People seated in chairs in a large a circle

Twelve-step programs have long been a mainstay of aftercare and ongoing support for people after Colorado drug rehab (and all over the US and the world as well). There are well over 100,000 12-step groups, mainly Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, meeting around the world.

In recent years, however, secular support groups have begun to grow and offer an alternative to the more spiritually-based 12-step meetings, which are focused around a higher power–usually a Judeo-Christian conception of God–although the meetings give flexibility to participants to define the higher power for themselves.

While AA, NA, and other 12-step programs continue to draw most of the support group participants in Colorado and elsewhere, secular-based support groups offer an alternative that has been welcomed by some in the addiction aftercare community.

Reasons for Growth of Secular Support Groups

Though AA and NA have been helpful to millions of people in recovery around the world, there are limitations to its approach that make it less helpful for some. The format of 12-step groups is strict and prohibits discussion among participants at meetings, whereas secular programs like SMART Recovery and LifeRing encourage discussion.

Another possible limitation of 12-step programs is the teaching that addicts are powerless over their addictions. Some who fight against substance abuse do not agree with this teaching and find other methods like cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches behavioral change and empowers participants to overcome addictive behaviors, to resonate more with their view of addiction.

Another possible sticking point is the all-or-nothing nature of 12-step programs. While most treatment programs view abstinence as a success, 12-step programs’ emphasis on complete, lifelong abstinence can create a lot of pressure on participants and make them feel like complete failures if they do use again. Some secular programs have different ways of dealing with abstinence that are less pressuring than AA and NA.

Man standing in meeting room reading to people seated at tables

Why the Move Away From Spiritual Support Groups?

The trend toward more participation in secular groups may come from the increasing secularization of society as a whole. Religious affiliation and the number of people who say they believe in God have both dropped significantly in the last decade, meaning that fewer people can relate to the concept of a higher power.

SMART Recovery, for instance, focuses on scientific principles and cognitive behavioral approaches to combat addiction rather than powerlessness and reliance on a higher power. For some, reliance on self is more effective than reliance on a higher power. Others just have not figured out their own spiritual or religious beliefs enough to focus on a higher power at this point in their recovery.

Another secular group that is growing in popularity, Women in Recovery, focuses specifically on the needs of women and seeks to empower them rather than focusing on humility and submission to a higher power. Secular Organizations for Sobriety focuses on self-reliance and personal responsibility.

Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is a Colorado drug rehab that offers comprehensive treatment options including aftercare, as well as working with each individual to find what will work to support their recovery after they leave treatment, whether that be a 12-step program or one of the newer, secular options. Contact us to find out about our programs and treatment options today!

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.