistle), amino acids and hypnotherapy with a co-emphasis on exercise and diet. Created by Roberta Jewel in 1996 as a remedy for her own struggle with alcohol, this program is done in the privacy of one’s home, and includes individualized customization. Additional web support and discussion groups are free. The end goal is either moderation or abstinence, and may be used along with a 12-step or other support group.

In Conclusion

While the above mentioned support groups outlined here are some of the more well-known alternatives to AA, this is by no means a complete list. Medical discoveries and new models are being developed all the time. There are also many groups whose goal is to allow an alcoholic or heavy drinker to “drink responsibly.” Some of the above listed groups include managed drinking, but the focus here is on support for one who chooses abstinence. The verdict is still out as to whether the managed drinking programs actually work or not. Recovery purists say “no,” while proponents argue their validity. AA is so vast and well known, it is still by far the most popular support for total abstinence and includes a program of recovery. Separate pages will be devoted to AA and the managed drinking groups.

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