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AA Alternatives: How to Quit Drinking Without Alcoholics Anonymous

Sober senior multiracial women meeting and hugging each other outdoorImage via DisobeyArtPhotography/Envato Elements

Finding the proper alcohol treatment and recovery community can be tricky. You may not align with the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) but are unsure of where else to look. Luckily, now is a great time to consider other options because the pandemic has had a positive impact in this regard, and there are many AA alternatives out there. These online alcohol treatment programs are more accessible and provide a more modern approach to treatment. There is now more opportunity, more validation, and more healing at the touch of your fingertips when it comes to rethinking your relationship with alcohol. Rest assured, you can quit drinking without AA. 

In order to normalize the process of looking for and using AA alternatives, we’ve spoken with experts who talk about the various issues the traditional 12-step model presents, and we’ve highlighted the benefits of accessible, alternative online solutions. We also discuss the importance of recovery communities and how they make a difference for those seeking a sober lifestyle. 

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How Folks Struggle with AA  

Keith Murphy, LPC and LCADC, expressed that it’s pretty standard for folks to struggle with 12-step recovery for various reasons.

He explains, “I run into people and work with folks who: don’t want to be around other ‘addicts’ or ‘alcoholics;’ have trouble with the higher power thing; want a community of people but don’t want the rigidity of the meetings or 12 steps, or find the language of 12-step meetings dated and off-putting.” 

He continues, “And others find people who struggle with 12-step meetings don’t buy into the disease concept or don’t find themselves (able to identify) in that space.”   

Another challenge that folks face is that 12-step recovery is absolutist in its approach to recovery goals and that anything outside of that perspective doesn’t qualify as recovery. And for some, identifying as an alcoholic just doesn’t fit.

David Oscar Harvey, LCSW, explains, “Clients struggle with the limited definition of 12 step places on recovery; many are able to drink safely and/or consume marijuana, often prescribed by a doctor.” He contends that this can leave people feeling their recovery isn’t valid, “It’s difficult to buy into a fellowship that represents something that demonstrably adds value to their life as toxic. 12-step [recovery] gaslights them into wondering if their recovery is valid and safe.”   

This rigid philosophy can also be bolstered by peer pressure, which is particularly potent as it can leave people fearful of their recovery. 

Arielle Ashford, MSW, RYT-500, explains, “There is a lot of peer pressure and stories that typically go around about why people are not attending meetings.” 

She explained that you often hear fear-based sayings, too, like “Don’t let the life AA gave you take you out of AA,” which Ashford explains is cult-like talk for keeping members in the fellowship. But, in truth, she says that people can be just fine leaving the program. “I had friends leave the comfort of the [AA] bubble and go on to thrive in life.”

How Digital Recovery Options Differ From AA

There is a range of digital programs, communities, and online alcohol treatment programs. Communities like Tempest offer a holistic and clinically proven approach to recovery. A Recovery Coach can also help with setting goals and quitting alcohol or cutting back. Likewise, many therapists and practitioners who provide help to those in recovery, like Harvey, are shifting their practices online due to the pandemic.

“Since COVID, I provide therapy by Zoom and telephone and have found it quite successful,” he says. 

As a recovery option, Harvey is a big proponent of therapy as a treatment modality, which he describes as “co-creating a recovery journey with their client that is best suited to their circumstances.”  

Many of the digital AA alternatives address specific needs of various communities and groups, which is largely overlooked in the 12-step approach. For instance, Tempest provides groups and meetings specifically for parents, people over 50, BIPOC, and the LGBTQIA community. Some digital options also address co-occurring disorders and cross-addiction.

For those who have never identified as an “alcoholic,” these AA alternatives make it possible to reassess one’s relationship with alcohol without being confined by a label. 

The ever-evolving views on addiction and how alcohol use can be directly related to societal and personal issues makes a more holistic approach to recovery imperative when it comes to accessibility. The influx of online recovery options that address these issues head-on makes quitting drinking without AA possible for many people.

An often overlooked aspect of recovery and treatment is that virtual resources have created space for social justice, particularly making recovery more accessible to those who are marginalized. Murphy explains that recovery advocates can now connect with others in the social justice world more meaningfully.  

“More marginalized folks are able to discuss the intersection of identities and oppression in traditional recovery spaces and make larger connections to systems of oppression and what it means to dismantle those systems,” Murphy says.

The Benefits of Community Support 

Community, or social capital, is a critical element of recovery. People need to feel validated, supported, and help each other make effective choices. Harvey says that folks in early recovery or struggling with addiction feel unworthy of care and attention. 

“That’s why it’s so important for them to link up with others in the community to validate their pain and instill a belief in the possibility of their betterment,” he says.    

Ashford echoes that sentiment by underlining that we all need friends

“Sometimes it’s nice to relax in a group of friends with shared values,” she says. “We have a group thread text and we talk and discuss all the things, especially frustrations.”

The beauty of our technologically connected world is that you don’t necessarily have to be in-person to connect with others, which is one of the reasons digital alcohol treatment programs are viable AA alternatives. 

Murphy contends that people do not heal without community, and in his experience, he says we cannot underestimate the importance of the right community for the person seeking recovery. However, he continues, “the wrong community can also drive a person away from the help, hope, and healing they need.”

Arielle also talks about self-learning as part of our evolution in recovery and in relation to community. She suggests we consider our mind and body holistically and ask: do we have the capacity for community? Not everyone does. And sometimes, our needs ebb and flow. 

For Ashford, community feels overwhelming right now, so she finds comfort in other helpful ways. She had so many friends at the beginning of her journey, and she burned herself out

“Being comfortable with myself and my alone time is priceless,” Ashford says. 

She recommends getting to know your energy levels and learning if people excite you or exhaust you. 

“Get to know which people do this to you, and then use your energy wisely,” she says. “You don’t have to go to meetings if you don’t want to, and you don’t have to hang out with people who drain you. Learn about yourself first.” 

Unlike AA, which is a program where community isn’t an option and is mainly based on regular attendance at meetings, digital recovery options like Tempest offer a balance of community, support, and self-guided learning, which allows a person to tailor their recovery experience to their needs. 

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Recovery from alcohol has come a long way, and it’s more than possible to quit drinking without AA in today’s world. Modern alcohol treatment programs should be tailored to the individual because we all come to the table with unique needs, and digital recovery bridges the gap.

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