Alternatives to AA

I resisted calling the alternatives “cult escape attempts”.

“Dear President Obama,

A few years ago I sought help with addiction. Like most people, I was told to go to a 12-step program. It wasn’t until after about a year in the rooms that I even heard of other approaches – meaning, other than “Jails, institutions, and death”. So, given my available options, “Keep coming back” seemed reasonable.

This is actually a very serious problem because the public believes that a person only needs to get themselves to those meetings with an open mind and the 12-step recovery culture will solve everything.

There is a long and mostly unknown history of people who’ve left AA seeing it as counterproductive, pointless, or futile. In fact the majority of people do this. Some start new ‘recovery’ groups, some naturally switch their life focus to something healthier (which most do), and some who really feel that they have no options (because they have a “head full of AA and a belly full of booze”) kill themselves. This is when hiding information that doesn’t serve the interests of AA borders on criminal.

Most people are surprised and feel betrayed to find that there is a lot AA won’t tell you (like the fact that it fails for most people), and they usually notice that there is a LOT you can’t talk about in an AA meeting:

For example, try bringing up SMART Recovery in an AA meeting. You will likely be laughed out of the room for suggesting you could manage your life yourself. You will certainly go back to Step Zero for saying you don’t like the ‘powerlessness’ concept of AA. SMART Recovery was my first CLUE that something other than AA might be better for me.

Women For Sobriety was started in 1976 when a woman left AA, inspired by the Transcendentalist spirituality of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ‘Self-Reliance’ among other spiritual teachings. She did not believe a Higher Power was necessary and did not accept the label of ‘powerless’.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is what an atheist came up with, to be free of the religious aspects of AA, which are very disturbing even to some devout Christians with theological concerns. Yes, some religious people would prefer a secular sobriety group to AA because their problem is alcohol, not their relationship to or understanding of God.

Rational Recovery had the same roots as SMART in Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) support groups before concluding that all of “recovery culture” is worthless, and AA is a destructive cult. Rational Recovery was my first clue that I didn’t have to accept or incorporate 12-Step into my belief system at ALL, and these may just be unhealthy ideas.

Some people noticed that “recovery” (or getting better) didn’t necessarily mean abstinence. Moderation Management is a group of people who choose to limit their consumption. This is an example of a group that was co-opted by AA. The founder was re-convinced she was a “real alcoholic”.

Out of MM grew HAMS which is very popular, because it gives people tools and support to make their heavy drinking safer, to moderate, or quit – whatever their goal is.

There are also those who prefer a scientific or biological approach, looking for medicines that prevent or reverse the physical processes of addiction.

So you can see there is a long history of “alternatives”. You won’t hear about these in an AA meeting, and yet any of them might help someone, or the whole intellectual history of these “alternatives”, their devaluation, censorship, or co-option by 12-step culture, could be instructive to anyone on their own personal journey.


Tom Gleason