Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous

Big Book of AA

Alcoholics Anonymous 
(AA) has been super successful in helping people achieve long-term sobriety.  However, there are alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous that are also evidence-based.  Additionally, Some of these alternatives target those who may be intimidated by the idea of abstinence, but still hope to manage their abuse and dependence.

Although Alcoholics Anonymous has had success, there are good reasons for someone to believe it may not be a good fit for them.  Some may have issues with the idea of submitting to a ‘higher power,’ and prefer to seek out a more scientific approach to treatment. Others may be overwhelmed by the number of steps.

Recovery from addiction should be personalized, as every addiction is different.  Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous may be necessary for some in achieving long-term recovery from alcoholism.  The best path to recovery is the path a person is most likely to want to travel.

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Alcohol Abuse Statistics

The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed that alcohol-use disorder (AUD) afflicts over 15 million adults over the age of 18-years-old in the United States.  This includes 5.3 million women, and 9.8 million men.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, per the NSDUH survey, 56 percent of people reported drinking in the past month, while 26.9 percent of people ages 18 or older binge drank in the past month.  Binge drinking is defined as 5 or more drinks for men, and 4 or more drinks for women, at a single occasion.  Additionally, 7 percent of people questioned stated that they had engaged in heavy alcohol use within the past month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths each year.  Alcohol is the third preventable cause of death in the United States. 

Most people benefit from some form of alcohol addiction treatment, no matter how severe their alcohol-related problem may seem.  Research indicates that at least one-third of individuals treated for alcohol addiction have no addiction one year post treatment.


What Is Alcoholics Anonymous?

According to the Alcoholics Anonymous official website:

AA is an international fellowship of men and women who have or have had a drinking problem

AA is a self-supporting, non-professional organization.  It is apolitical, multiracial, and available across the world.  Membership is open to people of all ages who want to recover from alcoholism.

The goal of AA is to achieve long-term recovery through changing the way alcoholics think.  The change comes after a spiritual awakening. AA members are encouraged to give back to the fellowship by becoming a sponsor, or volunteering for AA.   A sponsor is an ex-alcoholic, who has already completed the 12-step process. Sponsors are asked to refrain from imposing their own personal views on the person being sponsored.

Sponsors benefit from their relationships because it allows them to follow the helper therapy principle, AA members believe that there is a strong correlation between abstinence and a lower probability of binge drinking.  In a 2016 report, the Surgeon General of the United States found compelling evidence supporting the effectiveness of 12-step mutual aid group interventions with those battling alcoholism.  

History of Alcoholics Anonymous

Dr. Bob Smith and Bill Wilson founded AA in Akron, Ohio during the 1930s.  They based their 12-Step program  on character and spiritual development.  Their steps became known as AA’s Twelve Traditions.  The steps were created to help members stay on the path to recovery without being interrupted by outside forces.  

Alcoholics Anonymous officially launched as a self-help book in 1939.  Since then, the ‘Big Book’ has helped millions of men and women recovery from alcoholism.  

The purpose of Alcoholics Anonymous has always been to help people achieve long-term recovery from alcoholism.  

The original book states that members are powerless in the face of alcoholism.  Submitting to a ‘higher power’ is mandatory.  Members are instructed to:

  • Take moral inventory
  • Meditate
  • Pray
  • Help other alcoholics


Good Reasons To Join AA

Alcoholics Anonymous has helped millions of people battle alcoholism successfully.  Here are some reasons to consider AA:

Free For All Members

AA offers its counseling and support for free for all people seeking help.  As not everyone can afford to pay for private alcohol treatment, this is an ideal program for low-income individuals.  AA serves as a beacon of hope for the downtrodden.

Highly Structured Environment

AA members are successful at combating alcoholism because of the highly structured environment. Many people benefit from the steps that are laid out for them because there is no guesswork.

Listening to Other’s Experiences

When addicts hear someone openly speaking about their addiction it urges them to drop their defenses and allows them to be honest about their addictions.  Peer to peer communication helps fellow addicts learn from one another in a judgment-free environment. Long-term recovery stems from shared peer experiences.

Proven to Prevent Relapse

AA provides members motivation, which helps them to avoid relapse.  Frequently, AA members do not have friends or family to reach out to, if there is a legitimate threat of relapse.  AA provides its members a powerful network of support to rely on, if the urge to relapse occurs.

International Program

AA is available worldwide. Therefore, if a member is traveling or on vacation they can reach out to a local chapter for support.  The availability of AA internationally helps addicts avoid relapse, while traveling away from home.


