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AA Alternatives: What Is LifeRing and How Do You Conquer Your Addict Self?

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Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is synonymous with alcohol addiction treatment for many people. While AA is one of the most global peer support organizations, it was founded based on the idea of a higher power. LifeRing Secular Recovery is a peer support organization that focuses instead on empowering you in your own sobriety rather than on the “powerlessness” taught by AA.

What Is LifeRing?

Founded in 2001, LifeRing is a nonprofit organization with a network of online and in-person support groups. Groups are free, run by peers, and designed for those “who want to live free of alcohol and illicit or non-medically indicated drugs.”1

LifeRing focuses on the importance of autonomy and empowers you to take control of your sobriety through a Personalized Recovery Plan and social support. LifeRing’s support network extends across the United States and is accessible internationally via online meetings.2

Who Is LifeRing For?

LifeRing welcomes individuals from all faiths, religious, and spiritual belief systems.1

LifeRing is for those who are new to sobriety, those with decades of sobriety, and anyone in-between regardless of their previous treatment history.

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LifeRing sees alcoholism and addiction as identical, so there is no “drug of choice” requirement to become a member. You are also not required to disclose your substance use history. The only requirement is to have a desire to get clean and sober, and that group participants be clean and sober during meetings.

Your friends and loved ones are allowed to attend LifeRing meetings if they are clean and sober at the time of the meeting as well.1

LifeRing asks that you make a sincere commitment and effort to remain clean and sober. LifeRing is not intended for individuals who are participating in a moderation or harm reduction treatment plan. For example, if you are abstinent from your “drug of choice,” but use other legal substances recreationally, your definition of recovery may be effective for your long-term goals, but would not meet the expectations for attending LifeRing meetings.3

What Are LifeRing’s Format and Rules?

The only non-negotiable requirement for participation in LifeRing is to be clean and sober.3 That requires group members to be sober at online and in-person meetings and refrain from discussing any stories glorifying consuming alcohol or misusing substances. Disclosing any personal stories related to substance use is also discouraged.1

There is no need for self-defining labels. If you choose to use certain labels to identify yourself, you can. For example, individuals in AA are encouraged to take on the label of “alcoholic” or “addict” as part of accepting the need for help and change. If this feels like a meaningful identifier, you can use it in LifeRing meetings.

Meetings are non-smoking, but there is no requirement to quit smoking in order to participate in groups. LifeRing aims to encourage, educate, and support quitting smoking whenever you are ready.

LifeRing values your confidentiality and will protect your anonymity. However, LifeRing allows members to disclose their participation if that will strengthen their recovery. In between meetings you also work on your Personalized Recovery Plan. Connecting with LifeRing group peers outside of meetings is highly encouraged for additional support, but you are not required to share your contact information with the group.1

LifeRing meetings are run by experienced members who have maintained at least six months of sobriety.3 Meetings are free of cost. Most meetings are about an hour long and begin with the topic: “How Was Your Week?” You listen to and share your own highlights and heartaches of the week and discuss your plans and decisions for the upcoming week.1

LifeRing encourages conversations among group members—also called “cross talk.” This discussion format is different from some other peer support groups and group therapy settings, including AA meetings, where cross talk is discouraged.

LifeRing uses cross talk to help build rapport among the social network of the meeting and create accountability related to your personalized goals through exchanging advice and plans with others.

At the end of each meeting, you and your peers give each other a round of applause for staying clean and sober.

What Is LifeRing’s 3 S Philosophy?

The 3 S philosophy could be described as the “12 Steps” of LifeRing recovery. The 3 S philosophy, however, is not a step-by-step process, but rather a shorthand for the fundamental principles of the organization.

LifeRing has three main principles.

The 3 S’s stand for: 4

  1. Sobriety—In LifeRing, “sobriety” means complete abstinence from non-medically indicated drugs “by any means.” Sobriety is considered your first priority.
  2. Secularity—The secularity of LifeRing means that your beliefs remain private, whatever they may be and whatever religious or spiritual organizations you may be part of—if any.
  3. Self-Help—LifeRing is based on the principle that the key to your personal recovery is your own motivation and effort. The purpose of the peer-led groups is to reinforce your own goals and help you stay on course.

