What to Do if 12-Step Programs Don’t Work

by Mia Williams, MS |

Twelve-step programs are the mantra of most treatment centers, and for good reason. For the most part, they work. Although that’s good news, it doesn’t apply to everyone. You may have completed a 12-step program but didn’t particularly like the approach, or maybe it didn’t work for you at all. The concept of a Higher Power may have turned you off.  Perhaps you are thinking of going into a treatment center, but aren’t sure that the 12-step model is for you. If you are one of those people, then there is help. Alternative treatment is out there, if that is what you prefer. Knowing your options can be the difference between getting the support that you need and feeling frustrated and isolated. Worse, if you don’t get the treatment that is the right fit for you, you may set yourself for failure. That doesn’t have to happen. Be informed, and know what’s out there. Here are some guidelines to help you to make the decision that is best for you.

Know What You Want and Don’t Want

If religion/spirituality is something that you don’t feel comfortable with, there are organizations that offer similar interventions to 12-step programs without the emphasis on spirituality. They also offer empowerment and personal growth. Similar to 12-step programs, you are encouraged to have a peer that you can rely on when you need someone to talk to. If you don’t mind the 12-step program but are looking for a different perspective, you can try things such as a Buddhism approach that offer ways to deal with recovery incorporated with the 12 steps, but from a Buddhist perspective. If you don’t feel at all comfortable with spiritual or religious concepts, there are programs that focus more on changing thinking patterns and behaviors and teach from a therapeutic perspective, such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy. The treatment can be personalized because the results are gathered from your psychological evaluation.

Understand Different Viewpoints

One of the major aspects that sets 12-step programs apart from most is the idea that addiction is a disease. Despite some evidence that indicates that it is, there are some professionals in the field of addiction and psychology that don’t buy into this concept.  If you have doubts or just want to try something different, there are organizations that have different perspectives. The important thing to remember is that there is evidence to support that addiction is not a disease as well as evidence that supports that it is. It’s about figuring out which model you think will work best for you. It will be hard to commit yourself to your treatment if you really don’t believe in it. There is a belief by some that addiction is not a disease, but something that you choose. Given that fact, if it is something that you can choose, you can learn to empower yourself to make better choices. One well-known program that focuses on this kind of treatment is called Rational Recovery.

Although obtaining assistance from a treatment center is usually highly recommended, other options may be worth investigating if you have relapsed several times. Some treatments help you with recovery by what is called biochemical treatment. If you are tech savvy and like the idea of the internet as a means of extra support, recovery options that include chatrooms and message boards may be for you. While this is not the sole way of obtaining treatment, it does offer some self-reliance as well as support meetings that focus on education.

What’s Your Personality Type

Don't Give Up If 12-Step Programs Don't Work

There are treatment options that cater towards groupwork and being connected to peers as well as those that require less. Other treatment solutions focus primarily on having a therapist or substance abuse counselor and teach thought changing, techniques, and therapy that is focused on the family system. If you feel you need more individual attention, perhaps Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) will work for you. Knowing this kind of information upfront can save you valuable time in your research efforts. What works for one personality type may be unproductive for another. The important thing to remember is that no matter what choice you make, do some research on it. Reading about a particular treatment option can be very helpful, or checking the internet can provide a wealth of information to help you see what is actually out there. Always follow up internet searches with phone calls or other forms of research to ensure validity.

Consider What Is Most Important to You

Different treatment options focus on different aspects of the healing process. There are those such as a biomedical regimen that tend to deal with addiction holistically. Some treatments such as a biomedical regimen deal with addiction from an environmental, nutritional, and physical point of view. While 12-step programs do explore these things, biomedical regimens base their model around them. Quite a bit of attention is placed on eating nutritionally and otherwise taking care of yourself physically. To others, although these things are important, you may feel more comfortable with treatments that are more clinical and rely on medical and psychological methods, such as intensive outpatient treatment centers. If you want a more therapeutic approach, there are resources that provide work with substance abuse intervention while dealing with family solutions and other mental health issues. Some incorporate mindfulness and meditation and use this as their cornerstone.

Make an Informed Choice

With so many choices, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. Don’t make this decision by yourself if you are feeling this way. Reach out to others who care about you. They can help you sort through the pros and cons. If you have peers or friends that have tried alternative treatments, ask about their experiences, and weigh it against your wants and needs. Also, asking for guidance from a professional counselor or therapist is always a good idea since they generally know what treatment programs work best and for whom. Your treatment is one of the most important decisions that you can make. Decide what you think will work for you, and start the process of reclaiming your sobriety. With the right knowledge, you will have the power to make the positive changes in your life that you desire.

  • Sources
    • Beckman, C. (2005). Clean: A new generation in recovery speaks out. Hazeldon, Central City, Minnesota
    • Larson, M. (1992). Alcoholism-the biochemical connection: A breakthrough seven -week self-treatment program. Vallard Books. New York.
    • McCollum, E. & Trepper, T. (2001). Family solutions for substance abuse: Clinical and counseling approaches. The Haworth Clinical Practice Press. New York.
    • Westreich, L. (2007). Helping the addict you love: The new effective program for getting the addict into treatment. Fireside, Rockerfeller Center, New York, NY.
    • Wood, E. (2004). There’s always help: thr’s always hope. Hay House,Inc. Carlsbad, California
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