alternatives to alcoholics anonymous

How we're different from AA

Let’s start with a clarification: we think AA is incredible. It’s helped millions of people quit drinking. Its program can be incredibly effective for those who believe in a higher power. We think Drinker’s Helper can be a complement to AA meetings to help out in between sessions; we don’t think the two are fundamentally incompatible.

However, we do have some differences both in our understanding of the problem and in the way we attempt to help.

Here’s a quick overview of how we are different from Alcoholics Anonymous:

  1. We hope to help people a little earlier in the process. Alcoholics Anonymous in its Big Book describes the ‘alcoholic’ as someone who drinks extremely heavily and can’t seem to give it up despite very severe impact on their life. We hope to help people when they realize they might have a problem, and are deciding whether or not to do something about it.

  2. We acknowledge moderation as a valid goal. This is partly tied to #1 - if you are meeting the AA Big Book description of an alcoholic, you’re probably past the point where moderation is feasible for you. But for many people who are not dependent on alcohol, but do drink to excess, moderation is possible if they know the right limits to aim for, can track progress, and can acknowledge the reasons for their drinking and fix the underlying problems.

  3. We believe it’s possible to get past the struggle phase. In AA, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Every day is a new challenge; a new potential relapse. It requires hard work to stay sober. But when you understand why you drink, really change the way you think about alcohol, and change your thinking and circumstances, we believe it’s possible to get to the point where you simply don’t want to drink anymore, at all. We know because we’ve done it!

  4. We don’t require that people believe in a higher power. The core of AA is surrendering to a higher power and allowing it to remove your character defects that lead to drinking. We try to help with underlying problems through therapeutic exercises that don’t rely on belief in a higher power. While we respect others who believe in God, we don’t, and we want to ensure everyone has the tools they need to address the underlying issues that lead to their drinking.

If you want to know more about our approach, download the app today! We help people quit or cut back on drinking with tracking, insights, exercises, and support groups.

What I learned by reading the Big Book

For anyone who hasn’t heard of it, the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous tells the story of how the organization was founded. It also explains the core principles behind the recovery system, and shares success stories from those who have recovered.

Like many of you I assume, had only vague impressions of Alcoholics Anonymous (mostly from TV shows and movies). I knew people everyone stood up and introduced themselves as “I’m so-and-so, and I’m an alcoholic.” and I knew there were sobriety coins for people who achieved certain milestones.

But I learned quite a bit about AA by reading the Big Book, and so I’m sharing what I learned with you in case it’s helpful.

  1. Their definition of an alcoholic is a person with a very, very extreme drinking problem. Partly this may be down to when AA was founded, and the prevalence of heavy drinking as part of normal life at the time. I’d imagine today some people they describe as ‘not true alcoholics’ would meet the criteria for an alcohol abuse disorder. The people they describe as alcoholics in the book are putting away bottles (plural) of gin in a day. On their own. They think of an alcoholic as someone whose brain is perhaps so damaged by alcohol that they will have a hard time recovering in any way other than a spiritual experience.

  2. They believe you can stop yourself without the religious experience earlier on in the process of becoming an alcoholic. The interesting part about this extreme definition of an alcoholic - someone who is beyond all hope - is that it leaves a lot of room for people who aren’t at that stage yet to recover. Obviously, you have to actually want to stop, but they acknowledge it is possible.

  3. They acknowledge that people have to decide they will do anything to get free of alcohol in order to actually do so. It requires wholehearted commitment, where many drinkers still argue with themselves internally about whether they want to stop or not. This reminded me heavily of This Naked Mind’s argument that stopping drinking requires changing the unconscious mind’s desire for alcohol.

  4. The core of the program is a religious experience of submitting your life over to God and his decisions. There is flexibility in the interpretation of God, and people of many faiths may join AA. But if you fundamentally don’t believe in any kind of higher power, you will have real trouble completing an AA-based program.

  5. One of the reasons their program may work so well is that it gives people a sense of purpose. Often, when drinking has taken over your life, you’ve given up hobbies and become less interested in work. Living according to God’s will, and helping other alcoholics, gives people a feeling of an indisputably good purpose that helps them avoid slipping into depression. Life has meaning again.

