For many, addiction is a chronic struggle—one that is punctuated by periods of abstinence and episodic relapse. While seeking formal treatment is a strong first step to take in managing an addiction, maintaining your long-term sobriety involves ongoing work that continues after you’ve completed treatment. Recovery support programs can be a beneficial part of your ability to maintain sobriety in the long-term.
Participating in an effective recovery support program has been shown to increase your chances of staying sober longer. Such recovery support options include sober living communities, social support, self-help meetings, recovery coaches, community supports, and private therapy.1 After two years, studies showed participants in sober living communities were not only able to reduce rates of substance use, but also reduced the likelihood of incarceration and notably increased monthly incomes. Social support seems to be an especially strong indicator of sobriety outcomes as well.1
What are 12-Step Programs?
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Of the available recovery support program options, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is likely the one you’ve heard about most. It was the first 12-step fellowship, developed in the mid-1930s, and was an offshoot of the Oxford Group, an organization that focused on sobriety and incorporating spiritual principles into daily life.2 The founders of AA worked together to view alcoholism as a spiritual, mental, and physical illness and were among the first to view alcoholism as a disease. AA groups rapidly spread throughout the United States and Canada, and can now be found worldwide.2
AA and other 12-step programs provide a strong sober support network that are safe places to openly discuss issues, relapses, and successes, and to gain insight into how to overcome obstacles from other members who have faced similar problems. These 12-step programs also strongly urge members to get a sponsor or a member with a significant period of sobriety to provide additional support and guide them through the 12 steps. Not only have 12-step programs proven to support sobriety, but they also prolong the positive effects of treatment.3
Adaptations of the basic AA structure, including the 12 steps and traditions, have been made for specific substances. And while progress toward recovery can be made by applying the 12-step principles regardless of if your meeting focuses specifically on your substance of choice, many people do find it easier to recover in a group of peers who have used the same substances because different drugs may create issues unique to those substances.
Some of those specific types of 12-step programs include:
- Alcoholics Anonymous: focuses primarily on alcohol, but many members have also used other substances and find recovery in the rooms of AA.
- Narcotics Anonymous: provides a safe place for anyone with a drug addiction or issue with substance abuse to recover. NA addresses addiction in general, encouraging abstinence from all mind or mood-altering substances.
- Marijuana Anonymous: is for those who abuse marijuana.
- Cocaine Anonymous: focuses on cocaine addiction specifically through the 12 steps.
- Heroin Anonymous: is a newer group focusing on heroin addiction and recovery.
- Crystal Meth Anonymous: addresses crystal meth addiction or abuse through the 12-steps and peer support.
- Al-Anon/Alateen: is a 12-step fellowship for loved ones of alcoholics or substance users. Al-Anon is for adults, Alateen is a place for teenagers, and both provide a safe place to address the issues created by loved ones with alcoholism or other addictions.
- Nar-Anon: is a fellowship providing support for loved ones of substance users and is an outgrowth of NA.
Other Recovery Support Options
Addiction is not a one-size-fits-all disorder, and while many find 12-step groups to be helpful, others do not. While the “higher power” concept is largely open to personal interpretation, the underlying spiritual or religious nature of 12-step meetings make some people feel uncomfortable.
But there are other options.
Abstinence-focused mutual self-help groups do exist and are available to provide recovery support to those who don’t like or want to attend a 12-step group.
