Non-12-Step & 12-Step Recovery: Overview of Differences

Many people consider the 12 step substance abuse recovery program to be traditional, perhaps even outmoded method of addiction treatment. Very commonly, non 12 step recovery programs take some elements of the traditional program and combine it with other therapies for an integrated approach to healing substance abuse.

Traditional 12 step requires members to attend group sessions as well as working with a sponsor from their AA or NA support community. Additionally, there is a common feeling that 12 step is somehow confrontational, taking a “my way or the highway” approach to addiction treatment.

Examples of this kind of confrontational communication include statements like, “you must do this to overcome your problem” or “you have to do this or you will relapse.”

Many people are put off 12 step programs because they are a more direct approach than other methodologies, with a strict strategy for achieving recovery. Although traditional 12 step is a more forceful way of approaching substance abuse recovery, it is highly effective for many people.

However, a person who is not entirely on board with traditional rehab may not respond well to being forced to attend sessions and it could actually be counter-productive for recovery.

How Non-12-Step Rehab Programs Differ

Alternative rehab approaches to 12 step tend to be more fluid, client-centric methods to achieving recovery. Non 12 step drug rehab doesn’t stipulate attendance of sessions in the same way as 12 step programs and there is more opportunity to tailor treatment for individual needs.

Non 12 step programs take the view that when people in rehab are given a forced route to recovery, they are less likely to find success.

12 step has a common goal of achieving and maintaining sobriety which depends on a shared belief system. Non 12 step recovery programs, on the other hand, works to meet individuals at eye level to determine their personal path to recovery that is based on individual preferences, making no two treatment programs the same.

The most fundamental difference between 12 step and its alternatives is that there is no “template” for achieving recovery that requires progressing through structured stages.

12-Step Recovery Model and the Alternatives: The Similarities

Some of the principles taught at non 12 step recovery programs and the traditional recovery model are the same. One of these principles is that of making changes in order to achieve recovery. 12 step reinforces the desired behaviors of honesty, hope, faith, and courage, etc., encouraging members to implement them into their daily lives.

Non 12 step recovery programs also require self-exploration to address the root causes of addictive behavior and bring about healthy and positive changes to achieve recovery goals.

The goals of both treatment modalities are ultimately the same and have shared objectives of promoting ongoing recovery. This reflects how both approaches recognize addiction as a long-term issue that requires continued motivation and works to protect individuals from relapse after rehab.

Whereas 12 step implements its principles through its worldwide fellowship, the alternative approach encompasses a much wider variety of treatment and therapies from all modalities.

Holistic Rehab as a Non 12 Step Alternative

One of the most popular forms of substance abuse treatment that is an alternative to 12 step programs is the holistic approach. Holism refers to the treatment of individuals “as a whole,” in terms of mind, body, and spirit.

Addiction is an illness that affects a person’s mental, physical and emotional health and each individual has their personal experience of substance abuse.

The holistic approach to rehab takes the view that people are not defined by their substance abuse and that everyone can find a route to recovery.

The significant difference between this approach and that of 12 step is that holistic, non 12 step programs seek to address the underlying causes of addictive behavior so that individuals can find their own way to overcoming their illness, rather than completing the 12 steps in the same way as everybody else.

Holistic therapies used in rehab include the following:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Aromatherapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Art and music therapy
  • Adventure therapy
  • Nutritional education
  • Physical fitness

Components of evidence-based therapies such as CBT are often introduced into non-12 step drug rehab programs including the holistic approach. These are discussion-based therapies that allow people to recognize the thought processes driving addictive behavior so that they can alter the way their minds work.

Therapies such as CBT work on the basis that behaviors are chosen by thought processes. For example, someone who responds to stress in negative ways is more likely to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs than a person who chooses to meditate as a stress-reliever.

Non 12 step drug rehab such as the holistic approach is more focused on the individual than the traditional recovery model. Because people vary greatly in personality-type it makes sense that they should find their own way of achieving sobriety, which is why non-12 step has risen significantly in popularity in recent years.

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