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Effective Treatment Programs at Non-12-Step Rehabs

When we speak about addiction, and alcoholism in particular, people around the world associate treatment with the 12-Step Program. The 12-Step Fellowship, established in the 1930s, has become the most widespread purveyor of addiction treatment. Millions of people have overcome their addictions with the help of the 12-Step Program.

However, the popularity of the 12-Step Program, along with some of its more dogmatic proponents, can sometimes overshadow the fact that there are a number of successful non-12-Step programs. The 12-Step Program itself does not work for everyone, and some people are unable to get on board with its spiritual approach.

It is a common misconception that only atheists have a hard time with 12-Step principles. In fact, even people who are otherwise religiously oriented can struggle to connect with the 12-Step Program.

The good news is that there are non-12-Step programs that have helped many people overcome their addictions. Alternative forms of treatment can be very successful. With addiction, what any one person responds to may differ, but various forms of treatment have generated consistent success stories.

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Both 12-Step and non-12-Step programs have their pros and cons.

Essentially, the 12-Step Program is a disease-based model that centers on the concept of alcoholism and drug addiction as an illness. For some in recovery, this can be very empowering because it allows them to let go of the notion of control, and take the guidance set out in these programs. For others, conceptualizing their issues as an illness or disease is not helpful at all.

How Do Non-12-Step Rehab Programs work?

These programs use research-based techniques to help people fight addiction. They are generally based on behavioral principles, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular.

The programs work by combining different methods in order to achieve the greatest possible results. This type of treatment is considered to be self-empowering and can be customized to fit the needs of each individual. Treatment might include psychotherapy, holistic techniques, and group therapy.

Personal Approach To Everyone

By showing people the causes and conditions behind their drug use or drinking, a non-12-Step method of treatment gives some people a greater chance of sustained recovery. They can begin to understand their own unique triggers that caused them to want to drink or use in the first place, and work forward from there.

According to research done by Dr Ronald Kadden, CBT principles useful in treating addiction include the following.

Coping skills training

People in non-12-Step rehabs are taught skills to help them deal with triggers such as anxiety-provoking situations, or circumstances in which they would generally use substances to cope.

Managing cravings

Even if a chemical dependence no longer exists, people who struggle with addiction are likely to battle cravings. Non-12-Step programs train individuals to manage cravings, with a range of skills from thinking of the negative consequences of giving in to mindfulness techniques.

Managing emotional responses

Often, triggers that cause people to seek substances are associated with strong emotional responses. When someone gets very angry, they might want to drink so that the feeling does not overwhelm them. CBT and mindfulness techniques are very useful in managing strong emotions.

Changing negative thought patterns

People struggling with addiction experience repetitive thoughts that motivate them to seek substances. CBT trains them to find constructive ways to challenge these thoughts and not be consumed by them.

Characteristics of Non-12-Step Programs

These programs have some essential characteristics that differentiate them from the 12-Step Program.

Non-spiritual approach

The 12-Step Program frames addiction as a physical and spiritual affliction. Non-12-Step programs agree that addiction is a physical affliction. But they are more likely to call it a mental illness than a spiritual one. The 12-Step Program has religious connotations from which even the most secular groups struggle to disassociate.

Objection to the disease model

One of the fundamental 12-Step principles is that addiction is a disease that can never be cured. Many people struggling with addiction have a hard time accepting that. And not all mental health professionals agree with this principle. Many mental health experts suggest that addiction can be cured with a range of alternative interventions, including medication, CBT, hypnosis and other forms of therapy.

Dual diagnosis

Non-12-Step programs emphasize the importance of recognizing that addiction often co-occurs with other mental illnesses. Programs that can manage dual diagnoses are therefore prioritized.


Some 12-Step facilities or groups are dogmatic about aspects of the program. They see the 12-Step Program as the only option, and claim that with non-12-Step programs, an addict is bound to relapse. This dogmatism drives some people away and can lead others to focus too much on undermining the recovery of others, rather than on implementing the program themselves.

Popular Non-12-Step Programs

There are a number of rehab centers that offer non-12-Step programs, ranging from luxury rehabs to rehabs with a holistic approach. If you prefer a secular approach when it comes to your recovery and want to feel like you’re in control of your life, this may be the best option for you.

