The 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are so dominant in addiction recovery culture that it can be easy to forget there are other ways to get sober.
If AA or NA works for you, that’s wonderful. If not, there are plenty of alternative tools and methods you could try.
1. Moderation Management
Moderation Management is aimed at people in the early stages of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol: “problem drinkers” rather than “alcoholics.” It’s a behavioral change program and network of support groups for people looking to make positive lifestyle changes, and as the name suggests, it’s a moderation- rather than abstinence-based program.
It has its own steps—nine of them—which the organization says can help followers to achieve balance and moderation in all aspects of their lives. The organization is upfront about the fact that 30 percent of its members go on to abstinence-based programs, if moderation didn’t work for them. If you’re worried but haven’t yet reached your bottom, it could be worth checking them out.
2. Smart Recovery
The SMART in SMART Recovery stands for Self Management and Recovery Training. It’s a worldwide support network and arguably the leading alternative to AA. It espouses a four-point program based on abstinence, the ultimate goal of which is to help followers to lead more balanced lives. SMART Recovery is all about empowerment; it diverges from AA on its first step—that “powerless over alcohol” thing—and makes use of techniques from motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy. Secularity and non-confrontation are central to its ethos, and the organization says it’s perfectly acceptable to use SMART alongside other sobriety aids, even including 12-step societies.
Ibogaine is a psychedelic substance that’s illegal in the U.S., though in other countries it’s used to treat addiction to opiates, alcohol, and other drugs. It’s thought to work by dampening the brain’s “reward pathway,” and can be particularly effective in lessening the effects of withdrawal, though its illegal status in the U.S. means there’s limited research on its functioning and effects.
4. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Also known as “tapping,” this technique involves just that: tapping on a series of pressure points while talking your way through whatever challenge you’re facing—for example, an addictive urge. EFT combines Eastern acupressure knowledge with the techniques of Western psychotherapy. Beyond responding to urges, tapping can also address the root causes of addiction.
5. Online Support Groups
For addicts, meetings in church basements used to be the only surefire way to find people who knew what you were going through. But today there are hundreds of people sharing their stories just a few clicks away. Search Google for “sober blogger” and thousands of entries will come up; there’s a little sober community of writers, readers, and commenters around each of these blogs. This is a great way to find fellowship and accountability if you don’t like the sound of face-to-face interaction. And if you need a little more accountability than that, try the hundred-day sober challenge at TiredofThinkingAboutDrinking.wordpress.com. Comes with its own free penpal!
Neurofeedback allows you to see your own brain waves on a computer screen, in real-time, and thus learn to alter certain brain rhythms through continuous feedback. It’s traditionally been used for sufferers of PTSD, though in recent years it’s been incorporated into a few rehab centers and a growing number of psychological clinics. Neurofeedback is still relatively new and the research on its effects are mixed, although accumulating evidence supports its effectiveness in conditions like insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
LifeRing is another abstinence-based support network with face-to-face meetings in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, in addition to online support for those who live elsewhere. It’s secular and built on peer-to-peer support: recovering addicts offer fellowship and personal strategies for staying sober and living a rewarding life in recovery. The focus is on the individual’s current life, rather than past difficulties. Members of LifeRing are free to attend other support groups.
It’s an unorthodox method, but some researchers (and enthusiasts) claim that hallucinogens can be effective in treating addiction. The above-mentioned Ibogaine is one such example; also worth mentioning are magic mushrooms and ayahuasca, a healing brew traditionally used by indigenous peoples in the Amazon. The research is ongoing and controversial, but the thinking is that hallucinogens can affect the brain cell receptors that control addiction because they’re similar to the brain’s natural neurotransmitters. On a less scientific level, the healing or even holy experiences people report after a good trip are thought to have lasting effects on mood.
HAMS stands for Harm Reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support. As the name suggests, the organization doesn’t dictate either abstinence or moderation, it simply encourages people to be safe and responsible in their attitudes to alcohol. It does this through a book, online community resources, live meetings, and its “17 elements”—recommendations that can be completed in any order, none of which is compulsory. Elements include charting your drinking behavior and learning to have fun without booze.
10. Thamkrabok Monastery
Thailand’s Thamkrabok Monastery has been called “the toughest drug rehabilitation regime in the world.” It doesn’t accept re-entry—one strike and you’re out. The program is based on a Sajja, or sacred vow, not to use intoxicating substances, along with a herbal medicinal treatment that offers what’s worryingly referred to as “very real and very rapid detoxification.” There’s no cost for treatment, but you have to pay for your own food, drink, and cigarettes. Treatment usually lasts between ten and twenty-eight days.
NAD’s full name is Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide. It’s a coenzyme that plays an important part in the body’s production of energy, and when injected at high doses it’s thought to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It’s been found to help with rapid detox from substances including opiates, alcohol, cocaine, methadone and benzos.
In the last few years, mindfulness has emerged as a hot ticket in mental health care, and a fact long known by followers of Eastern spirituality has become common knowledge: meditation is remarkably effective at treating an enormous range of mental health problems, including substance abuse.
Plenty of studies have shown that a regular meditation practice can be just as effective as a traditional relapse-prevention program, if not more so. Here’s one particularly pleasing bit of science: neuroscientists have found that after just five 20-minute sessions of mindfulness meditation, people had increased blood flow to the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain that’s crucial in self control. The same study showed that the same area of the brain had physically changed after 11 hours of meditation practice.
13. Rational Recovery
Rational Recovery is an abstinence-based program based on a method called AVRT—the Addictive Voice Recognition Technique. There are no groups or support centers; the organization holds that these are unnecessary and actually encourage relapse. This method is all about isolating your Beast—the internal voice that makes you want to drink or use drugs—and vanquishing it, alone. The method’s simple but smart ideology has you taking joy in the pain of quitting as evidence of the death of your Beast.
14. Women For Sobriety
Women for Sobriety is another sobriety support group and program. Its “New Life” program is founded on thirteen affirmations based on the principles of positivity and responsibility for one’s own life—things like, “Enthusiasm is my daily exercise,” and “I am responsible for myself and for my actions.” The efficacy of the program relies on followers spending time with these thirteen affirmations every morning, and selecting one as their focus each day. Support is available in self-help groups across the U.S. and abroad, as well as in an online forum.
Topamax is an anticonvulsant drug traditionally used to prevent seizures and migraine headaches. It’s not yet federally approved as an addiction treatment, but studies show that it can partially reverse the damage done to neurotransmitters by extended alcohol abuse, rebalancing the brain chemistry and so lessening cravings for alcohol.
16. Refuge Recovery
Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist path to addiction recovery, spearheaded by Buddhist teacher Noah Levine as an alternative to 12-step programs. It’s built around Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path, and draws on Levine’s own struggle with addiction. Levine proposes that Buddhism is ideally suited to target addiction, since transcending suffering and “nonattachment” are at its core. Levine published the book Refuge Recovery in 2014, and since then groups and meetings have been popping up all over the U.S. as well as in Canada, Denmark, Finland, and the UK. There are also online and phone-in meetings for those who can’t make it to any of the physical locations.
Levine proposes that Buddhism is ideally suited to target addiction, since transcending suffering and “nonattachment” are at its core.
17. Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) was developed in the 1970s. It focuses on the interplay of an individual’s physical, linguistic, and cognitive behavior, and aims to help people to understand the way their brain works and so change negative thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Benefits include an increased understanding of self and others and better communication, and addiction therapy is just one of many suggested uses. Proponents of NLP argue that the best way to treat an addiction is to change the way the sufferer thinks—and NLP claims to do just that.