Because Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) – and offshoot programs like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) – are the most widely known peer support groups for addiction recovery, many people are unaware that there are alternative programs that are equally beneficial for supporting addiction recovery.
Programs like SMART Recovery® include non-12-step support groups that provide the same benefits as AA meetings. Although AA is widely endorsed, there are many people who don’t like AA for one reason or another.
Some of these reasons include:
- They attended 12-step meetings but didn’t feel comfortable there.
- They don’t agree with the idea of addiction as an incurable disease that requires an ongoing, lifelong struggle.
- They don’t like some aspect of the 12 steps.
- They are uncomfortable with the religious component of the 12-step program.
- They tried a 12-step program but it didn’t work for them.
Thankfully, there are other support groups to help recovering individuals get sober and stay on the right path in their recovery. First, let’s look at the 4 points of the SMART Recovery method to understand what it is about.
The 4 Points of the SMART Recovery® Method
The four points of The SMART Recovery program include:
- Building and maintaining motivation to abstain
- Finding ways to cope with urges
- Finding ways to manage thoughts, feelings and behaviors
- Living a life of balance – considering momentary and lasting gratifications
The Benefits of Support Groups in Addiction Recovery
Overcoming addiction is possible, but not always easy. That’s why it’s important to have help both in the initial period of overcoming addiction, as well as during the long-term recovery process. People who have a support system in place – whether from peers, professionals or both – have a higher success rate and are less likely to experience a relapse.
While professional counselors and medical staff can help with the clinical aspects of overcoming addiction, peer groups provide a unique type of support that is just what a recovering individual needs most when transitioning to sobriety.
The benefits of peer support groups in addiction recovery include:
A Safe Place to Share Experiences, Fears, Hopes and Dreams
Addiction, and situations that lead to addiction, can leave a person feeling broken and unworthy. In a properly run support group that upholds a spirit of compassion and non-judgment, it’s acceptable and encouraged to share those experiences you’re not proud of, to get them off your chest, and to move past them and onto how you’d like to reshape your future going forward.
You aren’t forced to share anything you don’t want to. You can choose to listen to others, share your experiences or both.
Realizing that You’re Not in This Alone
As you listen to others share their stories and hear common themes that resonate with your experiences, you’ll realize that:
- There are others like you who are facing the same types of challenges as you are.
- You’re no longer alone in your struggle to overcome addiction.
- Other people like you are successfully transitioning to a sober life – and you can too.
Support group meetings bring together newcomers, those in the middle of recovery and those who have successfully overcome addiction.
Having people at all stages of the process allows newer members to learn from more experienced ones. It also allows graduates of the program to give back to by helping people who are where they used to be.
For those starting out on the journey to sobriety, they not only receive practical advice like how to deal with triggers and cravings, how to deal with boredom, etc.
They also have living proof that turning one’s life around, even from rock bottom, is possible. Recovery veterans show by example how rewarding and achievable a sober life can be.
A Step-by-Step Plan for Achieving Your Goals
Whether it’s the 12 steps in AA or the six steps in SMART Recovery (see the image above), it’s important for a peer support program to have a clear path from addiction to long-term sobriety that members can follow and measure their progress against.
There are also online groups and message boards where people share their experiences and offer support, but these may not provide the same level of structure and accountability as a more formal program like SMART Recovery.
Confirmation that You’re on the Right Track and Have What It Takes to Succeed
By following the steps of the program and looking to the example provided by veteran members, new members gain increased confidence in themselves and in the process. By attending meetings regularly, members receive ongoing emotional and practical support that helps them stay on track and avoid relapse.
New Friends Who Share Your Commitment to a Sober Life
One of the biggest challenges for those in recovery is that nearly all their friends were also addicts. When returning home from rehab, hanging out with the old crowd will most likely lead to relapse. Boredom is also a big threat to sobriety: One suddenly has a lot of free time when he or she is no longer busy acquiring or using substances.
Support groups provide a place to go that is productive, that fosters sobriety, and which provides a social outlet and a pool of potential new friends. While you won’t necessarily bond with everyone in your support group, you will likely find a few people whom you enjoy spending time with and can socialize with outside of group meetings.
Addiction support groups are also excellent at encouraging sobriety by providing members with accountability from peers. Here you will find people who care about you and your success, and if you are not following through on your commitments or making lame excuses, they will call you out and support you in getting back on track. This is all done with the compassion of someone who truly understands what you’re going through.
Alternatives to AA: Non-12-Step Addiction Recovery Support Groups
For those who desire the benefits of an addiction recovery support group but want an alternative to AA meetings, we recommend SMART Recovery.
In addition to providing the same types of benefits as AA does, we like SMART Recovery because:
- It’s an empowering approach that sees those in recovery as creators, not victims.
- The focus is on living a satisfying life, not just battling addiction.
- The education component teaches members tools for self-directed change.
- It provides a secular, non-religious approach to addiction recovery.
- The program evolves as scientific understanding of addiction recovery advances.
You Have the Power. We Have the Support.
You have choices when it comes to addiction recovery support groups. We encourage you to try meetings from a few different programs and see where you feel most comfortable.
SMART Recovery hosts face-to-face meetings around the world, as well as daily online meetings, so anyone can participate no matter where they’re located.