When you are residing in a sober living facility, it is most likely that you will be asked to attend 12 step meetings. In fact, you might have been first introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous in rehab. Many rehabs have ‘H & I’ meetings of all the main 12 step fellowships. “H & I” stands for hospitals and institutions. These are special meetings of AA and NA that are closed to outsiders, and only open for people within an institution such as a hospital, detox or rehab.

But what happens if you want to try other recovery support groups? Are there any others that are widely available? And are they available within addiction treatment settings like sober houses?

Well, there are a number of other mutual aid support groups (MAGS) that are dedicated to helping people with their drug or alcohol problem. The most well-known ones are SMART Recovery, and Refuge Recovery.


SMART stands for ‘self-management and recovery training’. There are over 1500 SMART meetings in the US alone. Many of its principles derive from ‘Motivational interviewing’ (MI) or ‘Motivational Enhancement Therapy’ (MET) which is a mode of counselling which emphasizes a non-confrontational approach and ‘rolling with the resistance’ that addicted people often have.

In addition, SMART uses a lot of tools deriving from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The main difference between SMART and 12 steps is that SMART does not use a disease model of addiction. It sees addiction as a dysfunctional habit.

SMART Recovery encourages people to be sober and is perceived by some to be more welcoming of people on opioid antagonist medications like methadone or suboxone, than 12 step support programs such as NA, which are often seen to discourage the continued use of medications such as these.


Refuge Recovery originated in Los Angeles. It is modelled on a 12 step format but uses a Buddhist perspective on addiction and recovery. It incorporates the four foundations of mindfulness and the noble eightfold path which are parts of the Buddhist tradition. The eightfold path encourages abstinence from all intoxicating substances, as well as engaging in right livelihood (e.g. not earning a living in a way which harms others).

Refuge is abstinence based, and has meetings in over 500 locations internationally. And whilst they are abstinence based, like SMART, they de-emphasize faith and theistic belief. This means that there is no ‘God’ or higher power in the refuge program as such.


The main advantage of 12 step programs is the sheer number of them. Hundreds of different fellowships have arisen out of Alcoholic Anonymous’. Below, are just the main ones.

This is extremely helpful if you need to get specific about your addiction. Sometimes it is difficult to hear the message you need to hear if you are an overeater trying to get recovery in a room full of people with drinking problems or vice versa.

Whilst the neurochemistry behind addiction is much the same regardless of the drug or behaviour you are using, sometimes it’s helpful to hear the experiences of people who have the same exact problem as you. This helps to reduce shame to manageable levels, and provides vital information on exact solutions to that specific addiction.

For example, compulsive gamers or gamblers might benefit from hearing other people explain how they had to make all their bank transactions transparent to their family, in order to avoid making online payments to gambling sites. This is something you might not hear in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In the end, while all these support groups provide something, it is the sheer number of 12 step fellowships globally that makes it potentially more effective. AA and NA are literally in every major town across the world, and increasingly in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. This makes accessibility much easier when you leave your rehab or sober living facility programme to re-enter your home community.


While there is currently no SMART recovery available in Chiang Mai, 12 step meetings have rocketed in Thailand over the last 10 years due to the proliferation of addiction treatment centres here. Chiang Mai in particular has more meetings than any other city (including Bangkok) and is on a par with any western city. This is because Chiang Mai is the hub of the country’s rehab and sober living scene.

At Alpha Sober Living we attend 12 step meetings and also run Buddhist recovery meetings. Phone us for more info if this approach to recovery appeals to you, or if you are in treatment and wondering what your next step is.

For more information about sober living in Thailand contact us here.