Looking for an effective alternative to AA? Many people find AA and other 12-step meetings to be embarrassing, time consuming and, worst of all, ineffective.

Effective Alternative to AA

alternative to AA

An alternative to AA

The good news is that there are effective alternatives. One that is based on both scientific and practical evidence is the HAMS network. HAMS stands for Harm reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support.

All HAMS support group meetings, whether live, in a chat room, or by email, follow simple guidelines that are easily summarized.

  1. HAMS encourages people to choose and pursue their own individual drinking goals. This is an alternative to AA and its insistence on life-long total abstinence from alcohol.
  2. HAMS supports any and every every positive change in drinking behavior.
  3. HAMS is non-ideological and non-coercive. We realize that individuals change in their own unique ways and we respect each individual’s right to select their own strategies and tools to achieve their goals. This may or may not include medications, nutritional supplements, psychotherapy, or or any of a large number of other techniques. HAMS takes no official position on the specifics members choose for themselves.
  4. Drinking alcohol always entails some degree of risk. If you have successfully eliminated alcohol-related harms in your life by abstaining from alcohol then we urge you to think very carefully before attempting to resume drinking. HAMS is not magic but a set of strategies to help reduce the risks to those who do not wish to abstain totally from alcohol. However, if you have decided to drink again and wish to attempt a controlled drinking program, you are welcome at HAMS. It is far safer to experiment with controlled drinking within the HAMS program than to try it on your own with no guidance or support. Remember that the decision to drink or to abstain is always your own and you are always responsible for your own choices.
  5. HAMS members are welcome to participate in other groups such as SMART, SOS, WFS, AA, or LifeRing, and they are also welcome to discuss how they find this or helpful for achieving their drinking goals. HAMS members are also welcome to discuss any books or ideas they may find helpful as well as any activities such as yoga, meditation, acupuncture that they have found useful.. However, acts such as proselytizing for outside groups, criticizing people for not following the teachings of outside groups, or attacking HAMS for taking a harm reduction approach instead of modeling itself after any outside group are unacceptable.
  6. HAMS welcomes verbal interaction. Members are free to respond to what others have said. No one is forced to speak and observers are welcome. However we strive to make sure that everyone gets a chance to talk if they wish and that no one monopolizes the floor.
  7. Group participants are always expected to treat each other with mutual respect and never to engage in name-calling or labeling.
  8. We avoid confrontation and members share as little or as much information about themselves as they wish. People choose how to use the group in a manner most beneficial to themselves.
  9. Arguing with people leads to counterarguments and is ineffective. The best way to help people to change is to elicit their own reasons for wanting to change. Sometimes people simply need sympathetic listeners.
  10. Telling other people what they ought to do is generally not nearly so effective as sharing how you solved a problem yourself. Therefore, in most cases it is better to use the first person pronoun “I” and share experiences than to use the second person pronoun “you” and give advice. Of course there are exceptions such as when advice is requested. However, even when a person directly solicits advice it can often be helpful to suggest they do a cost-benefits analysis about the situation in question.
  11. Sexual harassment and promoting financial investments or transactions is strictly forbidden. Nor do we tolerate flame wars, trolls, or hurting the feelings of others. Complaints about facilitators of local groups should be brought to the attention of the HAMS Executive Director or other core officers by a member or members of these local groups so that appropriate action can be taken.
  12. There is no prohibition against being intoxicated in HAMS groups. Indeed, some people would never be able to participate in their first HAMS group if they had to be sober as a condition of joining. However, members are expected to be well-behaved whether intoxicated or not. People who are disruptive at HAMS meetings may be asked to leave whether they are intoxicated or not. In the case of live HAMS meetings, we encourage members to insure that intoxicated members don’t drive while impaired and are able get home safely.
  13. HAMS has no sponsors. People are welcome to be abstinence buddies or moderation buddies if they mutually agree.
  14. HAMS does not require lifelong meeting attendance. HAMS does not believe that a drinking problem is a “lifelong disease that can only be arrested and never cured”. HAMS believes that alcohol problems are maladaptive coping strategies. Dwelling on your old bad habits after they have gotten better is counterproductive. The longer you practice healthy habits the less pull old habits will have on you. People can attend HAMS meetings when they need help or want to help others. They can also get on with life after their bad habits are in the past–though we do enjoy it and benefit when you come back to visit and tell us how your life has improved.
  15. Members are welcome to raise issues about their local group to the group facilitator who will then put them to a vote this to a vote in the group. Members may also raise issues concerning HAMS global policies to the Executive Director or other core officers of HAMS, who can then put them to a general membership vote, a board vote, or take other appropriate action in accordance with the HAMS bylaws.
  16. Flexibility is an essential component of harm reduction approaches–it is necessary to adopt new strategies to deal with changing circumstances. That is why HAMS has guidelines rather than absolute rules. Each HAMS group develops its own traditions and culture as it grows and evolves.

Consider this alternative to AA. To learn more, visit the Hams website or contact HAMS at PO Box 498, New York, NY 10012. Tel 347-678-5671. The email is hams@hamshrn.org.

Further Readings on an Alternative to AA


  • Anderson, K. How to Change Your Drinking: a Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol. NY: HAMS Harm Reduction Network, 2010.
  • Denning, P., and Little, J. Practicing Harm Reduction Psychotherapy,: An Alternative Approach to Addictions. NY: Guilford,  2011.
  • Miller, W.R, and Rollnick, S. Motivational Interviewing, Second Edition: Preparing People for Change. NY: Guilford, 2002.
  • Tatarsky A. Harm Reduction Psychotherapy: A New Treatment for Drug and Alcohol Problems. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc., 2007.

Disclaimer: This website is informational only. It makes no suggestions or recommendations about alcohol, drinking, rehabs, programs, or any other matter and none should be inferred. Neither this website nor your host receives any compensation, directly or indirectly, from listing or describing any program. Such listing or description does not imply endorsement. [+]

Filed Under: Reviews of Alcoholism Programs & Materials