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Overview: What Is LifeRing Secular Recovery?

LifeRing Secular Recovery (“LifeRing”), founded in 2001, is a secular, free-standing, nonprofit organization that believes all people have the innate power to overcome addiction through strengthening the Sober Self and weakening the Addict Self.1 LifeRing maintains the premise that you have the inherent right and knowledge to design your own recovery program, which can be achieved through the power of community, pro-social reinforcement, and by taking the single step of not drinking or using.1

Today, LifeRing holds over 150 in-person meetings in 8 states and 5 countries.2 For those who are unable to attend an in-person meeting, the official LifeRing website provides an extensive variety of scheduled chat room meetings and a directory of online support groups.2

The “A” and the “S” Conflict

LifeRing believes that each person struggling with addiction faces the internal conflict between the “addict self” (the “A”) and the “sober self” (the “S”).3 Within the user’s mind, these voices and conflicts can be incredibly loud, distracting, and even debilitating. In active addiction, the “A” overpowers the “S,” as the individual continues to use drugs and/or alcohol.

When 2 or more people who share this “A” and “S” conflict come together, LifeRing believes that 2 potential outcomes can occur:3

  • In the first outcome, both parties reinforce the “A” (“Today was terrible. Let’s go grab a drink!”), which strengthens the “A” and weakens the “S.” In this scenario, both parties have actively chosen to reinforce each other’s substance abuse, thus creating a cycle that is difficult to break.
  • In the second outcome, both parties recognize the power to reinforce the “S” (“I don’t want to drink anymore. It’s hurting me. Is it hurting you?”) and connect with sharing the same innate desires for sobriety. When both parties turn towards sobriety and the decision to abstain from drugs and alcohol, they reinforce the “S” and weaken the “A.”

LifeRing works through the continuous strengthening of the “S” within its meetings; it promotes a positive community and allows a person to focus on self-growth and self-awareness. Through this “S-to-S” connection, the “S” surpasses the “A” with its own power. Eventually, the state of sobriety becomes more of a habit, rather than a treacherous conflict against addiction, and members happily identify that their lives can have meaning and fulfillment absent from drugs and alcohol.3

The “3-S” Philosophy

LifeRing adheres to the “3-S” philosophy, which is comprised of 3 primary principles: sobriety, secularity, and self-help.4

Sobriety refers to complete abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and it is embodied in the LifeRing motto: “We do not drink or use, no matter what.” This is the basic requirement for all LifeRing members. Regardless of varying drugs of choice, this is not a program designed for harm reduction or abstaining from just one type or types of substances. All members must make this commitment in order to reap the benefits and successes this program offers.4

Secularity means that LifeRing accepts and welcomes people of all religions and faiths. There is no need to change spiritual beliefs or even adopt spiritual beliefs in order to become a member or stay sober. Generally speaking, discussion about religion should remain private and not be brought up in meetings. Even though members are free to participate in other religious groups or activities or attend additional recovery-based meetings, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), LifeRing focuses on human strength, rather than a higher power or divinity, for recovery.4

Self-help means that you have responsibility for your own motivation, effort, and learning process within recovery. While the group reinforces efforts and desires to stay sober, you have the autonomy and tools to put it all together. LifeRing represents continuous self-growth and awareness for members to design their own personal recovery plans. These plans can be freestanding or in conjunction with other therapeutic methods or recovery models.4

Effectiveness in Helping People Recover

Research on LifeRing efficacy remains scant (likely because it is so new and still underdeveloped), but studies continue to examine how recovery and self-help communities impact sobriety.

One 2005 study consisting of 400 LifeRing members found that the typical member had an average of 2.74 years of sobriety.5 44% of members had undergraduate college degrees, and over 80% had at least some college experience. Nearly half had received professional substance abuse treatment within the past year, and about 45% also had a mental health disorder, such as anxiety or depression. Furthermore, 98% of members stated they would recommend LifeRing to their friends, with the positive and empowering atmosphere and absence of formal religion being the most important reasons for that recommendation.5

In general, there are many pros to becoming a LifeRing member. It is compatible with many other effective treatment methods, and it integrates elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), and solution-focused brief therapy (SFBT).6 It also focuses on individual empowerment and the capacity to change, no matter what past circumstances a person may have endured or what their drug of choice may have been. Members can also rely on community support for individual strength and growth.

However, because LifeRing promotes abstinence from drugs and alcohol, those who are unable to make this commitment—for whatever reason—may not be the best fit for this program. Furthermore, people with severe addictions may need additional medical assistance (e.g., detox, residential treatment, or medication-assisted treatment) in the initial stages of sobriety. It should be noted that, while LifeRing can provide excellent support and tools for seeking sobriety, it is not a substitute for professional medical or clinical advice.

LifeRing believes that all people can benefit from its recovery groups. Those struggling with a conventional 12-step method and higher power concept might experience a sense of freedom and relief in discovering that they have the power to design their own program. Even those who do benefit from religion and faith in their lives can experience peace in knowing LifeRing accepts and embraces all spiritualities.


  1. LifeRing Secular Recovery. New to LifeRing?
  2. LifeRing Secular Recovery. Find a Meeting.
  3. LifeRing Secular Recovery. The “A” and the “S” Conflict.
  4. LifeRing Secular Recovery. The “3-S” Philosophy.
  5. Roth, J., White, W., & Kelly, J. (2011). Broadening the Base of Addiction Mutual Support Groups. New York: Routledge.
  6. LifeRing Secular Recovery. How LifeRing is Organized.