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Non-Religious Alcohol Support Groups

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Overview of AA and 12-Step Programs

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the most well-known alcohol addiction recovery program. Many other 12-step programs are based on the teachings and methods of AA.

AA’s foundation is a set of spiritual principles and tools for sober living. The program offers hope to people with a desire to quit drinking alcohol and a willingness to embrace a higher power.

There is no requirement for AA attendees to agree on who or what the higher power is. But to follow the program, a person must admit they lack control over alcohol and turn themselves over to a higher power.

Spiritual awakening is an important part of AA. 

While not based on a specific religion, non-religious or non-spiritual people might find the religious and spiritual undertones of AA less than ideal.

Other 12-step programs similar to AA are secular. In most cases, participants find motivation within themselves, rather than an external source of power, to control their alcohol cravings.

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Do You Have to Believe in God to Attend AA?

No.

AA encourages participants to acknowledge a higher power, God or otherwise, but doesn’t require it. 

The AA manual includes a chapter called “We Agnostics.” It explains how people without a belief in a higher power can participate in and benefit from the program.

In most cases, people who consider themselves agnostic or atheist are more comfortable in non-spiritual programs.

Many of these programs are similar to AA but lack spiritual and religious components. Other programs do not use the 12-step method at all and use an entirely different approach to recovery.

Non-Spiritual Modifications for 12-Step Programs

Some non-spiritual programs include secular 12 steps. These include:

  1. Facing reality and controlling actions
  2. Understanding that change cannot be forced through willpower
  3. Taking mindful pauses to deal with life calmly and effectively
  4. Examining life honestly and searching for patterns
  5. Exploring those patterns and describing them to another person
  6. Understanding that the patterns are used as coping mechanisms
  7. Learning to accept vulnerability
  8. Exploring alternative behaviors and rehearsing them
  9. Applying new, mindful behaviors in everyday life and apologizing to those you’ve harmed
  10. Continuing to pay attention to the causes and effects of one’s actions
  11. Making space for mindful reflection and finding a sense of meaning and purpose
  12. Living a life that reflects a growing sense of respect and compassion for oneself and others

These steps are very similar to the original 12 steps of AA but don’t mention God or a higher power.

6 Non-Religious Alternatives to AA

Here are a few non-religious AA alternatives:

1. Alcohol and Drug Treatment Facilities

There are addiction treatment facilities throughout the country and around the world that offer support for alcohol use. They offer inpatient treatment and are similar to rehab facilities.

Some of these facilities incorporate 12-step programs into their long-term treatment plans, but many don’t. 

Addiction treatment that is not religious or spiritual and not based on the 12 steps might use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) components or other medically-based approaches.

If you’d like to know more about these programs, you can find information on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website. 

Alternatively, or in addition to inpatient addiction treatment facilities, secular support groups offer the comradery and peer support of 12-step programs without religious or spiritual themes. These programs do not take a 12-step approach or discuss spirituality or religion.

Participants have access to online and local meetings, peer support, and guidance from people who understand addiction.

Some of the most popular secular support groups include:

2. LifeRing Secular Recovery

LifeRing is a Secular Organization for Recovery (SOS). It teaches the belief that people with AUD have the power within themselves to control their addiction.

Another important concept in the program is that of the Addict Self and the Sober Self. According to the program, everyone with AUD has each of these selves, and recovery focuses on making the latter stronger than the former.

This treatment program does not mention higher powers. 

Recovery training focuses on support through online and face-to-face meetings to help people find individualized ways to live soberly.

In addition to peer support, meetings also include working through the Recovery by Choice workbook with other group members.

Like AA, meetings are free to attend, donations are encouraged, and membership is anonymous.

3. Moderation Management (MM)

Moderation Management (MM) is different from other substance use treatment programs in that it doesn’t require complete sobriety.

The goal of MM is to help people manage problems like binge drinking. It’s for people who think they might be developing a problem with alcohol.

People in MM programs aren’t usually ready or don’t think they need to completely abstain from drinking yet.

The program is based on the belief that alcohol use is a choice and/or a changeable habit. Members are free to choose to drink in moderation or abstain completely.

The program includes 9 steps that focus on developing personal responsibility, recognizing harmful patterns, and addressing problems with alcohol.

