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types of 12 step programs

Understanding the Types of 12-Step Programs & How to Find the Right One

Many recovering addicts and alcoholics find themselves participating in a 12-step program. These groups offer access to free support and foster a community-based approach to sobriety. However, there are many types of 12-step programs out there, and finding the right one can make a significant difference in your recovery journey. 

Let’s explore 12-step programs in a more comprehensive way to help you learn more about them and find the right one for your needs. 

What is a 12-Step Program?

A twelve-step program is a set of guiding principles that outline a course of action for recovery from addiction, compulsion, and other behavioral problems. In the 1930s, Bill Wilson established the first twelve-step program (Alcoholics Anonymous). Since then, the same method was adopted by other twelve-step program organizations. Mainly, the process involves:

  • Admitting that one cannot control one’s addiction or compulsion
  • Believing in a higher power that can give strength
  • Examining past errors with the help of a sponsor
  • Making amends for those errors
  • Learning to live a new life under this new code of behavior
  • Helping others who suffer from the same addiction or compulsion

Twelve-step programs can help in the battle against addiction, generally, through the use of their peer support networks. Most addicts report feelings of isolation from their addiction, and meetings helped to overcome those emotions. Thus, twelve-step groups offer support from people who can relate to one another. Also, twelve-step programs provide a variety of tools for self-improvement and connection.

Types of 12-Step Programs Out There

While there are many different twelve-step programs out there, the two main ones address the biggest addictions — narcotics and alcohol. One could consider these two programs the birth of 12-step programs. 

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.)

A.A. is based on the doctrine that asks members to admit their lack of control over alcohol. It revolves around the idea that individuals must turn themselves to a higher power and find spiritual awakening. While this concept is helpful to some, it can be challenging for those who don’t consider themselves religious individuals.

Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.)

N.A. is also a twelve-step program but designed for people with drug addiction. The NA literature describes it as a program “for addicts who wish to pursue and maintain a drug-free lifestyle.” There isn’t a focus on a particular drug, and the program runs very similarly to A.A. meetings, sharing the same principles, practices, and philosophies.

Pros & Cons of 12-Step Programs

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that supports the benefits of the programs. Some formal research even points out that twelve-step programs can work for many individuals. However, addiction treatment is a very personal journey, and various points of view might be positive or negative.


  • Programs offer anonymity to allow members to get support without privacy concerns
  • No cost access to addiction recovery support
  • Access to a broad network of support within the member’s existing community
  • The sponsorship method promotes accountability


  • The model focus on powerlessness might not be effective for everyone
  • Most twelve-step programs are not a fit for humanists or atheists
  • There’s a lack of emphasis on physical recovery
  • The programs are run by recovering addicts, not physicians or therapists
Alternatives to 12-Step Programs

Beyond these traditional programs, new organizations have emerged, offering a different approach to addiction recovery support. These programs provide similar structures to traditional 12-step programs, but they have different beliefs and philosophies.

SMART Recovery

A nonprofit organization that focuses on self-empowerment, Self-Management, and Recovery Training (SMART) is also a self-help group of people who wish to abstain from drugs, alcohol, and other behaviors. This research-based program uses a 4-point plan that involves:

  1. Obtaining and maintaining motivation
  2. Learning to manage urges and triggers
  3. Handling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors
  4. Finding and striking a balance in life

SMART Recovery uses a variety of tools and homework exercises to help members work through these four points. Meetings are face-to-face and follow the same format worldwide, and are run by a trained facilitator. 

Secular Organizations for Sobriety

Also known as S.O.S., this organization has no ties to any outside organizations. They focus on helping anyone who wants to be free from drug and alcohol abuse. The only requirement to continue to be part of these meetings is continued abstinence. Membership is confidential and free, though donations are welcomed. 

S.O.S. prides itself on being its entity and not deriving from another secular or religious program. S.O.S. continues to evolve with new research and does not subscribe to any one theory surrounding addiction. The program promotes that individuals use rational thought and take responsibility for themselves and their actions. 

LifeRing Secular Recovery

Unlike traditional 12-step programs, Life Ring believes each individual has the power to control their addiction within them. They refer to struggling addicts as two individuals, the “addict self” and the “sober self.” LifeRing does not rely on a higher power, sponsors, or specific steps to attain sobriety but instead asks individuals to find strength and self-control within themselves

Meetings are confidential, kept in a positive and encouraging environment that fosters a sense of community. Most of the time, a “convener: or facilitator runs the meeting suggesting topics and allowing the conversation to flow informally. 

Moderation Management

While most recovery support groups require complete abstinence as a condition, Moderation Management (MM) is different. MM is a program designed to target problem drinking early on and invites individuals who see alcohol becoming an issue in their lives to join. The program proposes to change risky drinking habits by promoting a healthy lifestyle and not necessarily through complete abstinence. 

The MM doctrine states that alcohol abuse is a choice and a habit that can be changed with brief intervention strategies. MM allows its members to choose – alcohol in moderation or abstinence. Interestingly, almost 30-percent of MM members decide to continue onto abstinence-based programs. 

12-Step Programs as Part of Addiction Treatment

It’s relatively common to incorporate the twelve-step program model in rehab. Most treatment centers will introduce either Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous to their patients and encourage participation. These 12-step programs are a critical element of aftercare and continued sobriety

It’s important to note that recovery efforts don’t end when rehab ends. Aftercare and support programs offer other elements of successful recovery in the long term. Additionally, this is not to say that 12-step programs will take the place of individualized treatment. Ideally, these programs are part of a comprehensive treatment plan. 

Different Types of 12-Step Program Meetings Near You

These types of support groups are in almost every community in the United States. If you’re considering attending a rehabilitation program at a treatment facility, odds are they incorporate these meetings into their addiction treatment programs. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we encourage twelve-step program meetings in the evening, after a day of individual and 12-step group therapy. 

The vast majority of these programs are free of cost, and the only requirement to participate is a desire to stop using.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Narcotics Anonymous
  • SMART Recovery
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics
  • Crystal Meth Anonymous
  • Cocaine Anonymous
  • Co-Dependents Anonymous
  • Food Addicts Anonymous
  • Gamblers Anonymous
  • Heroin Anonymous
  • Online Gamers Anonymous
  • Pills Anonymous
  • Sex Addicts Anonymous
  • Adult Children of Alcoholics

Finding the Right 12-Step Program 

If you are seeking treatment for substance abuse, it must be the best fit. It often takes individuals suffering from substance use dependence many years before they are willing to admit they have a problem. You want to make sure that you have done your due diligence on selecting the best rehab. Addiction treatment is not a cure; however, it is necessary if recovery is possible in most cases.

When it comes to finding the right twelve-step program for your needs, consider your beliefs. If you’re not a spiritual person, then something like LifeRing or SMART Recovery might be a better suit for you. If you have access to an addiction specialist, consult with them before making a decision. A therapist can offer guidance in the right direction when it comes to choosing an aftercare recovery solution. 

Getting the Right Help

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, don’t wait any longer. Countless treatment options can help them conquer their addiction and manage any withdrawal symptoms. Remember, quitting potent drugs alone can be life-threatening. It’s essential to have the support and supervision of drug addiction specialists by your side. 

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we believe in offering customized drug addiction treatment plans for those struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. On a case-by-case basis, we look at each treatment program to cater to whatever your needs are to get better and walk towards recovery. From detoxification programs to group meetings and more, everyone in our team is committed to helping you win the struggle with addiction. 

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