You can expect to find some of the following treatment approaches at non-12-Step rehabs.

SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery programs take a non-spiritual, evidence-based approach to addiction treatment. These programs are used by some rehab centers. They are also offered through meetings and online support systems. SMART Recovery programs use CBT, as well as motivational enhancement therapy, to treat addiction.

The SMART Recovery four-point program focuses on:

  • Generating and maintaining motivation to change
  • Learning to manage and cope with cravings
  • Thought training and emotional regulation skills
  • Constructing a balanced life

The SMART Recovery program acknowledges that its methods should be implemented in the context of holistic lifestyle changes. It accepts that medications can help people recover and remain sober. It is also open to evolving as new research brings more effective treatments to life.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT aims to teach an individual in recovery how to identify and deal with triggers, handle cravings for drugs or alcohol, manage strong emotions that could lead to a relapse, and change negative thought patterns that damage their self-esteem. CBT is a powerful tool in that it reduces the chances of a relapse and encourages individuals to make positive changes in the way they think, feel, and behave. There is also a focus on strengthening relationships and social bonds with people that support their recovery.


LifeRing Secular Recovery is based on the idea that each individual holds the key to their own recovery and does not need to put his or her life in the hands of a higher power. It emphasizes the idea that every person has an internal “sober self.” In therapy and groups, individuals learn to enhance their sober self and weaken their “addict self.”

LifeRing allows individuals to find the methods that help them enhance their sober self, rather than demanding adherence to particular steps. It focuses, however, on living in the present and not dwelling on the mistakes of one’s addict self.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is a collection of non-12-Step programs rather than one specific program. SOS hosts online and face-to-face meetings open to people struggling with different forms of addiction.

Moderation Management

Moderation Management differs from many other non-12-Step programs in that it does not require complete abstinence from alcohol or substances. It asserts that moderation can be reached and maintained without cutting off these substances entirely.

Why Choose a Non-12-Step Rehab Program?

Many people choose these programs because they want to feel a sense of empowerment when it comes to their recovery. For others, the notion of the higher power – a central idea of the 12-Step program – really turns them off.

Non-12-Step rehabs offer programs that utilize many of the same tools as other rehabs, without the emphasis on spirituality. Some aspects of these drug rehabs include:

  • A medically supervised detox
  • Drug therapy to help ease withdrawal symptoms
  • Treatment for any co-occurring disorders
  • Various types of therapy, including group, individual, or even couples’ counseling

Benefits of Non-12-Step Rehab

  • Being surrounded by other people in the program who can provide support.
  • Meeting other people who struggle with the same issues.
  • Opportunities to inspire and lead others during the course of your own recovery.
  • Meetings for specific members of the population, such as women, men, LGBT, or younger people.
  • Programs are available for various types of addiction, including gambling, sex and romance, food, and drugs.
  • Programs like Al Anon and ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) are available to support spouses, children, other family members, and even friends of alcoholics and addicts whose lives may also be affected.
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Why 12-Step Rehab Continues to Be Popular

Despite all the benefits of non-12-Step rehab, the 12-Step approach continues to be the most widely used model for recovery. Many individuals enjoy the program’s emphasis on giving up control to a higher power and on providing service to others.

The 12 Steps themselves are the foundation of recovery in this program. An individual starts off by admitting their powerlessness over their alcoholism or addiction. They learn that their addiction or alcoholism is a spiritual as well as physical disease. With the help of a sponsor and regular attendance at meetings, they continue to work on each step. Eventually, they commit to providing service to others in the program by becoming a sponsor themselves and helping in other ways. This sense of service and commitment helps build a sense of self-respect and empowerment while taking the focus off of the person themself.

Knowing Which Type of Drug Rehab Is Best for You

There are a lot of choices out there when it comes to choosing a rehab. It’s important to do your research before choosing the program that feels like the best fit for you. The treatment program offered by non-12-Step rehabs welcomes people from all backgrounds, including atheists and agnostics.

What’s important is finding the program that best fits your unique needs and background. Entering a rehab may be one of the biggest decisions you make and one that may have a long-lasting impact on your life.

There is no “right” answer when it comes to choosing a rehab. Individuals should decide for themselves which program or programs best suit them. 12-Step Programs provide good options, but they are far from the only successful programs available.

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