While many peer support groups exist—A.A., SMART Recovery, LifeRing—none focus exclusively on the unique needs of women except for Women for Sobriety, which Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick founded in 1975 to meet the need for female-specific programs. Through the New Life Acceptance Program, positive thinking, and behavior changes, the group has helped women stay sober and live healthier and happier lives for decades.
Women for Sobriety is a nonprofit, secular mutual support organization for women seeking recovery from addiction.1,2 It was founded in 1975 by Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick, a woman who achieved sobriety from alcoholism and wanted to share her methods with other women.1,2 Rather than the spiritual principles of 12-step recovery groups (though the 12 Steps have helped countless numbers of women, AA was originally founded by men for men), Women for Sobriety focuses on the unique needs of women in recovery.1,3 This is accomplished by using cognitive behavioral techniques to overcome the feelings of guilt, shame, low self-esteem, and low self-worth that often accompany addiction.2,3
Women for Sobriety is built on the idea that women can use their innate strength to alter negative thought patterns, make positive lifestyle changes, attain sobriety, and have a better quality of life.2 Assuming responsibility for her recovery and life is a major tenet of the Women for Sobriety program, which focuses on positive thinking, metaphysics, meditation, a group dynamic for support, and improving your health through lifestyle changes, such as nutrition.1,2
Since its inception in 1975, Women for Sobriety has grown immensely.2 As of 2012, the program had about 100 in-person groups in the U.S., meetings in several countries around the world, and online forums for women to find support anywhere, any time.1,2 Groups can be held with as few as 2 women but more commonly have between 6 and 10 women.3 Due to the confidential nature of this organization, it is difficult to estimate how many women are members.
Women for Sobriety’s mission statement describes its purpose as assisting all women in finding their own way to recovery through self-discovery, shared experiences, and mutual support.2 It uses the New Life program to address the unique needs of women in sobriety, mainly “to nurture feelings of self-value and self-worth and the desire to discard feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation.”2
Women for Sobriety emphasizes that it is a stand-alone organization that relies on its own ideology. It focuses on providing women with support and guidance to learn and practice coping skills to improve their emotional and physical health, lifestyle, spirituality, and sense of self-esteem.2 The organization also posits that women develop addictions as a coping mechanism to manage a variety of issues, including “stress, loneliness, frustration, or emotional deprivation.”2 All that is required for membership is to genuinely want to live a sober new life. Their philosophy is “release the past—plan for tomorrow—live for today.”2
The foundation of Women for Sobriety’s New Life program is the 13 affirmations or acceptance statements.1,2,4
Within the program, behavioral change is affected by focusing on 4 principles, which guide individual recovery and the group as a whole.2,3
Other founding principles that guide the organization include:2,3,4
Women for Sobriety group leaders are certified, have consistent sobriety, a strong understanding of the principles and philosophy of the organization, and practical knowledge of how this program applies to daily life.2,3 Group meetings are held in-person for as long as an hour-and-a-half and are only open to women with an addiction who have a genuine desire to recover.2,3 In order to preserve the confidentiality of members, meetings are not open to the public.2,3
The conduct of the meetings is based on a specific format, beginning with a reading of the 13 affirmations and the mission statement.3 Each woman is given the opportunity to introduce herself by stating her name followed by “and I am a competent woman.”2,3 They are then given the opportunity to share a positive experience (either an action or emotion) and how it relates to an affirmation statement, but sharing is not required.2,3 The moderator provides a discussion topic, and participants are welcome to ask questions, give feedback, and actively discuss thoughts or experiences relevant to the topic. In this way, meetings assume a more reciprocal conversational tone rather than taking turns one-by-one.2,3
Near the end of the meeting, the moderator asks for a voluntary donation to support the organization and individual groups, but no one is required to donate.3 Finally, the meeting is closed by all the women joining hands and reciting the organization’s motto: “We are capable and competent, caring and compassionate, always willing to help another, bonded together in overcoming our addictions.”2,3
According to the Women for Sobriety website, this program is “extremely effective in helping women gain and maintain sobriety.”1 While it can be hard to collect accurate data from confidential mutual support groups, Women for Sobriety conducted two surveys of its members in 1991 and in 2011.2 The results of both surveys showed that the greatest proportion of members had less than a year of sobriety, though about one-quarter of members had 5 years or more of consistent sobriety.2
In 2011, half of all women surveyed reported relapsing since becoming a member of Women for Sobriety, although 80% responded that they experienced a relapse before joining the organization, suggesting that membership might help improve sobriety outcomes.2 Relapse was also more likely to occur in women who were not only new to the organization, but also new to the recovery process in general.2 In the 2011 survey, nearly 90% of members felt that Women for Sobriety was mostly helpful in getting and maintaining their sobriety.2 This indicates that the organization and its principles, philosophy, and “New Life” program can be highly effective for members if they choose to apply themselves and practice the tenets of this program to the best of their ability.