Founded in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous pioneered the use of 12-step programs as a method of addiction recovery. The program works by allowing members to share their stories with one another in a safe space where they need not worry about non-AA members hearing their secrets. When not in meetings, AA members work with a sponsor to go through the 12 Steps, a set of actions that members undertake to enhance their development of spiritual principles. While the program was originally inspired by a Christian organization known as the Oxford Group, today’s AA members remain open to persons of any faith, asking only that members accept the existence of something greater than themselves. This does not necessarily have to be God or any other deity, and many members put their faith in the group itself. Since AA is older and a bit more common, it is the program traditionally preferred by treatment programs.
Narcotics Anonymous was founded in 1953. While they use the same 12 Steps as AA, they use a different text as their main guidebook. Similar to AA, they do not require members to practice any particular faith. The primary difference between AA and NA is that the latter allows members to mention drug use, whereas many AA groups prefer drugs to remain unmentioned. Despite this difference, NA groups prefer that no drugs—including alcohol—are explicitly named during shares. Other minor differences include the use of the words “clean time” and “recovery” in place of “sobriety,” as a way of differentiating their program from AA and preserving their own traditions. While NA is less commonly used in treatment centers than AA, it has gained quite a bit of popularity in various recovery communities over recent years.
Other 12-Step Programs
Many 12-step programs exist for addicts who struggle with a particular drug of choice. Examples include HA for heroin addicts and CA for cocaine addicts. Additionally, many 12-step programs help people deal with particular behaviors that have had a negative impact on their lives. Among the more common such programs are SAA for sex addicts, OA for overeaters and CoDA for those who struggle with codependency. Some programs cater to the family members of addicts, the most common being Al-Anon, Alateen, Nar-Anon, Co-Anon and ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics). If you or a family member struggle with an addiction of any kind, the odds of finding a suitable 12-step program are generally in your favor.
While many understand the need for an abstinence-based program, not everyone prefers the spiritual approach taken by 12-step programs such as AA. SMART Recovery prefers a more scientific approach, rooted less in tradition and more subject to change as new scientific research on addiction is conducted. Rather than the 12-step approach, they focus on four basic goals. The first is to build motivation. Second, SMART Recovery members learn to deal with their cravings to use. Third, they focus on maintenance of behaviors, feelings and thoughts. Finally, they try to live by the principle of balance. By utilizing methods rooted in behavior and cognition, their overall goal is the development of responsibility and self-control.
Not everyone who prefers non-12-step programs is looking for a secular support group. Celebrate Recovery caters to addicts and alcoholics who seek a solution based in Christian principles. They actually do utilize a 12-step system, but they focus less on the steps themselves and more on the scriptural principles they believe to support them. They further distinguish themselves from groups such as AA by broadening their focus to include all unhealthy behaviors, rather than any particular addiction. Christians who recognize their substance abuse as a symptom of greater internal struggles may enjoy what Celebrate Recovery has to offer.
Other Non-12-Step Programs
Some non-12-step programs are even broader in their focus. For instance, while Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) offers some guidelines for maintaining your recovery, they do so without utilizing a firm structure. LifeRing Secular Recovery, an offshoot of SOS, focuses primarily on self-help. The group offers support, but their approach to recovery focuses largely on the addict’s own work in recovery. Women for Sobriety uses affirmations rather than steps, and believes that women achieve sobriety largely through emotional empowerment. Finally, Refuge Recovery uses a Buddhist-inspired approach to recovery, with the first half of each meeting focusing on meditation rather than sharing. Despite being among the most popular non-12-step programs, these groups can be much harder to find than programs such as AA and NA. Those who agree with their primary philosophies, however, may find them highly beneficial.