Recovery Explained: The Difference Between 12-Step and Non-12 Step Rehab Treatment Programs
Updated on February 28, 2023 by Team ShineSheets
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Getting help for an addiction is a complicated task – there are so many options to choose from. For more serious cases, inpatient or outpatient treatment could be the obvious next step. For many, though, peer support groups are another viable option.
The trick is for each individual to choose the recovery program that’s right for them. There’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for addiction, and it may even take a couple of tries before someone finds a program that’s effective.
There are all kinds of ways to categorize addiction recovery programs; many people differentiate between 12-step programs (like Alcoholics Anonymous) and non-12 step programs (like secular support groups, inpatient treatment, etc.). For example, AA has many offshoot programs (like Narcotics Anonymous) that are also 12-step programs. Then there are the outpatient clinics where patients can benefit from various treatments that are not a 12 step program. The question is, how can someone make sure they’re choosing the right option? The best place to start is by knowing what their options are.
How do 12-step programs work?
Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and their many offshoots have millions of participants. In fact, they’re pretty much the gold standard for recovery support groups – they’re mandated by drug courts, recommended by doctors, and attended by people across the US who want to recover from addiction. However, this notoriety isn’t really backed up by statistics. For instance, AA has a success rate of between 5% and 10%, which is pretty abysmal.
These programs are centered around free support groups, where people can gather and find a sense of community from others who are going through the same struggles. Regardless of the group, the 12 Steps remain the same. Here’s a shortened version:
- Step 1: Admit that you’re powerless over your addiction.
- Step 2: Come to believe that a higher power can restore you to sanity.
- Step 3: Turn your will and life over to God.
- Step 4: Take a moral inventory.
- Step 5: Admit to God, yourself, and one other person what you’ve done wrong.
- Step 6: Make yourself ready for God to remove these character defects.
- Step 7: Ask God to remove your shortcomings.
- Step 8: Write a list of everyone you’ve harmed.
- Step 9: Make amends to the people on the list.
- Step 10: Continue to take a personal inventory of character defects.
- Step 11: Improve conscious contact with God through prayer and meditation.
- Step 12: Spread the news of this spiritual awakening to other people struggling with addiction.
As you can see, the 12 steps sound more like a gospel tract than a manual for overcoming addiction. Even though they don’t explicitly promote any particular religion, they do have prominent Christian undertones. Every 12-step program says that all are welcome regardless of religious beliefs, but those who aren’t religious at all usually find the 12 Steps somewhat off-putting.
How do non-12 step programs work?
This is a very wide-ranging category of programs and support groups, but there are a few things that they generally share in common. For example, they tend to emphasize self-reliance, rather than telling participants that they’re helpless without intervention from a higher power. They also base their treatments on science, instead of treating addiction as a moral failing. Here’s the perspective on addiction that most non-12 step programs have:
- Addiction is a disease
- Addiction can be caused or exacerbated by a number of things, including trauma, chronic illness, mental illness, etc.
- Each individual needs to take responsibility for their own recovery
- The individual has to be motivated in order to improve their own life
- To promote lasting change, the individual should establish balance through participation in support groups, and through overall wellness practices
Secular support groups have some similarities to 12-step programs, but their perspectives are entirely different. Some of them use techniques like cognitive feedback therapy, while others simply give people a place to share their stories and support each other. Popular support groups include LifeRing Secular Recovery, Women for Sobriety, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, and SMART Recovery.
Inpatient and outpatient programs have a similar perspective on addiction, but a totally different structure. For example, patients are treated by psychiatrists and other professionals, who may offer some or all of the following treatments:
- Family therapy;
- Group therapy;
- Individual therapy;
- Cognitive behavioral therapy;
- TMS therapy;
- Medication prescription and/or management;
Inpatient programs can actually be pretty intensive; this is to help patients dive deep into the underlying issues that caused their addiction and to prevent them from accessing alcohol or drugs while at the facility.
Outpatient programs can also be fairly intensive, but less so than inpatient programs. They may involve hospitalization, or the patient may just have to participate in a few hours of activities per day.
Finally, one of the big differences between 12-step and non-12 step programs is the price tag. Support groups (12-step and otherwise) are free, but inpatient/outpatient programs are not. The cost will mostly depend on the quality of the facility, and the length of the stay.
There are many different options for addiction recovery, and each person should choose the right option for them. The priority should be on finding a program that’s compatible with their needs, not just on its overall popularity. By knowing what the options are, it’ll be much easier to make the best decision.
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