Helping Alcoholics who Refuse to Go to AA

Helping Alcoholics who Refuse to Go to AA


Helping alcoholics who refuse to go to AA is not an easy task. The reason for this is that most of the support and infrastructure out there for recovery is 12 step based. For the most part, 12 step programs dominate the industry, so that is what is available.

Because of the overwhelming support you receive in 12 step programs, along with the instant networking, I still recommend it as a starting point for the newcomer in recovery. But what about the person who simply refuses to go to AA, or who has tried it repeatedly and failed in the past? Can we offer them an alternative, or is AA the only way?

I believe that addicts and alcoholics can recover through other means, and even thrive in their recovery and grow beyond the traditional boundaries and limitations that some programs place on us. Here’s how:

First priority: you need a way to get through stage one recovery

Stage one recovery includes actually detoxing from the drugs and alcohol and finding your initial footing in sobriety. For many people in recovery, going to 12 step meetings every day is a big part of stage one recovery.

So if you are not going to go to AA, then you need another way to get through this early phase of recovery. For most people, that will mean short term or possibly even long term treatment. This might seem drastic but it is usually necessary to get someone started on the right path.

Most treatment centers are 12 step based so you will probably end up in some meetings anyway. There is nothing saying you must go to them for the rest of your life, though, so if you are truly opposed to them, just take them in stride.

So the question you need to ask yourself is: “How am I going to make it through stage one recovery? How am I going to get through the next 30 to 90 days without drinking and drugging?”

Second: you need a way to network with others in recovery

One thing about AA is that the meetings provide instant networking with other recovering alcoholics, which is a powerful asset for your recovery. So without meetings, you need to find a way to reach out and connect with others in recovery, preferably on a daily basis. This connection with others is especially important in early recovery.

I can’t tell you exactly how to do this or how many of these “connections” you need to have. If you tend to be a social person with lots of friends then you might consider going to AA or NA meetings, because it will be difficult to fill up your social needs without doing so. However, if you don’t need to have 15 friends in your life at all times, then you can probably find a way to connect with a few people in recovery outside of meetings. For most people, having a few close friends will work better for them than having dozens of surface-level relationships that might come through meetings (of course, you can still have meaningful relationships in AA as well).

So the question to ask yourself is: “If I’m not going to go to meetings, how am I going to connect with others in recovery?” If you can find a decent answer to this question, then you have a chance at recovery without AA.

Third: follow the 3 strategies

I would argue that you still need a plan for long term recovery. The most flexible and powerful approach is to follow these universal strategies and apply them in your daily life:

1) Care for yourself

2) Connect with others in recovery

3) Pursue personal growth

If you are deliberately going to avoid a 12 step program as your vehicle of recovery, what are you going to do instead? These 3 strategies are your answer, if you follow them earnestly and really work at them.

If you abandon traditional recovery routes then you need to consciously push yourself to find your own path. The creative theory of recovery is about customizing your program to work for you.

No one can tell you exactly how to do this. You have to find your own path.