MM encourages members to abstain from alcohol for one full month at the start of the program and then moderate their drinking going forward if they feel capable.

Additionally, the program encourages:

  • Setting drinking limits
  • Not drinking daily
  • Cultivating hobbies and interests unrelated to drinking
  • Obeying drinking and driving laws
  • Avoiding risky or dangerous situations when drinking
  • Keeping blood alcohol concentration (BAC) lower than .055 

4. SMART Recovery Program

SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery encourages self-empowerment over addiction.

It’s a support group for people with both drug and alcohol use problems. It includes face-to-face meetings with peers, online meetings, and round-the-clock online chat rooms.

SMART Recovery programs are research-based programs that help people with addiction change negative thoughts. 

It’s based on 4 points:

  1. Obtaining and maintaining motivation
  2. Learning to manage urges
  3. Handling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors
  4. Finding and striking a life balance

Members complete homework assignments and attend meetings where they discuss challenges, achievements, and sober living strategies.

SMART Recovery programs offer peer support and education without focusing on religion or spirituality.

5. Women for Sobriety (WOS)

Women for Sobriety is the first women-only support group.

It’s based on 13 statements of acceptance that focus on personal responsibility, positivity, and growth. The group’s goal is to change members’ negative thoughts and behavior patterns and help them lead a healthy, happy, sober life.

Members are encouraged to love themselves and learn to practice self-control. It’s not a religious program, but it acknowledges that emotional and spiritual growth are possible.

The program teaches members how to make healthy food choices, meditate, and incorporate holistic healing modalities into their recovery.

Meetings occur about once a week. Members introduce themselves and say something positive about themselves and then they discuss WOS literature. 

6. Medical Detoxification

Medical detoxification, or, detox, reduces and/or eliminates symptoms of withdrawal.

It’s a safe and effective way to transition the body to being alcohol-free. It sometimes includes pharmaceutical drugs that manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

The most common drugs used to treat alcohol addiction include:

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Why are Support Groups Essential for Recovery?

Spirituality-based recovery isn’t for everyone. 

However, even if you aren’t religious or spiritual, or you don’t have a belief in a higher power, support groups are important for recovery.

People trying to achieve and maintain sobriety fare better when they participate in a self-help group. These groups facilitate peer support.

Support groups also offer easier access to sober living resources. If you’re a member of a support group, you’ll know exactly where to turn if and when you face a relapse.

Support groups allow you to share your own experiences and hear about the experiences of other people. They provide a sense of community and assure you that you’re not alone.

Other benefits of support groups include:

  • Avoiding isolation
  • Bonding over challenges and achievements of sobriety
  • Learning better coping strategies for stress and difficult emotions
  • Expressing ideas, emotions, and thoughts with people who understand
  • Sharing without fear of judgment
  • Gaining access to resources, assistance, and advice
  • Having accountability
  • Preventing or reducing the risk of relapse
  • Providing a sense of purpose
  • Having motivation and encouragement

Support groups also help people build better habits. Many encourage:

  • Exercise
  • Healthy eating
  • Volunteering or community service
  • Prayer
  • Fellowship
  • Education

Everyone is different, and therefore, not all support groups are right for everyone.

If you’ve attended a support group meeting that felt awkward or didn’t feel right, you have options. Try out other groups until you find one that’s a good fit for you.

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Updated on March 24, 2022
8 sources cited
  1. Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous - Health Encyclopedia - University of Rochester Medical Center.” www.urmc.rochester.edu.
  2. Peer Support Providers | Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies.” Alcoholstudies.rutgers.edu.
  3. Tracy, Kathlene, and Samantha Wallace. “Benefits of Peer Support Groups in the Treatment of Addiction.” Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, vol. Volume 7, no. 7, Sept. 2016.
  4. SMART Recovery.” SMART Recovery, 6 Sept. 2019, 
  5. Moderation Management Non-Profit for Self-Managed Alcohol Moderation.” Moderation ManagementTM, moderation.org/.
  6. Front Page - LifeRing Secular Recovery.” LifeRing: Secular Recovery. Lifering.org.
  7. Women for Sobriety.” Women for Sobriety, womenforsobriety.org/.
  8. Kelly, John F., and Julie D. Yeterian. “The Role of Mutual-Help Groups in Extending the Framework of Treatment.” Alcohol Research & Health: The Journal of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

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