Are 12-Step or Non-12-Step Support Groups Right for You?

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

addiction recovery support groups. Both 12-step and non-12-step recovery groups offer benefits.
Recovery support group by HRAUN

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

Coin from AA, a 12-step recovery support group
AA by Edward F.

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.

12-step recovery support groups are popular worldwide.

Other 12-step groups include:

Twelve-step groups are also available for people with gambling and other process addictions.

Pros and Cons of 12-Step Groups

Pros and cons of 12-step recovery support groups
Pros and cons by Ogi Chobanov

All 12-step groups have pros and cons, however.


Benefits include:

  • 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 [3], so anyone (almost) anywhere can find a meeting anytime.


Cons by Chris Dorney

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

addiction recovery
Addiction by Richard Villalon

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

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery, a non-12-step alternative
SMART Recovery, a non-12-step option

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.
Managing triggers, a SMART Recovery technique
Manage triggers by Stock Lite

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.

SOS Recovery

SOS, another non-12-step recovery support group by Fizkes

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

Women for Sobriety: non-12-step recovery support group
Women for Sobriety, another non-12-step option by Studio Roman

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. 

Recovery Dharma

Non-12-step Recovery Dharma, a Buddhist-inspired recovery program
Buddhist recovery by Helena

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

Pros and cons by Zorab CDE

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.
support groups help
Support by Hidesy

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.


Explore 12-step and non-12-step recovery groups
Support group by Vgajic

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.


12-step and non-12-step recovery support groups help people recover, and each has pros and cons.
Support by Diva Plavalaguna

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.,Both%20had%20been%20hopeless%20alcoholics

2]Narcotics Anonymous (n.d.). Information about Narcotics Anonymous.

3] Richmond, C. (2022, April 21). What to expect at your first NA meeting. WebMD.,NA’s%20mission%20is%20complete%20abstinence.


5 Things Normies Don’t Understand About Alcoholism

If you’ve ever struggled with alcohol, you’ve heard the myths: “Alcoholics lack self-control” or “They would quit drinking if they really wanted to.”

Often, these remarks come from normies, a term used in recovery circles to describe normal drinkers. Because normies can limit their drinking without difficulty or go home happy after half a beer, they figure everyone can. Normies use their normal-drinking brains as the reference point, assuming all brains work alike.

News flash: they don’t.

Below are five things normal drinkers don’t understand about alcoholism.

5 Things Normies Don’t Understand About Alcoholism

1. Addiction changes the brain.

A stop light illustrates differences in how normal and problem drinkers respond to alcohol. Normal drinkers' brains flash yellow for caution but problem drinkers' brains flash green, telling them to keep drinking.
Keikona @ Getty

Normies and problem drinkers have different brains and experience alcohol’s effects differently. Moreover, these brain differences are research-backed.

For instance, picture a traffic light. Imagine this light flashing green, yellow, or red, telling you to keep drinking, slow down, or stop.

After two drinks, normal drinkers’ brains flash yellow as they start feeling the effects, but problem drinkers’ brains flash green as they start feeling better. And problem drinkers’ brains keep flashing green long after normal drinkers see yellow. One brain says, “more,” while the other says, “take it easy.”

According to the American Psychiatric Association, long-term alcohol misuse impairs impulse control and decision making. And problem drinkers lose more control as their drinking worsens.

2. Addiction isn’t just physical.

Alcoholism isn't just physical. Addiction is also psychological. Relapse is also common.
MoMorad @ Getty

People don’t only drink to relieve physical cravings; addiction is psychological as well. And many find the psychological addiction the toughest to conquer.

Alcohol seems to meet many needs, and that list grows over time. For instance, some begin drinking to relieve stress, but later, they also drink for other reasons.

Others drink to self-medicate or cope with trauma, which is common among people with alcohol use disorder.

3. Many problem drinkers wantand have triedto quit.

People with alcohol use disorder often struggle to quit drinking, and many relapse.
D-Keine @ Getty

Although some normies think problem drinkers don’t know better, knowledge isn’t the problem. Instead, problem drinkers struggle to quit despite the trouble it causes.

Recovery is difficult, often taking many tries before it sticks. To illustrate, consider how hard it is for most people to follow a diet, and that “just” requires one or two changes. Recovery demands far more commitment, requiring multiple changes at once. People must change their diets, hobbies, routines, coping behaviors, and sometimes their friends and environments.

They must unlearn old behaviors while learning new ones. These changes take time.

Few normal drinkers have made similar changes and therefore don’t understand what recovery entails. As a result, normies mistake relapse for lack of desire, assuming problem drinkers “just don’t want” to quit.

However, relapse is the rule more than the exception. Research estimates that 80% of people relapse within the first year after treatment. But relapse can also be a learning opportunity.

The key is to keep trying; relapse does not mean failure. (See these relapse prevention tools and tips.

4. Addiction doesn’t discriminate.

Addiction and alcoholism affect people of all races, classes and religions.
sdominick @ Getty

Addiction affects people of all races, classes, colors, and creeds. Although poverty, oppression, and trauma increase addiction risk, addiction can happen to people of any background.

Research also suggests that 40% to 60% of addiction risk is genetic or epigenetic. 

5. One drink is (often) too many.

Normies don't understand why alcoholics can't have just one drink to celebrate.
Marcela Vieira @ Getty

Many wonder why their recovering loved ones can’t have a celebratory drink. They figure their loved one has been sober for a while; can’t she have a little fun?

Fun, yes, but alcohol, no—at least not for those with severe alcohol use disorder. While occasional binge drinkers may be able to moderate, that’s rarely true for those with severe alcohol problems.

