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A Non-12-Step Method for Addiction Treatment

How Addiction Can Be Treated By Non-12-Step Method

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 a 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 on a case-by-case basis, but various forms of treatment have generated consistent success stories.

Characteristics Of Non-12-Step Programs

Non-12-Step programs have some essential characteristics which differentiate them from 12-Step programs. The following are the most pertinent.

Non-spiritual approaches: The 12-Step Program posits that addiction is 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. Spiritual has religious connotations from which even the most secular 12-Step 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 posit 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 emphasise the importance of recognizing that addiction often co-occurs with other mental illnesses. Programs that can manage dual-diagnoses are therefore prioritized.

Dogmatism: 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, one is bound to relapse. This dogmatism drives certain people away, and can lead some people to focus too much on undermining the recovery of others, rather than on implementing the program themselves.

Non-12-Step Programs

Non-12-Step programs use research-based alternatives to help people fight addiction. These programs are generally based on behavioral principles, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular.

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

Coping skills training. People in non-12-Step programs are taught skills which 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 have to battle cravings. Non-12-Step programs train individuals to manage cravings, with a range of skills, from thinking of the negative consequences, 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.

Popular Non-12-Step Programs

These are some of the most popular non-12-Step programs.

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
  • Training thought 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.


LifeRing Secular Recovery is based on the conception 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 emphasises 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 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 such as marijuana. It asserts that sobriety can be reached and maintained without cutting off these substances entirely.

Choosing A Non-12-Step Program

When searching for the best rehab for you, find out which programs they utilize. Some will use 12-Step programs, others will use non-12-Step programs, and still others will use a combination.

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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