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How Effective Is 12-Step Vs. Non 12-Step Recovery?

As many as one in four addicts who seek recovery services have previously tried to quit their drug, alcohol or behavioral addiction. Twelve-step recovery programs, which are based on the well-known Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) model, are successful for many people. However, some people seeking help to overcome their addiction struggle to find inspiration in the 12 steps.

Fortunately, there are plenty of non 12-step recovery options available. These diverse therapies are known as “evidence-based treatments” because there is scientific research that explores how they work and tracks how successful they are.

Types of Non 12-Step Recovery Treatments

Pharmacotherapies are one example of non 12-step recovery options. Medications are used to help wean addicts off certain drugs, such as opioids. The success rate and safety of such treatment is preferable to quitting “cold turkey,” especially when an addict has a high tolerance for a certain substance. Inpatient treatment pharmacotherapy programs allow recovering addicts to receive 24/7 supportive care during this process.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another non 12-step recovery approach that has had great success. CBT focuses on teaching individuals to recognize detrimental behaviors, what triggers those behaviors, and how to change the way they react to the triggers. It is a form of self-aware behavior modification that is facilitated by a trained therapist or psychologist.

Other non 12-step therapies have not yet been as closely investigated by the scientific community as pharmacotherapy and CBT. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that techniques such as motivational interviewing, contingency management and family therapy are also very effective. For dual-diagnoses (addictions that co-occur with mental health concerns like depression, schizophrenia or post-traumatic stress disorder), an even greater variety of therapeutic modalities are available, including recreational therapy, psychodrama and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Residential treatment facilities offer a wide range of useful therapies to help make the withdrawal process less painful and to increase the overall healing of one’s body and mind. These services may include acupuncture and yoga.

Effectiveness of 12-Step Versus Non 12-Step Recovery Programs

Ultimately, whether or not a 12-step program is effective depends entirely on the individual. The 12 steps resonate with some people, who immediately connect with the premise of a higher power and the tasks outlined in the 12 steps. Other people review the 12 steps and feel skeptical about how this approach can really help them.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to addiction recovery, but your own motivation to get better plays a crucial role regardless of the program you choose. You owe it to yourself to find a treatment approach that you believe will be effective and to give it your best effort. And if it doesn’t produce results for you, there are many other options you can try. Don’t give up, and be sure to contact us for guidance if you’re not sure what your next steps should be.


“Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction” – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH)

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