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Alternatives to 12-Step Programs

The decision to seek help for substance abuse is a daunting one. Admitting that you have a problem with drugs or alcohol is difficult enough, and you may not know where to turn next. For most people, what comes to mind first is the 12-step model of treatment.

The 12-step model, originally pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is the basis for many self-help addiction community groups. These programs have a long history with success, and have helped countless addicts to effectively achieve sobriety and long-term recovery. Some people, however, are put off by the idea of the 12-step model, particularly its emphasis on a higher power; for these individuals, alternatives to the 12-step model are preferable options.

Downsides of 12-Step Programs

While 12-step programs work well for some people, elements of their philosophy turn others off. There is a heavy focus on spirituality and a higher power, with the belief that spiritual experiences can bring about recovery from addiction. While on the surface any spiritual belief is accepted, in some groups this may translate to a very specific Christian worldview that is unwelcoming to those who don’t share these beliefs. Atheists and agnostics may reject any spiritual basis for recovery, and some have experienced an unwelcome attitude from others at 12-step meetings.

The focus on moral failing and personal weakness has been criticized, as well as a lack of consideration for any genetic or psychological causes of addiction.

SMART Recovery+

Practical and logical steps towards a goal are the focus of this community treatment program. In direct contrast to 12-step programs, the focus of SMART Recovery is on self-reliance and instigating personal behavioral changes. The program advocates the use of anti-addiction medication and psychological treatment, and stays up-to-date on scientific developments in the recovery community. SMART Recovery does not label members as alcoholics or addicts.

Harm Reduction for Alcohol (HAMS)+

With little commitment and a low barrier to entry, this program is great for those who are hesitant to seek treatment or those who are exploring recovery for the first time. HAMS (an acronym for harm reduction, abstinence and moderation support) can be tailored for each person, and each participant may work through the guidelines at their own pace.

HAMS is a good program for those who are abusing drugs or alcohol and at risk for addiction, but still capable of controlling their use. Talking to others in various stages of addiction and recovery may help a person decide on their own goals, whether abstinence or moderation. HAMS works better as a support group with added tools for recovery, but may not have enough structure for some people.

16 Steps+

This program focuses on empowerment and a well-rounded look at all aspects of addiction. The 16-step model addresses internalized oppression, homophobia, classism, racism, sexism and other cultural factors of addiction. There is a focus on self-reliance and a flexibility to try whatever works for each person to become sober.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)+

SOS has a simple goal for participants: stay sober at all costs, despite emotions or circumstances. They eschew the sponsor system and simply focus on abstinence. While SOS officially welcomes people of all religious backgrounds, they tend to attract a high percentage of agnostic and atheist members, and spirituality is not part of their meetings.

Women for Sobriety (WFS)+

Women for Sobriety is “for women, by women” and focuses on the specific needs of women recovering from alcoholism and drug addiction. They focus on emotional and spiritual growth, and address the specific psychological needs of women in recovery. While WFS address the low self-esteem, guilt and shame that women may feel due to the culture around them, they are not radically feminist or anti-male. There is a spiritual element but they believe that recovery is due to conscious responsibility rather than surrendering to a higher power.

Moderation Management (MM)+

Problem drinkers don’t always become alcoholics, and MM strives to prevent this as much as possible. Unhealthy drinking habits can be rectified before they become an addiction, and people may even be able to enjoy alcohol in moderation. Individuals worried about the stigma of attending addiction treatment, or who don’t define themselves as addicts may be more comfortable in MM. This program offers options for further treatment and abstinence for those who decide moderation is not for them.

Do I Need Professional Treatment?

While community programs definitely have benefits, professional treatment for addiction may be your best option. Professional treatment programs are run by staff members who are experts at helping people break free from addiction and lead happier lives. Many professionals working in addiction treatment are also former addicts, and can relate to their patients’ needs. Benefits of professional treatment include:

  • Medically supervised detox. Detox from drug or alcohol dependence is a common barrier to sobriety, as some withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable or even painful. Extended depression, anxiety and sleep problems may eventually drive a person to relapse, but with medical care these symptoms can be relieved somewhat.
  • Professional counselors. A professional counselor can help you uncover painful memories or experiences that may be contributing to your substance abuse.
  • Mental health care. If you are diagnosed with a mental health issue, you may have access to prescription medication and professional therapy to relieve anxiety, depression and other underlying issues that may be leading you to abuse drugs.
  • Individualized care. Professional addiction treatment will include a plan designed specifically for your needs. Family history, genetics, mental health issues and other factors are taken into account to create a treatment plan that will address the causes of your substance abuse and addiction issues.
  • Behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectic behavioral therapy (DBT), and other behavioral therapy methods are available at many professional treatment centers. These are often very beneficial for patients in addiction recovery.
  • Prescription medication. Patients in professional addiction treatment may benefit from anti-addiction medications and other prescription medications to reduce cravings and otherwise assist with recovery.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) emphasizes the effectiveness of community recovery programs combined with behavioral therapies and prescription medication. For many people, professional treatment may greatly increase their chances of long-term sobriety.

Discover Adventure Therapy

Adventure therapy is an exciting alternative to traditional treatment. Instead of sitting in a classroom, patients and counselors hit the outdoors and participate in rope courses, hikes, camping, whitewater rafting, and other fun activities. Counselors observe behavior and suggest positive alternatives, and patients see firsthand how their moods and behaviors are connected. Discovering these things in the moment is a great learning experience that will stick with a person. Through healthy risk-taking activities, people in adventure therapy learn the social skills and self-confidence necessary to beat addiction. If you enjoy a challenge and sitting in normal counseling session sounds boring, adventure therapy may be a good option for you.

Whichever treatment method you choose, taking the first step toward recovery is the important part. If the traditional 12-step model of treatment doesn’t appeal to you, you have plenty of alternative options available.  Call our toll-free helpline to learn more about alternative to the 12-step program, and get the help you need today.
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