How Is LifeRing Different From Alcoholics Anonymous?

The LifeRing recovery approach is different from many other conventional peer support group methods, including Alcoholics Anonymous and even some other secular groups like Secular Organizations for Sobriety.

Personal Power

LifeRing teaches that each individual has a “sober self,” which is the inner desire to find lasting sobriety. LifeRing also teaches that each person with addiction has an “addict self” that disrupts sobriety by affecting decision-making. 6

LifeRing is intended to support and strengthen your “sober self” and weaken your “addict self.” Regardless of whether or not you believe in a higher power—as is emphasized in AA—find strength from a higher source, or attend AA meetings alongside LifeRing meetings, LifeRing teaches that it is fundamentally your power that will enable you to get clean and sober.

This program encourages you to work out your own path and to use the support groups to help better define and maintain your path to sobriety. Within the LifeRing support groups, you will build a Personal Recovery Program that is tailored to your goals.1 Group participants use their “sober self” to connect with other group participants’ “sober self.”1

While a 12-step approach is often used in addiction treatment, LifeRing can also complement common addiction treatment methods. For example, motivational interviewing is a therapeutic technique where you and your therapist work to find your internal motivations for getting sober, as opposed to external motivations like pressure from family. This therapy would support you in connecting to your “sober self.”

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Social Connections

AA members may choose to share their contact information, but the organization is founded on anonymity in order to allow everyone who wants to access meetings to do so. You may choose to work with a sponsor outside of meetings, but you will likely not have frequent contact with others from AA meetings.

Numerous studies show that peer-involved interventions lead to more positive recovery outcomes over time, including higher rates of satisfaction with the program and lower rates of alcohol use. 7 While some people are able to feel this connection in AA, others find it hard to build a connection without seeing peers outside of meetings.

The LifeRing program encourages individuals to form bonds outside of meetings. There is not a sponsorship program—there is no seniority among members except the requirement that any member who runs a meeting be sober for at least six months. Support can come from any group member. 5

Is LifeRing for Me?

LifeRing is a versatile alternative support tool that complements conventional treatment programs, including outpatient programs and other peer support groups. You can connect with LifeRing and begin or maintain your journey with sobriety through their resources:8, 9, 10, 11

  • Attend an in-person meeting.
  • Attend an online meeting, which are scheduled regularly and hosted by experienced LifeRing Convenors.
  • Ask a private question through E-Pals One-to-One Sobriety Support.
  • Join LifeRing’s Support, Affirmation, Friendship, and Encouragement (SAFE) email group.
  • Participate in open discussions about recovery topics on the LifeRing forum.

AA and the 12-step philosophy, which is also used in other groups like Celebrate Recovery, may work for you or you may need a program that focuses less on a higher power and more on what you can control. It is also possible that utilizing both options may be a good balance for you.

If you feel unsure about how to choose peer support that will offer the social aspect you need in your recovery, your care team—such as a substance abuse counselor—can help.

If you need formal addiction treatment in addition to peer support, call 800-948-8417 Question iconCalls are forwarded to these paid advertisers to speak to a specialist about your options.


  1. LifeRing Secular Recovery. (2021). Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).
  2. LifeRing Secular Recovery. (2021). Online Meetings.
  3. LifeRing Secular Recovery. (2021). Starting a LifeRing Meeting.
  4. LifeRing Secular Recovery. (2021). The “3-S” Philosophy of LifeRing.
  5. LifeRing Secular Recovery. (2021). About LifeRing.
  6. Freimuth, M. (1994). Psychotherapy and twelve-step programs: A commentary on Humphreys. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 31(3), 551–553.
  7. Tevyaw, T. O. L., Borsari, B., Colby, S. M., & Monti, P. M. (2007). Peer enhancement of a brief motivational intervention with mandated college students. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 21(1), 114–119.
  8. LifeRing Secular Recovery. (2021). Lifering Meetings.
  9. LifeRing Secular Recovery. (2021). LifeRing “E-Pals” – One-to-One Sobriety Support.
  10. LifeRing Secular Recovery. (2021). LifeRing Email Groups.
  11. LifeRing Recovery. (2021). Welcome to LifeRing’s Forum! Delphi Forums.
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