AA Membership Challenges

People are unique in many ways, and while AA works for many, there are good reasons that some may consider alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous.

Social Involvement

AA is based on social involvement.  Therefore, people who are shy or don’t like speaking in front of people may feel intimidated at AA meetings.  In order for AA to work, an addict needs to feel comfortable speaking about his or her addiction in front of a crowd. Many people have issues with a “public confessional” approach.


AA takes a great deal of time.  Meetings run anywhere from one to two hours.  Members must also consider prep and travel time.  An AA meeting can easily consume three hours of a day.  Multiply that by the number of meetings AA suggests a week, and the number of hours can begin to take its toll.

Religious Undertones

As AA has religious undertones, those people who identify themselves as atheist or agnostic find it difficult to adapt.  AA has always had non-secular origins, and that background still exists in present-day AA meetings.


For those battling intense addiction, the idea of abstinence may be intimidating.  Consequently, while abstinence based addiction treatment programs are backed by evidence, some people consider abstinence impossible.  


Alternatives To Alcoholics Anonymous

Fortunately, there are a number of alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous that have helped people recover from alcoholism.  Some of these alternatives include:

SMART Recovery

SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery is a mental health and educational program. SMART is one of the most well known alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous.

This recovery program focuses on changing human behavior, drawing on the work of psychologist Albert Ellis.  During the 1950s, Dr. Ellis developed a cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).  REBT teaches that emotions and beliefs can lead to alcohol abuse.  A person going through the REBT program is trained to manage these emotions and beliefs.  REBT uses self-empowerment techniques to persuade alcoholics to abstain from alcohol.

SMART Recovery also draws from Motivational Interviewing (MI) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  SMART utilizes group discussion and worksheets as tools to recognize and diminish self-destructive behaviors, as well as to help members maintain abstinence  SMART appeals to people seeking a scientific, evidence-based path to recovery.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) is a well-known course of therapy that uses a mix of counseling, behavioral therapies, and FDA-approved medications to treat alcohol addiction and abuse.  Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs have proven to be effective in regulating the moods of people suffering from addiction.

MAT focuses on a “whole patient” approach to combat abuse disorders.  Here are some MAT solutions for alchol abuse.


Naltrexone works by blocking the opioid receptors that are responsible for creating the gratifying effects of drinking and the craving of alcohol.  This medication has demonstrated an ability to reduce relapse in alcoholics. Vivitrol is the injection version of Naltrexone, administered monthly. 


Acamprosate works by acting on the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate neurotransmitter systems.  This medication reduces the symptoms of withdrawal, such as anxiety, dysphoria, insomnia, and restlessness.  Acamprosate is a controlled substance, but has proven to help dependent drinkers remain abstinent for weeks, or even months.


Disulfiram interferes with the degradation of alcohol, which results in the accumulation of acetaldehyde.  This produces a highly unpleasant reaction that includes nausea, flushing, and palpitations, if a person drinks alcohol.  Patients take Disulfiram during high-risk situations, like a party or dinner.

Peer Group and Family Counseling

Family counseling and peer groups provide support for individuals who have a co-occurring disorder.  Peer to peer counseling creates a foundation for long-term recovery.  It is important for addicts to make a connection with people who have had similar thoughts, feelings, and experiences, decreasing feelings of isolation.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies help engage individuals by providing incentives for them to modify their behaviors and attitudes in relation to alcohol abuse.   Recovering addicts strive to remain alcohol-free, while increasing their life skills and ability to handle stressful circumstances and environmental cues that may trigger an intense craving for alcohol.  Some behavioral therapies include: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Enhancement Therapy, Contingency Management Interventions/Motivation Incentives, and the Community Reinforcement Approach.

Physical Exercise

Substances like alcohol stimulate the brain with a pleasurable sensation.  Physical activity and exercise can also stimulate the body to release similar pleasure-giving chemicals.  These chemicals called endorphins interact with the receptors in the brain, which help to reduce the perception of pain.  Endorphins produce positive feelings within the body.

The Road to Sobriety

At Recovering Champions, we believe that in order to overcome alcoholism treatment, plans must address underlying psychological, emotional, and spiritual causes of addiction.  We focus on more than just abstinence, and take a more holistic approach. We tailor alcohol addiction treatment to your specific needs and background.  If you or a loved one is suffering from alcohol addiction contact us for more information on how we can help.

Written by
Recovering Champions Editorial Team

Published on: August 31, 2018 | Edited on: August 17, 2022

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