  6. Another reason their program may work so well is that reliance on God enables people to “match calamity with serenity.” In other words, they are better shielded from things going wrong in life. Often, spirals into anxiety or depression can send people off to drink. After all, “liquor [is often] but a symptom” of an underlying emotional issue. If you feel calm, because God has control of your life, you’re less likely to be blown around by bad days or even real crises. You accept what’s not in your control.

  7. They believe that helping others is critical to recovery. This makes so much sense! Part of the twelve steps is about teaching other alcoholics how to do the program. The act of helping helps the helper as well as the helped.

  8. A lot of people like AA because they can get empathy from others in the same place that they’re in. A core belief is that peers can help an alcoholic in a way others can’t. Again, this makes some real sense. The shame that can come along with abusing alcohol may make it hard to reach out to people who’ve never struggled with it. But a peer can offer empathy as well as advice.

  9. They know that offering hope is critical. By meeting sponsors and those who’ve been in the program a while, they can learn that it is in fact possible to quit drinking. This is desperately needed inspiration and motivation.

  10. They acknowledge that the goal is to be able to be around alcohol without trouble. Early on, people simply avoid triggers. That can work for a while. But ultimately, if you can’t handle being at a bar, or at a party, with booze present, then some part of you still wants it.

If you’re thinking about quitting or cutting back on drinking, whether you’re in AA or not, we’d love to help! Try out the app today at the link below.

Alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous

When people decide to quit drinking, there’s usually one answer - from friends, family, employers, or counselors: go to Alcoholics Anonymous.

It’s the largest, oldest, and best-known program that helps people fight drinking problems. However, it has some features that might make people hesitate to join or stick with it, and so we’ve compiled a list of alternatives to AA that people can consider, and why they might be attractive.

To be clear, we consider Drinker’s Helper (our app which provides a personalized support group in your pocket, helps with drink and urge tracking, provides insights on your progress over time, and provides motivational exercises) to be a complement to any of these programs, rather than a substitute. Many of our members use multiple approaches as they attempt to quit or cut back on drinking.

First, why might people find AA not to their liking? Here are some of the most common reasons:

  1. It has a religious component. Several of the twelve steps rely on giving up control to a higher power. Non-religious people may find it difficult to start the twelve steps if they don’t believe in a higher power of any kind.

  2. It is perceived to be for people with very serious alcohol problems, who have let their entire lives fall apart due to alcohol. People with milder issues, who still have their jobs and their family life, may be turned off by socializing with people in very different circumstances.

  3. It has a heavy focus on the past. You make amends for past wrongs. You make a real inventory of who you are as a person. This may turn off people who are more action-oriented or who want to stay positive by focusing on the changes they’re making.

  4. It requires a person to admit that they are powerless over their addiction. While it can help some people to realize how out of control their drinking has become, some people (who are more individual responsibility oriented) might be turned off by the idea that they can’t help themselves. At Drinker’s Helper, we certainly believe that a person can do quite a bit to help themselves get free of addiction to alcohol.

Here are some alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous that also offer in person anonymous support groups dedicated to quitting drinking that we think can be very helpful to people:

  1. Women for Sobriety: This one is obviously for women only, but the differences don’t stop there. The other two biggest differences with Alcoholics Anonymous are: 1) They focus on the future, not the past, which can be empowering and 2) rather than admitting powerlessness, they seek to make their members feel empowered.

  2. Smart Recovery: We particularly love this option because it uses so much of cognitive behavioral therapy, one of the two therapies we drew from in creating Drinker’s Helper. It heavily emphasizes developing your skills and strategies to deal with urges to drink.

  3. Secular Organizations for Sobriety: As the name suggests, this organization is not religious. They also heavily emphasize helping yourself through addiction, and sharing stories of how you have managed to stay sober to help others by sharing useful tactics.

  4. LifeRing Secular Recovery: This is a very similar group to SOS that heavily emphasizes building up your mental skills to counteract urges to drink.

We hope you find these suggestions helpful, and if you want additional help on top of what these groups can provide in person at set times, we hope you’ll give the Drinker’s Helper app a try! We provide a personalized support group in your pocket, plus over 75 exercises you can do to motivate yourself to keep going with your goal of quitting or cutting back on drinking.