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Not All Non 12 Step Recovery Programs are Created Equal

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non-12-step-recovery-programWhile 12 Step addiction treatment programs are still the most common approach today, there are an increasing number of alternative options available. According to American Addiction Centers, approximately 26% of residential rehab programs in the US today are non 12 step or 12 step alternatives of some kind.

What is a Non 12 Step Recovery Program?

The terms "non 12 Step recovery program" and “12 Step alternative” can be used interchangeably and encompasses all substance abuse recovery programs outside of the traditional 12 Step model.

Today, there’s an increasing demand for non 12 Step recovery programs. Though the 12 Steps of AA and NA have helped many people over the years, they’re not a good fit for everyone.

If you want to learn more about the key differences between 12 Step and non 12 Step rehabs, check out our post 12 Step vs Non 12 Step Rehabs - Making the Right Choice in Residential Addiction Treatment.

If you’ve decided that non 12 Step treatment is your best bet, your next step is to decide which treatment method is right for you. This post will provide an overview of the different types of 12 Step alternative programs, along with a brief discussion of the pros and cons of each modality.

Secular Addiction Recovery

What it is: Secular Addiction Recovery (or Rational Recovery) refers to programs that do not have a spiritual component. Instead, they utilize tools such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Addictive Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT), education, self-help methods, and the like.

Many of the subcategories listed below (with the exception of spiritual recovery programs and spiritual psychology) fall under the general heading of Secular Recovery. The most well-known secular recovery organizations are LifeRing and Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS).

Pros: Secular Addiction Recovery programs focus on medical, psychological, and behavioral advances to promote positive change. They may be particularly helpful for people who have had intensely traumatic and negative experiences within religious contexts.

Cons: Since Secular Recovery programs by definition do not address the spiritual component of life, they exclude potential avenues for healing and personal transformation.

Aversion Therapy

What it is: Aversion Therapy, sometimes referred to as "alcohol aversion therapy" and "Counter Conditioning," is a form of treatment that pairs the addictive stimulus with a physically uncomfortable experience (such as an electric shock or a nausea-inducing chemical) in order to decrease desire for one’s drug of choice. It focuses on creating a physical revulsion response.

Pros: Aversion Therapy represents an attempt to integrate modern neurological findings into addiction treatment. Some aversion therapy-based treatment centers self proclaim high success rates.

Cons: Counter Conditioning remains a controversial approach. This type of therapy does not address any of the core underlying psychological issues that drive addiction. Counter Conditioning can also be painful and traumatic, and may be ineffective on a long-term basis.

Medical-Based Addiction Therapy

What it is: Medical-based addiction therapy is the process of managing withdrawal symptoms and engaging in relapse prevention with prescribed drugs. It might include detoxification, medication administration, and amino acid injections to reduce cravings.

Pros: Medical-based therapy can be very effective in the initial stages of treatment, particularly for people with severe drug addictions. It is also helpful for the small percentage of people for whom drug addiction is a strictly biochemical issue.

Cons: When it isn’t paired with a long-term holistic approach, medical-based therapy’s efficacy is limited. In fact, the majority of people dealing with addiction have a dual diagnosis, (that is, a mental health issue along with a substance addiction).  

It is estimated that about 17 million Americans over the age of 18 (or 8% of the adult population) had a serious mental health disorder in the past year. Of these, about 4 million people also struggled with a co-occurring drug or alcohol dependency.

As such, there’s a tremendous need for qualified mental health professionals to provide counseling and individualized support beyond medical-based therapy.

Behavioral Therapy

What it is: Behavioral-based addiction therapy focuses on using evidence-based psychological techniques to promote recovery. Popular examples include Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery) and Rational Recovery. Outpatient individual counseling by a licensed professional can also fall under this heading.

Pros: When behavioral therapy programs utilize proven techniques such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), they have the potential to do a great deal of good. And when such programs include significant one-on-one treatment hours with licensed professional counselors, they can be very effective in helping people heal from addiction.

Cons: Some strictly behavioral-based addiction programs exclude the mental, emotional and spiritual levels, which can hinder healing.

Spirituality and Recovery

What it is: Spiritual and Recovery is a term that broadly includes programs that frame addiction treatment within a spiritual context. Also known as "Spiritual Therapy," Spirituality and Recovery programs exist within most major faith traditions, including Christianity and Buddhism. Programs such as the Christian-based Celebrate Recovery fall into this category.

Pros: The integration of the spiritual aspect introduces a powerful pathway for healing. There’s also a reassuring sense of community that comes with moving through recovery along with people who share a faith or belief system.

Cons: Often, Spiritual Therapy programs require that participants subscribe to a very specific set of religious tenets in order to participate. In some cases, Spiritual Therapy addiction programs lack professional counseling hours, and often they rely on spiritual leaders instead of licensed counselors to provide support. A strictly spiritual approach will ignore the issues that reside at the mental and emotional levels.

Spiritual Psychology

What it is: Spiritual Psychology is a hybrid form of addiction recovery programming. It represents a fusion of behavior-based therapy and techniques as well as Spiritual Therapy. The Clearing is an example of a counseling-based program with a Spiritual Psychology approach.

Pros: This is holistic modality that helps individuals to both discover and resolve the underlying core issues contributing their addictions. Spiritual Psychology builds on proven conventional psychology methods by adding a spiritual dimension.

Conventional psychology focuses on three levels – physical, mental, and emotional – for healing. Spiritual Psychology incorporates the spiritual level, completing the foundation of wellness and giving people a chance to restore true balance to their lives.

Cons: Spiritual Psychology is a relatively new approach which has experienced excellent results but doesn’t yet have data on its long term (in excess of five years) effectiveness.  

Choosing the Right Non 12 Step Recovery Program

There are many more 12 Step alternative options available today than there were even a decade ago. Addiction rehab is shifting to reflect advances in psychology and medicine, and you can benefit from those changes by choosing an addiction treatment program that fits your particular recovery needs.

As The Clearing CEO Joe Koelzer noted in a recent interview:

“There really isn't any one program that's right for everyone. We're all deliciously different, so why do we think that one program is going to be the answer for everybody with their individual substance abuse issues? Instead, let's embrace the different processes and encourage people to use the one that works best for them.”

The Clearing is the first residential rehab treatment program founded on the Principles of Spiritual Psychology.

For more information on our model, download our free eBook, Healing Underlying Core Issues:

Free eBook Download:  Healing Underlying Core Issues

Caroline McGraw

This post was written by Caroline McGraw

In addition to her work as "the voice of The Clearing", Caroline Garnet McGraw writes about trading perfectionism for possibility at A Wish Come Clear. Visit and receive your free Perfectionist Recovery Toolkit today!

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