In our Treatment Guide Spotlight series, we highlight resources that can help solve specific problems and answer questions associated with alcohol and alcohol use disorder, using the PGDF Treatment Guide as a tool.
Many people have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), arguably the best known of all mutual help groups. The “experience, strength, and hope” offered to members in a peer-led context has supported many people in their sobriety. For some, the twelve-step approach that is the basis of AA may not be a fit. Yet having the social support of peers can be an essential tool in achieving and maintaining a sober lifestyle.
Here we explore the current landscape of mutual help groups in the United States. To learn more about each group, you may click through to our treatment guide section on mutual help groups.
Mutual help groups are groups of peers who share a common problem, such as addiction, and offer support to one another. Mutual help groups related to substance abuse include groups for the person with the addiction as well as groups designed to aid their family and friends. Mutual help groups for addiction may support abstinence or harm reduction, and meetings are most commonly held in-person, though many groups also offer online support. The groups are almost always free and moderated by non-professional peers.
AA, one of the best-known mutual help groups, is open to anyone who wants to stop drinking or maintain their abstinence. AA offers in-person meetings and members are encouraged to work the 12 Steps of AA, often under the tutelage of a sponsor who has themselves experienced all of the 12 Steps, as part of the path to, and maintenance of, their sobriety.
DRA is an abstinence-based 12-Step mutual help program for people in recovery with a dual diagnosis. DRA helps members to recover from both their chemical dependency and their emotional or psychiatric illness (such as depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, and others). Via peer-led mutual support, DRA members help one another achieve dual recovery, prevent relapse, and carry the message of recovery to others who experience dual disorders.
HAMS is a free, peer-led support and information group for people who want to change their drinking habits for the better. Via online forums (chat room, email group, Facebook group), podcasts, and articles, HAMS helps people reach the drinking goal that they set – whether that goal is a reduction in drinking or completely stopping.
LifeRing is an abstinence-based program whose guiding principles are: Sobriety, Secularity, Self-Help. LifeRing has no prescribed steps to follow and offers non-spiritual, peer-based support for those in recovery from addiction to alcohol or to other non-medically indicated drugs.
MM is a secular program and national support group network for people who are concerned about, and want to reduce, their drinking. MM believes that alcohol abuse is a learned behavior, not a disease, and promotes early self-recognition of risky drinking behavior in order to manage it. MM members set their own drinking goals and are encouraged to follow particular drinking guidelines, limits, goal setting techniques, and a nine-step cognitive-behavioral change program.
RR, a direct counterpoint to 12-Step philosophy, is a secular, abstinence-based program that emphasizes self-recovery. RR views problem alcohol use as a voluntary behavior, not a disease. RR’s family-centered approach to recovery utilizes their Addictive Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT) program, which is delivered through an online platform and includes the use of books, videos and lectures. There are associated fees with some materials and subscriptions. The website also offers free materials. RR does not hold any meetings and actively discourages attendance at meetings as they believe recovery should be fully self-directed.
SOS is a non-profit network of autonomous addiction recovery groups that does not view surrendering to a Higher Power as necessary to achieving and maintaining sobriety. SOS is secular, but welcomes both religious and non-religious people at their meetings. SOS uses mutual support and their Suggested Guidelines for Sobriety to emphasize rational decision-making that leads to sobriety.
SMART Recovery is an abstinence-based, secular approach to recovery. The program emphasizes self-empowerment and uses cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and non-confrontational motivation methods to develop skills in four areas: Enhancing Motivation, Coping with Urges, Problem Solving, and Lifestyle Balance. SMART holds in-person and online meetings and also operates a teen and youth program.
The first national self-help recovery program specifically for women, WFS helps women overcome alcohol and other addictions. WSF asserts that negative thinking is at the root of destructive behavior and that it is up to the individual to change her thinking in order to change her behavior. WSF offers a small number of in-person meetings and their “New Life” program for recovery can be found online.
There are a number of mutual help groups with a religious affiliation. This section provides information on Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim recovery groups.
A list of online communities that offer peer support and can help connect people in recovery to others who share similar experiences.
This section provides information and links to web programs and smartphone apps that assist with recovery.