Recovering from drug and alcohol addiction isn’t easy, and no one should struggle alone. But even if you know you need help, you might not know where to turn. So which recovery support groups are right for you: 12-step or non-12-step groups?
Recovery support groups come in many varieties, and each has pros and cons. However, everyone’s needs are unique, and no single program suits all.
So learn more about 12-step and non-12-step recovery below and find the right support group for you.
Benefits of Recovery Support Groups
Support groups are vital to your recovery and improve your odds of success.
Benefits of support groups include:
- Receive social support
- Grow your support network.
- Learn coping skills.
- Share your story.
- Find a safe space and a safety net.
However, support groups work best combined with counseling and inpatient or outpatient treatment. (Find treatment near you with SAMHSA’s treatment finder.)
12-Step Recovery Support Groups
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are two popular 12-step programs. Since 1935 and 1953, AA and NA have helped millions worldwide conquer drug and alcohol addiction [1, 2].
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop using. These programs also ask you to attend meetings and work the Steps with a sponsor.
That means admitting you’re powerless over drugs or alcohol and surrendering your will to a higher power of your understanding. This higher power need not be a religious deity but can be.
Other 12-step groups include:
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Crystal Meth Anonymous
- Dual Diagnosis Anonymous (in select states)
- Heroin Anonymous
- Marijuana Anonymous
- Narcotics Anonymous
- Nicotine Anonymous
- Pills Anonymous
Twelve-step groups are also available for people with gambling and other process addictions.
Pros and Cons of 12-Step Groups
All 12-step groups have pros and cons, however.
- They are free to attend.
- They are easy to find.
- Groups respect anonymity.
- They provide structure.
- They offer a sober support network.
AA and NA also offer around-the-clock meetings in almost 150 countries worldwide , so anyone (almost) anywhere can find a meeting anytime.
However, the cons of 12-step groups include:
- They stress powerlessness over addiction (some disagree).
- Members must surrender their will to a higher power.
- Twelve-step groups are run by laypersons unfamiliar with co-occurring disorders.
- The spiritual focus alienates some members.
Non-12-Step Recovery Support Groups
However, non-12-step groups are another route. These groups appeal to those seeking a secular approach or do not relate to the 12-step philosophy. Non-12-step groups also suit those who want to learn skills to manage cravings and triggers.
Four non-12-step groups include:
- SMART Recovery
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)
- Women for Sobriety
- Recovery Dharma
Founded in 1994, SMART Recovery remains a favorite non-12-step program for those recovering from drugs, alcohol, and addictive behaviors. SMART teaches coping and relapse prevention skills, helping members replace former behaviors with healthier habits.
Members also learn to reframe their thoughts and track cravings and triggers.
In addition, these four points are central to SMART:
- Stay motivated.
- Track progress.
- Manage feelings, thoughts, and actions.
- Find balance.
SMART reinforces these points through homework and journaling, while helping members identify their reasons for change.
Groups last 90 minutes and are led by trained staff who allow members to share their struggles and receive group feedback.
SMART offers in-person and online meetings. See the website for details.
Like SMART, SOS is a secular non-12-step program for people recovering from chemical and process addictions. SOS stresses self-reliance, accountability, and peer support, and a commitment to sobriety is the sole requirement for membership.
SOS holds in-person and online meetings worldwide. See the website for details.
Women for Sobriety
Another non-12-step group, Women for Sobriety began in 1975 to help women recover from alcohol addiction. The nonprofit group promotes healthy living and positive thinking to help women live fulfilling lives.
The weekly meetings last 90 minutes, with six to ten women per group.
Visit the website to find meetings.
Founded in 2019, Recovery Dharma is a newcomer to the non-12-step scene that uses Buddhist teachings to conquer drug and alcohol addiction. The group also appeals to freethinkers who prefer recovery outside the box rather than by the book.
Peer-led and nonprofit, Recovery Dharma teaches mindfulness and meditation and helps members access their inner truth to free themselves from addiction. However, the group welcomes members of all beliefs; one need not be Buddhist to join.
In-person and Zoom meetings are available. See the website for details.
Pros and Cons of Non-12-Step Recovery Support Groups
Non-12-step groups have pros and cons, however.
Benefits of non-12-step groups include:
- They teach self-reliance.
- They’re secular.
- They allow you to give and receive feedback.
- They provide tools and teach skills.
Non-12-step groups might also be right for you if you relate to the following:
- You don’t believe you’re powerless over drugs and alcohol.
- You don’t believe you need a higher power to recover.
- The 12 Steps didn’t work for you.
- You want to learn coping and relapse prevention skills.
However, the cons of non-12-step groups may be pros for some:
- They are secular.
- Behavior takes priority over emotions.
- The absence of spirituality alienates some members.
Despite these drawbacks, non-12-step groups have one unique strength: They give you tools to rebuild your life, helping you help yourself.
Recovery groups provide social support and help you expand your support network. Still, everyone’s needs are unique, and no single program suits all. Only you know which path is right for you.
But whatever you do, reach out. Don’t struggle alone.
Do you or a loved one have a drug or alcohol problem? Learn where to find help here. Also, see five things normies don’t understand about alcoholism.
1]Alcoholics Anonymous. (n.d.). The start and growth of AA. https://www.aa.org/the-start-and-growth-of-aa#:~:text=A.A.%20began%20in%201935%20in,Both%20had%20been%20hopeless%20alcoholics
2]Narcotics Anonymous (n.d.). Information about Narcotics Anonymous. https://www.na.org/?ID=PR-index
3] Richmond, C. (2022, April 21). What to expect at your first NA meeting. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/narcotics-anonymous-what-to-expect#:~:text=Today%2C%20it%20holds%20more%20than,NA’s%20mission%20is%20complete%20abstinence.