Non-AA ways to stop heavy drinking.
There are as many new ways to beat addiction as there are vodka flavors. From drugs (that save you from drugs), to ideologies, to behavior modification, it's a race to see who can claim the most victories. While many problem drinkers wind up in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a 79-year-old, leaderless, self-help group, others find solutions using one or more alternatives.
The Sinclair Method calls itself "the cure for alcoholism." Developed by John David Sinclair, Ph.D., a Helsinki-based researcher with Finland’s National Public Health Institute. Using "extinction," it works by taking one doctor-prescribed Naltrexone pill—a drug that blocks the euphoric effects of alcohol—an hour before drinking. The theory is that Naltrexone will deprive the drinker from enjoyment and eventually cause the user’s overindulgence to die out. According to Sinclair: "Naltrexone is not effective as an anti-craving medication when used with alcohol abstinence," which means you’ll still want to drink—possibly to excess—but you just won’t get any pleasure from it.
Another program that allows controlled alcohol intake is Moderation Management (MM). In the early 1990s, a self-described problem drinker named Audrey Kishline founded this group for other problem drinkers who didn’t want to give up alcohol entirely, but needed solutions for the problems drinking created. Similar to AA, MM also uses meetings as a form of support, but there's no lifetime commitment.
Psychologist Marc Kern, Ph.D., director of Addiction Alternatives and chairman of the board of MM, will tell you that MM has at least double the success rate of AA, if not more. Though "there aren't any old-timers" in MM, and “a long stretch of MM would be 6 months.” According to Sinclair, moderation is easy to attain, but difficult to sustain. “A vast majority of MM participants leave and go to abstinence-oriented programs such as AA,” he says. “Helping them come to the conclusion that maybe abstinence is the right course, we see that as success."
For addicts who are ready to put down the pipe, needle, or bottle, but are not ready to be introduced to any sort of deity (AA’s step two involves belief in a higher power; step three requires turning your life to the care of God), there's always Dharma Punx. This Buddhism-influenced self-help group emphasizes an addict’s ability to enrich their lives by changing their actions instead of subscribing to a higher power as AA suggests. Noah Levine, the group’s founder and author of four books on the subject including Refuge Recovery, has even started some free support groups. Dharma Punx, much like its sister AA, requires maintenance and lifelong abstinence; it just does it without the word “God” in the picture. Instead, there's a commitment to living ethically and meditating.
In the end, AA marches on without a sales pitch or fees (nominal donations are suggested at each meeting, but not required), just groups of recovering alcoholics and addicts gathering in clubhouses and church basements. While there are no reliable statistics on recovery rates for one program over another, the most widely used may be AA—not least because it is the oldest method (the group turns 80 in 2015) and because court-mandated attendance at AA meetings is still widely used in the United States in response to drug and alcohol-related convictions.