When people think about overcoming alcoholism or drug addiction, the first organization that springs to mind is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and another group that’s based on its 12-step program, Narcotics Anonymous.

However, AA and similar organizations are not focused on addiction treatment at all because they are actually support groups where people with alcohol or drug issues can receive professional therapy or guidance. Although support is crucial in recovering from addiction, there is much more to treating it than just individual or group therapy sessions.

According to research, only around 25 to 35 percent of people attending AA sessions are likely to become active participants and so there is clearly something lacking in the 12-step support model to motivate addicts to effectively combat their issues.

For this reason, it is important to know that there are other programs available that do offer comprehensive addiction treatment that is non 12-step programs and here we take a closer look at them:

Women for Sobriety

Women for Sobriety (WFS) is a non 12-step program that was founded in the mid-70s by Jean Kirkpatrick, who had a sociology doctorate and also an issue with alcohol. Through her own experiences, she recognized that she turned to drink particularly when she was feeling lonely or depressed. That realization led to her formulating a treatment program to deal with these negative thoughts and feelings by improving her own sense of self-worth. Kirkpatrick initially devised her non 12 step drug rehab so that she could effectively treat herself.

In essence, the WFS philosophy is to replace alcohol or drug use by empowering women to have sufficient self-belief that they would no longer need to turn to substances as an emotional response. WFS contrasts with AA in that it focuses on boosting self-confidence and increasing self-worth to promote emotional and spiritual growth, whereas 12-steps is more about learning humility and limiting self-centeredness. This gender-specific non 12 step rehab is based on the principle that women require different treatment to men for their addiction issues.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery focuses on behavioral therapy and is a non 12-step recovery program that helps an addict identify the factors driving their compulsion to use. A SMART Recovery treatment program has the following objectives:

  • Build and maintain motivation
  • Cope with cravings or urges
  • Manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
  • Live a balanced and healthy life

Behavioral therapies such as CBT have been shown to be highly effective in treating people in non 12 step rehab and this is mainly because they are entirely focused on the individual concerned. Through discussion, patients are able to isolate the negative thoughts that lead to them using and learn how to adapt their thinking to overcome them.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

SOS is non 12 step drug rehab that was founded in the mid-80s by an alcoholic called James Christopher who had tried AA but had been uncomfortable with the idea of submitting his life to a “higher power”. Instead, he found that focusing on his self-reliance and sense of responsibility was a more helpful way of dealing with substance abuse issues and these became the tenets of SOS. Using the principals he learned through achieving his own recovery, James Christopher devised his own non 12-step recovery program.

There is no structured program as such but SOS has recommended “guidelines” for overcoming substance abuse disorder. The premise of SOS is that when using, alcohol and drugs becomes a person’s priority and so to combat this, it recommends “sobriety priority” to turn things around so that there’s a shift of attitude. SOS is non 12 step rehab that empowers participants to make necessary changes in their lives. The group maintains that to overcome addiction or dependence on substances, the attitude of “not using no matter what happens” needs to be reinforced to allow people to switch their focus from substances to sobriety.


The road to recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol is long and sometimes lonely, which is why it is so important to find the right kind of treatment for each individual seeking care. The approach that is successful in one person, may not be so effective in another making it essential for individuals to find their own way. Research has shown that when people have more treatment choices available to them, their outcomes are significantly better. By removing the pressure of aligning themselves with an ideology that doesn’t ring true to them, people with substance abuse issues feel more in control of the steps they take towards sobriety.

It is worth noting that many people in non-12-step programs also choose to attend AA or Narcotics Anonymous sessions as a way of underpinning support in rehab. Group sessions provide an invaluable platform for people with addiction issues to communicate what they are going through in a non-judgmental environment. In essence, there are proven benefits of 12-step that people who are receiving non 12 step drug rehab elsewhere can still access, although it is unwise to view AA’s recovery program as a treatment option in isolation.