- Women for Sobriety is a self-help program for women who want to conquer alcoholism and other addictions, and was founded in 1976.4 Women for Sobriety maintains a positive focus while guiding spiritual and emotional wellbeing through a program involving 13 daily positive affirmations. Women in the program are empowered to overcome challenges and build self-esteem, while challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors. In 1999, there were more than 300 groups throughout the world, including the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, England, and Ireland.According to the Women for Society website, thousands of women have penned letters stating that they have been able to attain sobriety after many years of unsuccessful attempts. Some treatment facilities are also incorporating the New Life Program and 13 positive affirmations into their programs.4
- SMART Recovery is a science-backed or evidence-based recovery support program that welcomes those who are actively working toward sobriety, as well as those who are ambivalent about taking the leap into abstinence.5Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Rational-Emotive Behavioral therapy (REBT) approaches are used to create a four-point program that focuses on 1) developing and strengthening motivation, 2) dealing with urges to use, 3) learning how to manage thoughts, emotions, and actions, and 4) learning to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle.5
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) has existed for more than 30 years and adopts a variety of addiction theories toward recovery. It is comprised of individually functioning and self-supporting local groups focusing on helping members to get and stay sober. Some of the most important aspects of this organization are social support from sober peers and honestly sharing your thoughts, emotions, and information with the group.6
- LifeRing Secular Recovery is another abstinence-focused, secular peer support group for recovery.The LifeRing approach offers peer support to help members learn and grow, while developing a sense of empowerment to live a sober, productive, healthy, and happy lives. A survey conducted by LifeRing in 2015 reports that the average length of sobriety was about 2 years and 9 months, with nearly 60% of survey respondents describing themselves as newcomers, or those with less than 30 days in the program.7 The majority of group members are people in recovery, with small percentages of loved ones, treatment professionals, or observers also reporting membership.7
- Celebrate Recovery is a Christian-based recovery support program that references the Bible and teachings of Jesus Christ. It was developed 25 years ago and relies on a modified version of the 12 steps, along with the loving practices of Jesus to deal with “hurts, habits, and hang-ups” so that members can live in recovery.8 According to the Celebrate Recovery website, more than 17,000 people have been helped, with nearly ¾ coming from outside the church. Celebrate Recovery can be found in almost 30,000 churches around the world, and the vast majority of people who complete the program remain affiliated with the church, along with nearly half volunteering their time and resources with the church.8
Due to the anonymous nature of these recovery support programs, it can be hard to obtain an accurate census of members, as well as success rates. Some members participate in more than one type of recovery support program or also incorporate formal treatment or private therapy into their recovery plans.
Attending a recovery support program that you are comfortable participating in is important to your long-term outcome. But the specific support group you choose doesn’t necessarily predict future success over another group—your active participation is more the factor that increases the likelihood of maintaining long-term sobriety.9
How to Choose the Best One for You
Participation in a recovery support group can help ease your transition back to daily life. Since there are so many recovery support programs to choose from, you can focus on elements that are most important to you to base your decision on, such as your specific needs, beliefs, personal philosophies, and religiosity. Many people find addiction recovery support groups to be helpful both during and after the treatment process. Upon completion of treatment, participation in a recovery support group can help ease your transition back to daily life, reduce stress, provide peer support, and aid the rehabilitation process so that you can live a healthy, sober, and productive lifestyle.
The atmosphere in these groups is typically structured, calm, positive, and focused on recovery and health. They can also help you replace your using buddies with sober peers, gain support in overcoming the challenges sobriety presents, find others with common interests, and discuss recovery with like-minded peers in a safe, anonymous setting.
The lists of recovery support programs above are not comprehensive—there are many others—so it’s not surprising that you may feel confused or overwhelmed trying to figure out which one is right for you. If making a choice becomes stressful for you, reach out for help. No one expects you do walk this journey alone.
It’s also helpful to have guidelines to consider to help you narrow down your choices. Think about the following questions and let them lead you toward your best recovery support program:
- How comfortable are you with a religious program, or would a secular or science-based program would be a better fit?
- Do you believe in God or a higher power? If so, a faith-based or religious program might be a good choice.
- All 12-step groups use the concept of powerlessness, which makes some people uncomfortable. How do you view your addiction?
- If you are most comfortable in a group of same-sex peers, look into which groups offer male- or female-only meetings. If mixed groups are more comfortable for you, there are plenty to choose from too.
- Science views addiction as a disease. Some recovery support programs use a faith-based, non-scientific program of recovery. Still others focus on a secular, science-based program of recovery. Think about which approach most resonates with you.
- Some newer groups are only offered in select areas, or on certain days of the week. If you feel you need increased support, or even daily meetings, a more established recovery support program may be a better fit for you.
- Many groups offer online support or meetings. If your schedule is hectic, or you don’t have meetings in your area to choose from, a recovery support program with online availability may be a good choice.
If you would like to learn more about the addiction recovery support programs near you, contact our 24-hour hotline at 1-888-287-0471 to talk with our treatment placement team about the programs near you.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2008). The Role of Recovery Support Services in Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care.
- Alcoholics Anonymous. (2016). Historical Data: The Birth of A.A. and Its Growth in the U.S./Canada.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (3rd edition).
- Women for Sobriety. (2011). Women for Sobriety.
- SMART Recovery. (2016). SMART Recovery Self Management for Addiction Recovery.
- Secular Organizations for Sobriety. (2016). About Us.
- LifeRing Secular Recovery. (2016). Discover LifeRing.
- Celebrate Recovery. (2016). Celebrate Recovery.
- Atkins, R.G., & Hawdon, J.E. (2007). Religiosity and Participation in Mutual-Aid Support Groups for Addiction. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 33(3), 321–331.