The 12 Step methodology is well-embraced, is the most common methodology used in addiction treatment today, and has a long history in the space. However, it doesn’t work for everyone, which is why there are other options available to be used as an alternative to 12 Step programs.
There is no right or wrong way to experience recovery and for years, 12 Step was the core of every recovery program. The thing is, 12 Step and AA-focused programs do not work for everyone and often put restrictions on other forms of recovery such as medication assisted treatment programs (MAT), that research has proven to have very significant positive outcomes for patients.
Who Could Benefit From an Alternative to 12 Step?
The 12 Step program and Alcoholics Anonymous has been around since 1935 and has given many people a way to stay clean, so why search for an alternative? Well, as we mentioned above, the 12 Step methodologies do not mesh well with everyone. The 12 Steps focus heavily on surrendering power, usually to God or a higher power. Individuals who are not religious have trouble with this concept and might look into alternative treatment methods.
Even if someone is religious, they still might be struggling with the concept of surrendering. People with strong personalities might not agree with this concept and find it extremely difficult to get in the right frame of mind for a successful recovery. Alternative methods tend to be a better fit since the focus is shifted away from surrendering and into principles of self-empowerment.
What Is a 12 Step Program?
If you have been around the addiction treatment community, you are probably very familiar with the 12 Step approach to recovery. A traditional, faith-based approach, this methodology relies on the individual giving up control and focusing on new daily routines and rituals. Often, this is a lifelong commitment that requires regular meeting attendance and follow-up with a sponsor.
In a 12 Step program, your will must be submitted to a higher power and you must abstain from all drugs or alcohol completely. 12 Step follows a brain disease model of addiction, and it is thought to be a chronic, progressive illness with no cure outside of lifelong abstinence with the 12 Steps as a support for maintaining sobriety.
Most treatment centers have been based on this model, known as the Minnesota Model, pioneered by Hazelden in the 1950’s, but there are alternative options out there that we wanted to make you aware of…
What Is an Alternative to 12 Step?
As the general public has slowly become aware of other treatment methods, people are discovering that the 12 Step program might not necessarily be for them. Particularly, people who struggle with the concept of a higher power or consider themselves to be agnostic or atheist often have difficulty getting what they need from the 12 Step approach. Others, such as executives or those in highly influential roles struggle with the concept of being powerless. So what exactly are the alternatives to 12 Step programs?
Alternatives to 12 Step usually focus on cognitive behavioral methods grounded in research and other evidence-based practices. We should point out that 12 Step, in the form of 12 Step Facilitation (TSF) with licensed clinicians also has some strong evidence behind it, but this is not to be confused with the holding of informal or decentralized 12 Step meetings normally found in AA, NA, and other groups.
Evidence-based treatment cognitive behavioral methods focus on the fact that that thoughts and behaviors can actually be rewired in the brain and the addiction can be controlled once this happens.
There are quite a few evidence-based modalities currently being used for addiction treatment, but we’ve gone over those details in another post. For those who are not compatible with everything 12 Step offers, cognitive behavioral therapies can work instead for lasting recovery.
Just be sure that if you are looking into cognitive behavioral treatment methods that the center has qualified staff members for these therapies. Evidence-based treatment does require licensed clinicians and cannot be run by addiction counselors alone!
What About SMART Recovery?
SMART Recovery has become a familiar term as a 12 Step alternative and it stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. This program actually utilizes evidence-based tactics such as Motivational Interviewing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and has become popular because of its empowerment rather than powerless focus. It also offers supports groups similar to what you would find through 12 Step models.
While addiction recovery can have a lot of similarities in people, ultimately, each individual going through any program is unique and different approaches will work differently for everyone. That is why it is also important to consider alternative therapies for a well-rounded treatment and SMART Recovery gives everyone another option.
What is Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)?
One treatment alternative that tends to hold a lot of controversy is Medication Assisted Treatment or MAT. Since the widely accepted treatment method of 12 step involves complete abstinence, the whole idea of MAT methods are in conflict. MAT is basically, as the name implies, treating addiction with the use of prescribed medications.
Some people believe that this is merely substituting one drug for another, but others see it as an innovative and scientific way to halt addiction in its tracks. While these medications can be abused, there is over 10 years of research supporting the fact that those who use medication assisted treatment methods actually find greater success in staying clean. In particular, studies regarding opioid use have shown MAT to be a more effective intervention than behavioral interventions or medical interventions alone.
It is easy to see only the good or bad in MAT, but we must remember that it is a viable alternative to the AA treatment model and shouldn’t necessarily be overlooked. Recovery is a personal choice and as long as we dedicate ourselves to a method that works for us, that is all that matters. We should remember that there are many roads to recovery.
How Do I Know Which One is For Me?
After reading this article, you might still be unsure about which treatment method to look for in a center. Treatment facilities with a strong clinical program will typically have options for both types of treatment. This will allow you to experience both sides first-hand which can then help you discover which one resonates well with you and your beliefs.
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to addiction treatment. Every person responds to treatment differently so what might work really well for one person might not necessarily work for another. The important thing is knowing that you are ready to commit to recovery. We hope this guide helped answer some questions you might have had, but please feel free to reach out if you would like to talk to someone further!