Alternatives to AA Prove Effective, Study Shows

Alternatives to AA Proven to be Just as Effective

When people think of support groups and addiction recovery, most think about the famous Alcoholics Anonymous. It has been an effective way to treat alcoholism, and it has been adapted to work for drugs and other addictions more recently. A study on the effectiveness of AA on the National Center for Biotechnology Information was aptly entitled the study “Faith Meets Science”. More recently, a study has been done showing that LifeRing, Women for Sobriety and SMART Recovery are just as effective as the well-known AA and NA. This offers potential alternatives to AA for those that don’t want to take the religious approach to substance abuse treatment.

Peer Alternatives in Addiction

The new study was entitled Peer Alternatives in Addiction, or PAL for short. It looked at the effectiveness of AA, Women for Sobriety, SMART Recovery and LifeRing. It studied people in the programs over a period of a year.

After reviewing the data, accounting for individual differences in mental disorders, severity of addictions and what the goals of the individuals were, the study concluded that the effectiveness of the alternative to AA in the study, were as effective at alcohol addiction treatment.

The definition of a positive or successful outcome in the study was if the person remained alcohol or drug free as well as saw a decrease in problems that are normally linked to alcohol abuse. A main difference between the alternatives to AA was the goals that the people in the programs had. Both SMART and LifeRing had fewer respondents that had a goal of staying sober and clean for their entire life when compared to AA. However, the differences in goals were one of the elements that the researchers accounted for so as not to affect the alcoholism rehab success rate.

One of the aspects that might be the cause of less life-long sobriety goals in alternatives to AA is that people feel pressured to stay clean for their entire life in an AA group. Respondents seemed to feel more welcomed at the alternative to AA programs if they had a relapse than they did in AA – an arguably natural part of recovery with as many as 40-60 percent of addicts relapsing. In AA and NA, a relapse is seen as alcohol addiction treatment failure where the person needs to “give up their time” and start from scratch.

Alternatives to AA such as SMART Recovery are more forgiving when it comes to relapses since it is seen as common among addicts, and doesn’t necessarily affect alcoholism rehab success rate. Their approach is aimed at avoiding the overwhelming guilt that a person can feel when they relapse, with the goal of making it easier for them to go back to meetings, which is needed. A relapse in this sense is just another part of the journey to self-improvement and self-empowerment.

A key element of all of the programs’ success came from active support group involvement. People who frequent the same meetings share a connection, often forming a close group of friends. These groups were found to maintain close relations even outside of the meetings. Roles in the meeting also helped each person feel valuable and a part of the group, such as setting up the chairs or preparing snacks.

Moving Forward

As long as AA is the go-to for all addiction treatment in the eyes of the public and court system, the availability of alternative support groups suffers. In a major city, one can expect over 1,000 AA meetings but as little as 20 SMART groups, making it harder to join alternative groups even though they are just as effective.


If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.