Addiction recovery can be a long, difficult process. Many programs and support structures exist to help people work through addictions and manage substance use because each person requires different methods for success. Some programs require an ongoing commitment and a support group, while others harness more individualistic approaches.

The 12-Step Program

Variations of the 12-step program are widely popular for working through addiction, with the most common being Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Many 12-step programs emphasize spiritual beliefs and the reliance on a higher power, though participants are free to choose what this means to them. Beyond this, the programs also tend to involve

  • Regularly meeting with a local support group
  • Admitting that the person cannot control their addiction or compulsions
  • Working with a sponsor to examine past errors
  • Making amends for those errors
  • Learning how to live with a new code
  • Helping others who have addiction or compulsions

man speaking in recovery support group


Secular Organizations for Sobriety

Because of the inherent spirituality of many 12-step programs, some people choose more secular alternatives. Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is a network of groups that meet regularly, using principles similar to the classic 12-step program. They also provide additional options for those who need further support, such as needle exchange programs and medication-assisted treatments.

therapist speaking to young man in therapy group


SMART Recovery

Self Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is a collection of support groups that claim to use a more evidence-based approach to addiction recovery, one that uses cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques. This four-point program walks through four phases of treatment and recovery:

  • Building and maintaining motivation
  • Coping with urges
  • Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,
  • Living a balanced life

The SMART Recovery program views addiction as a series of maladaptive behaviors rather than a chronic disease. However, most modern experts agree that addiction is a condition stemming from environmental, biological, and genetic factors. Because of this, some groups choose to avoid characterizing addiction.

cropped image of a patient and therapist


Rational Recovery

Another secular addiction recovery plan, Rational Recovery focuses on recognizing the “addictive voice.” Participants of this program learn to identify thoughts and feelings that encourage addictions. Unlike other programs, Rational Recovery does not expect the continual attendance of support groups after a person makes a commitment to abstinence and learns the addictive voice techniques. While many people find this self-driven program effective, others state that its simple approach is not able to manage the complexity of addiction.

leader speaking in a group therapy session



LifeRing Secular Recovery is an anonymous, abstinence-based organization that uses the “3-S Philosophy” of sobriety, secularity, and self-help. While LifeRing has a large collection of support groups to help others with addiction, they also focus on illuminating that it is an individual’s own efforts that lead to recovery. LifeRing encourages participants to attend at least one meeting a week, either online or in-person.

group therapy members holding hands in support


Women for Sobriety

Women for Sobriety is a secular organization with support groups that help members work through addiction with a self-help angle. As the name implies, Women for Sobriety is exclusive to people who identify as women. The organization believes that women have different needs during recovery and built a program with this idea at its core. Thirteen acceptance statements encourage positive thoughts and personal accountability, such as “I am responsible for myself and for my actions.” and “Negative thoughts destroy only myself.”

women's therapy group sitting together


Behavioral Therapies

In addition to the range of potential addiction recovery programs, some people find the most success through behavioral therapies. Some groups offer or utilize these therapies in conjunction with their programs, though many people choose to visit separate mental health professionals. Behavioral therapies focus on modifying behaviors, increasing healthy life skills, and effectively harnessing other forms of treatment. Common types of behavioral therapy for recovery include cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and multidimensional family therapy.

sad, worried woman speaking with therapist


Experiential Therapy

Experiential therapy is an umbrella term for a range of therapeutic interventions centering around actual experiences and going beyond traditional “talk therapy.” Music therapy involves using music to instill behavioral changes. Art therapy uses activities like painting or sculpting to help develop awareness and mindfulness. Animal-assisted therapies involve playing with or caring for animals. Experiential therapy is rarely the main treatment for addiction but can help other programs be more effective.

man drawing in art therapy program


Relapse Prevention

Nearly all addiction recovery programs teach some form of relapse prevention. However, relapse prevention is also a specific, separate program that seeks to identify addiction triggers and teach participants how to overcome them. Common strategies of this program involve challenging positive associations with the addiction, learning to say “no” in an assertive way, reinforcing self-confidence, and developing coping strategies.

woman comforting another member of group therapy program


Medications and Devices

Along with the various programs and addiction recovery methods, some people require additional assistance in the form of medications or devices that help manage the symptoms of withdrawal. These tools can also help with staying in recovery programs by calming the body and limiting addictive feelings. Ongoing research is aiming to produce medications that help eliminate certain associations and mental connections that trigger feelings of addiction.

doctor indicating prescription medication for patient


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