Alternatives to AA Exist
Ideas about how to treat addiction are so ingrained in pop culture that it seems almost impossible to imagine alternatives. If you’re dealing with any problem related to drugs or addiction, people almost automatically think you need to either check yourself into rehab or go to Alcoholics Anonymous.
However, contrary to popular belief, AA or Twelve-Step-based treatments are not actually evidence-based approaches to addiction treatment. In fact, a 2006 review of studies going back to the 1960s found that “no experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.” Though these methods work for some they do not work for all. Read more about the research.
Yet, currently at least 80% of all rehabs rely on these treatments as the foundation for their centers, with sobriety as their ultimate goal. This means that going to rehab, even most programs that claim to be non-AA or non-Twelve-Step will most likely mean that you will encounter a very similar type of program, with its basis in outdated methods. Watch John Oliver’s hilarious (and truthful) breakdown of the rehab industry.
If you’re looking for help, there are other alternatives out there. Here are some free and affordable resources for you to consider, particularly if you are in Los Angeles or Southern California.
Please note that if you are in crisis and need immediate medical or psychiatric care, please call 911.
Find a Free Alternative Support Group
Not all groups related to addiction kick off each meeting by saying, “Hi my name is X, and I’m an alcoholic.” There are also other free groups out there that have alternative or evidence-based philosophies.
A support group provides a space for people who are going through similar experiences to come together and share their feelings, coping strategies, or resources. Typically these groups are free, and run by nonprofit organizations or clinics. Many people appreciate this experience because it helps to hear other people share their experiences. It helps you understand that you are not alone, provides a space where you can talk honestly and openly about your feelings, and allows you to get support and feedback from the group. And if you don’t feel like sharing, you can still get a lot out of a group by listening to others’ stories.
It’s important to keep in mind that every group is very different, depending on when and where it’s located, who’s facilitating it, and who attends each session. You may find as you go multiple times that the group can evolve or change. If you don’t like the group initially, you might discover that it changes over time. Or you can look for a group in a different part of town or at a different time of day.
Here are some resources:
SMART Recovery is an abstinence-based, not-for-profit organization with a sensible self-help program for people having problems with drinking and using. It includes many ideas and techniques to help you change your life from one that is self-destructive and unhappy to one that is constructive and satisfying. SMART Recovery is not a spin-off of Alcoholics Anonymous. No one will label you an “alcoholic”, an “addict” or “diseased” nor “powerless”, and if you do not believe in a religion or spirituality, that’s fine, too. We teach common sense self-help procedures designed to empower you to abstain and to develop a more positive lifestyle. When you succeed at following our approach, you may graduate from the program, or you may stay around to help others.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, Evo also hosts a SMART Recovery group on Saturdays, 10:30 to 12 PM. Learn more about this group.
Moderation Management (MM) is a behavioral change program and national support group network for people concerned about their drinking and who desire to make positive lifestyle changes. MM empowers individuals to accept personal responsibility for choosing and maintaining their own path, whether moderation or abstinence. MM promotes early self-recognition of risky drinking behavior, when moderate drinking is a more easily achievable goal. MM is run by lay members who came to the organization to resolve personal issues and stayed to help others. It is an evidence-based program, listed on SAMHSA's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP).
Women for Sobriety (WFS) is an organization whose purpose is to help all women find their individual path to recovery through discovery of self, gained by sharing experiences, hopes and encouragement with other women in similar circumstances. We are an abstinence-based self-help program for women facing issues of alcohol or drug addiction. Our “New Life” Program acknowledges the very special needs women have in recovery – the need to nurture feelings of self-value and self-worth and the desire to discard feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation.
Find a Free or Low-Cost Therapist
If you’ve never been to a therapist before, it might seem like a strange thing to do. But it can also be one of the most rewarding decisions you will make. A therapist can act a personal coach or a guide to the problems that have been making you feel stuck, and can help reveal different ways of seeing the world and open new possibilities. They are also used to working with all kinds of people and should not be surprised by the things that you are facing, no matter how crazy they seem.
Keep in mind that your first therapist may not work out - and that’s ok! Feeling out what works for you is part of the process.
When seeking out a therapist, it’s important to interview them to see if they are a good fit for you. You should not feel like when you meet with them, your search is over and you are obligated to hire them as your therapist. It’s a good sign that they are a match if you have the feeling that your therapist understands you or is trying to understand you. Trust is the basis of a therapeutic relationship, which allows you to be honest and go deeper.
Many centers provide therapy for free or on a sliding scale depending on your need. You may find that some of these centers have a waitlist - but don’t let that discourage you. If you’re based in Southern California, these are some great resources:
Free or Low-Cost Counseling Centers
University-Affiliated Counseling Centers
If you’re a student, you likely have services available on campus. Some Los Angeles college counseling centers include:
Private Practice Therapists
And if you are looking for an individual therapist or you aren’t based in Southern California, Psychology Today has an excellent tool that can help you find a therapist that meets your needs wherever you are. Some therapists offer sliding scale services.
Build Your Own Pathway to Recovery
If you are looking for free or affordable alternatives to AA or traditional 12-step rehab, it may be possible for you to customize your own pathway to recovery. You could mix and match, picking a therapist that you trust and supplementing this with support groups that you like. This may be a better solution to many traditional treatment programs that provide a one-size-fits-all solution.
Keep in mind that customizing your own support network can be a great option, but it does take some work and, often, trial and error. You may not be in a place where this is possible. If you do see a therapist or seek help at one of these groups, make sure to work with them to determine the level of care that you need.
Regardless, it’s important to know that people who think differently are out there. You can do this.
Evo Health and Wellness is an outpatient addiction treatment program that respects where you are and where you want to go. Clients set goals that work for them, whether they include complete abstinence or moderation. Evo sees success as lasting change in the client’s life, including physical health, movement towards personal goals, and their sense of connection and purpose. Evo’s program integrates psychotherapy, psychiatry, life coaching, and somatic therapy. Learn more about Evo’s program.
Evo also provides free consultation if you have more questions about any of the resources above. We are happy to help navigate the complicated world of addiction treatment and give referrals, even if they are not us.