Chronic alcohol misuse changes the brain, which can’t return to its former state once those changes have occurred.

As they say in AA, “Once a pickle, always a pickle.”

Do you or a loved one struggle with alcohol? If so, you aren’t alone. Learn more about substance use disorders and where to find help.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

NIAAA. (n.d.). Alcohol and the brain: An overview.’s,injuries%20and%20other%20negative%20outcomes.

NIDA. (n.d.). What is drug addiction?

SAMHSA (2022, September 27). Trauma and violence.


6 Roles in Addicted Family Systems: Which Describes You?

Whether gambling or alcohol is the drug of choice, addiction creates chaos. Addiction and codependency expert Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, Ph.D., identifies six roles in families battling drug and alcohol addiction. She says the idea isn’t to label people but to show how family members cope with a loved one’s addiction.

And each person copes in unique ways.

1. Dependent

Addicted family system role: Dependent, the substance user
Axel Bueckert,

The Dependent, or substance user, plays a central role in addicted family systems. Dependents use drugs and alcohol to self-soothe, self-medicate, and numb painful emotions such as grief and depression.

Over time, however, addiction seizes control, and the drug of choice claims center stage, even taking priority over family.

2. Enabler

Enabler, second family role
89Stocker, Pexels

Next is the Enabler, often the Dependent’s spouse. Enablers caretake Dependents through their drinking or drug use while downplaying and denying the problem.

However, by shielding Dependents from the consequences of their actions, Enablers allow the drinking or drug use to persist, as Dependents have no reason to change.

Unfortunately, Enablers may live in denial until tragedy strikes, forcing them to face the truth.

3. Hero

Sun Lee,

Often the oldest children, Heroes help the family appear normal to outsiders. Heroes fulfill the parenting duties as the Dependent sinks deeper into addiction, and the Enabler caretakes him.

Heroes are mature beyond their years, acting as miniature mothers and fathers to their siblings. These children draw their self-worth from managing these adult roles, but later, they long for the childhood they missed.

4. Mascot

Mascot: Another role in addicted family systems
Senjuti Kundu,

Next, Mascots are the family clowns who lighten the family’s mood, using humor to conceal the pain. Although these spirited children defuse the family’s tension, their behavior masks their fear and sadness.

Mascots gain attention by entertaining others, but they are more fragile than they seem. In addition, Mascots are the most vulnerable family members, despite appearances.

5. Scapegoat

Scapegoat role in addicted families
Diego Servo

In contrast, the Scapegoat is the identified problem child who shoulders the family’s burdens. Many Scapegoats engage in risky behaviors to shift the family’s focus away from the Dependent’s substance use.

On the other hand, Scapegoats’ rebellion forces the family into action. Scapegoats are vulnerable, but family members’ frustration blinds them to the pain driving their unruly behavior.

6. Lost Child

Lost child: fifth role in addicted family systems
Alien185, Getty

The Lost Child is the sixth role in addicted family systems. Lost Children retreat into their inner worlds to escape the family chaos. While siblings try to shift the family dynamics away from the Dependent’s substance use, Lost Children retreat in solitude, unnoticed.

According to the CPTSD Foundation, neglect and isolation leave lost children feeling invisible, fueling disconnection and increasing depression risk.


Drug and alcohol abuse affects everyone, and family members each assume one of six roles. Each person copes in unique ways, but the family dysfunction continues until families break the cycle by seeking help.

See here for recovery resources and support groups for yourself or a loved one, and see these gratitude journal prompts and relapse prevention tools.

Next, see five things normies don’t understand about alcoholism.


Center for Growth. (2021). The addictive family system.

Davis, S. (2020, November 11). Lost child syndrome. CPTSD Foundation.

Meadows. (2021, August 30). Family roles in addiction and impact on recovery.


Drug and Alcohol Addiction Support: Where to Find Help

If you or a loved one is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem, first, know you aren’t alone. Help is available. Below is a list of resources to help you or a loved one.

Drug and Alcohol Support for Individuals

drug and alcohol addiction recovery support for individuals
Ono Kosuki, Getty
  • Alcoholics Anonymous: This 12-step group supports individuals through recovery from alcoholism. Visit the website to search for in-person and online meetings.
  • Narcotics Anonymous: This 12-step group supports individuals battling narcotic drug addiction. Search the website for in-person and online meetings.
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCAAD): 1-800-622-2255. Call this confidential help line to receive referrals and treatment resources near you.
  • SMART Recovery : This non-12-step recovery community teaches evidence-based relapse prevention techniques and offers meetings nationwide. Also visit the website to find in-person and online meetings, along with a wealth of recovery resources for individuals and loved ones.
  • SAMHSA’s Treatment Finder: Search providers by ZIP code or address. Go to the home page, and enter an address or ZIP code. Then, in the box at the top right, search for facilities within a specified distance. Under “Service,” check all boxes that apply. For instance, check “Substance Use,” “Mental Health,” or “SU & MH” to search facilities that offer one or both types of services.

Resources for Loved Ones

addiction recovery support resources for loved ones and families
Konstantin Postumitenko
  • Al-Anon: This 12-step community supports friends and families through their loved ones’ alcohol use. Connect with the community and learn how to practice self-care. Also search the website to find in-person and online meetings.
  • Nar-Anon Family Groups: This 12-step community supports friends and families through their loved one’s drug use. Meetings available in person or online.

Crisis Helplines

emergency phone numbers and crisis lines for drug and alcohol support
Leung Cho Pan

Please reach out if you have questions or need help finding other resources:

Next, see if 12- or non-12-step support groups are right for you. Then, learn five things normal drinkers don’t understand about alcoholism.