12-Step or Non 12-Step Recovery Programs: Which Is Right for You?

Treatment programs for substance use disorders come in many different forms. The types of therapy offered by facilities can vary widely. Some treatment programs follow a treatment model established by 12-Step groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous, while others structure treatment differently.

What’s the Difference Between 12-Step & Non 12-Step Recovery Programs?

The main difference between 12-Step and non-12-Step recovery programs comes down to self-reliance. The 12-Step model emphasizes that individuals are powerless to control their addictions and that healing from addiction requires surrendering to a higher power.

By comparison, 12-Step alternatives focus on personal responsibility, believing that individuals have the power to control their addictions themselves.

This article will explore this and other differences between 12-Step and non-12-Step treatment options.

What Are 12-Step Treatment Programs?

photo of the ocean tide and footprints in the sandTwelve-Step treatment programs are a type of mutual support group designed to help people battling drug or alcohol addiction and other compulsions. These programs abide by a structured plan involving 12 specific steps to help people overcome addiction.

Who Uses the 12-Step Recovery Model?

Several different organizations use the 12-Step model to facilitate recovery from substance abuse. The most well-known groups are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

Various offshoots of these organizations have been formed to address specific drugs of abuse, such as Heroin Anonymous and Marijuana Anonymous, as well as specific destructive behaviors, such as Co-Dependents Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous.

How Do 12-Step Recovery Programs Work?

Twelve-step programs, in and of themselves, are not an official form of therapy, but rather function more as peer support groups and self-help organizations. AA and NA meetings are offered freely to the public and open to anyone who wishes to attend. Some people join 12-step programs independently or through the recommendation of a friend. Others are introduced to this recovery method of through 12-Step facilitation therapy.

This therapy uses the principles and traditions of 12-Step programs as the basis of its addiction treatment approach, predominately focusing on 3 main ideas:

  • Acceptance: realizing that addiction is a chronic disease over which the individual has no control, and that willpower alone is not enough to overcome substance abuse
  • Surrender: giving control to a higher power (religious or otherwise), and accepting help and support from treatment professionals and other individuals in recovery
  • Participation: attending 12-Step meetings and events on a regular basis, and following the tenants of that program

The goal of 12-Step facilitation is to encourage the individual to become actively involved in a 12-Step program and commit to remaining in the program. The intention of this is to establish lasting recovery with the ongoing involvement of a peer support group.

Is the 12-Step Model Effective for Recovery?

Yes, although the 12-Step model may not be right for everyone, it’s widely accepted that participation in peer support groups and aftercare, like 12-Step meetings, can benefit long-term recovery.

While research on the effectiveness of 12-Step programs is limited, a study from the Journal of Addictive Diseases reports that those who attend AA meetings show rates of abstinence that are twice as high compared to those who do not, and attendance at these meetings increases the likelihood of maintaining abstinence in the future.

In addition, regular attendance at meetings can add structure and a sense of community to a person’s life, which can greatly aid ongoing sobriety.

What Are Non 12-Step Treatment Programs?

a group of attendees at a non-12-step recovery meetingNon-12-Step programs provide alternative forms of addiction treatment and peer support for people who choose not to participate in traditional 12-step-style programs or object to their principles.

For example, some people find the spiritual aspect of 12-Step meetings off-putting. Even though these programs encourage a belief in any “higher power,” rather than just a traditional Christian view of God, 12-Step groups are often viewed as having religious undertones.

Who Uses Non 12-Step Recovery Programs?

While 12-Step programs are a popular choice when attempting to overcome an addiction, many treatment programs exist that do not follow this model. Non-12-Step programs are generally groups that see the value of peer support but wish to get away from the reliance on a higher power associated with most 12-Step organizations.

Alternatives to 12-Step programs include SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), Women for Sobriety, and LifeRing Secular Recovery.

How do Non 12-Step Recovery Programs Work?

Alternatives to 12-Step programs simply base care on different principles. These principles vary somewhat between specific organizations, but they generally include:

  • Motivation: finding personal motivation to change, often based on the detrimental effects of substance abuse in a person’s life
  • Personal responsibility: accepting personal responsibility for recovery and ongoing sobriety rather than giving up power to someone or something else
  • Balance: establishing balance in life via overall wellness and active participation in peer support meetings

The philosophies of each non-12-step program are somewhat different; however, all advocate self-reliance and peer support.

How Effective Are Non 12-Step Recovery Programs?

The effectiveness of non-12-Step programs varies according to the specific program and individual needs of each person. Similar to 12-Step programs, the power of these programs lies in the peer support dynamic.

Due to the prevalence of 12-Step-based models, such as AA and NA, many in recovery think these types of programs are their only options for easy-to-access, ongoing peer support. According to a study published in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, over 40% of people in recovery from alcoholism who weren’t religious or were unsure about religion still participated in AA.

The same study found that about 75% of secular individuals did not participate in AA at all in the prior 12 months, and this lack of participation is likely due to the religious undertones of the 12-Step model. Research suggests these individuals may be more likely to participate in non-12-Step models, such as those mentioned above.

Like any form of treatment and aftercare, ongoing participation is key to the success of these programs.

How to Choose Between 12-Step and Non 12-Step Recovery Programs

The appropriateness of a 12-Step or non-12-Step treatment program is largely based on personal preference and circumstance. Choosing a program that fits your lifestyle and your needs—regardless of the program type—is the most important factor in recovery from addiction.

At Sunrise House Treatment Center, we offer different levels of addiction care and tailor our treatment plans to meet the individual needs of each patient.

Our inpatient rehab facility in New Jersey uses a combination of evidence-based and alternative therapies to address the many issues underlying addiction and teach patients more positive ways to cope.

For more information about our programs, ways to pay for rehab, or using insurance to pay for rehab, call us at . Our admissions navigators are available around the clock to answer your questions and start the admissions process.

No matter what program you choose, remember that recovery from addiction is possible, and there is hope. Let us help you begin the journey today.

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