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New Advancements in Non 12-Step Rehab Programs

12-step rehabilitation programs are very popular because they are well-known to be an effective way to handle addiction.1

A report published by Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly took a look at AA membership surveys taken from 1968 through 1996. On average, 81 percent of newcomers were reported to stop attending meetings within the first month. After 90 days, only 10 percent remained in the 12-step rehab program. That figure dropped another 50 percent after one full year.2

Today, it is estimated that traditional 12-step programs have helped millions of addicts overcome their disease, and make a lasting recovery. However, it is important to realize that 12-step programs are not a one-size-fits-all rehabilitation concept. And in fact, many people struggle with taking on all of the 12 steps, causing a good amount of those in recovery to quit or fail at achieving lasting sobriety.

What is the Difference Between 12-Step Rehab, and Other Programs?

12-step rehabilitation programs include

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Marijuana Anonymous (MA), Crystal Meth Anonymous (CMA), and Dual Recovery Anonymous (DRA). Like a traditional 12-step recovery program, a non 12-step program is similar to a traditional rehab in that it requires hard work, and dedication to achieve sobriety.

However, there are many differences. In a 12-step recovery program, a participant will take a step-by-step approach to their recovery based on an evaluation of their behavior, and then enter a program that emphasizes the need for support by both peers, and a “higher power.”

A non 12-step program will include a behavioral analysis, but then the treatment portion will address the cause of the behavior itself and the reason for the self-medicating in the first place.

The underlying cause of a person’s addiction will vary, but no matter what the reason is for substance abuse a recovery program can help. If a person wants to change their behavior and how they think and feel about their substance use, it is likely they can re-gain their sobriety.

Alternatives to 12-Step Recovery Programs

Traditional 12-step rehab programs can be more than just challenging for some people. One step that can be especially difficult is the second step that calls for a higher power as many people struggle with memories of organized religion, or developing their spirituality. For this reason, a non 12-step recovery program may be a better option for a patient needing substance abuse treatment. There are many alternatives to traditional 12-step recovery programs. Here are just 5 of the most popular.

  1. Art Therapy. This type of therapy has been used since the 1950’s. Able to help a recovering addict express themselves through non-verbal, imaginative, and creative ways, art therapy sessions can include a variety of activities, including incident drawings (i.e., a drawing of an incident that occurred while using substances), drawing/painting emotions, stress painting (i.e., painting during times of anxiety and/or stress in order to relieve feelings of stress), writing in an art journal, and creating sculptures.

One clinical trial on the use of art and music in substance abuse therapy programs revealed that the use of this type of therapy is helpful when paired with the 12-step approach to recovery. However, it may also be highly effective as an alternative to 12-step programs.3

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is a type of alternative therapy to 12-step programs that typically includes a functional analysis, and then works to establish better habits through skills training. The CBT process allows those in recovery to explore new beliefs, thoughts and images associated with their addictive behavior, and develop new coping strategies.

During the analysis portion of CBT, the person in recovery will talk to a therapist to discuss their feelings, thoughts and circumstances about their addiction. Then they will work to identify any “triggers” for a relapse.

During the skills training phase, a person in recovery will explore ways to cope with their addiction and learn about new ways to change their behavior. When challenging circumstances that may cause a relapse occur, the goal of CBT is to help the participant avoid situations that otherwise may tempt them to use.

  1. Family Program. People who are struggling with an addiction can unintentionally damage healthy relationships with their family members. Over time, it can be difficult to heal those bonds after trust is broken. However, with this type of family therapy you may be able to expose any damage, to renew the bond within family relationships. Plus, participating in a family therapy session also allows everyone in the family to take their place within the recovery support system of their loved one. And that can make a BIG difference in successful sobriety.
  2. Pain Management. An addiction to drugs, or alcohol may mean that someone you know is attempting to self-medicate. However, it is possible to address pain of any kind with pain management therapy. In participating in this type of therapy recovering addicts may be able to develop new, effective ways to manage their pain so that the risk of relapse is reduced.
  3. Positivity Approach. This is a type of alternative recovery therapy that is used to help participants stop their internal monologue that may be saturated with negativity. Over time, when people self-medicate with drugs, or use alcohol to cover up their feelings they can become depressed. However, by using the positivity approach, you may be able to reverse negative self-talk and learn how to move forward from anything in your past that kept you from your own happiness.

In addition, psychoeducational group therapy sessions are known to be one of the best non 12-step treatment programs. These sessions can be done alone, or in a group to encourage talking and listening to peers in recovery, which may help to put problems into perspective.



  1. Lê, C., Ingvarson, E.P. Alcoholics anonymous and the counseling profession: philosophies in conflict, Journal of Counseling & Development, 73, 603-609. Retrieved February 9, 2006, from Academic Premier database.
  2. Alexandre B. Laudet, PhD. The Impact of Alcoholics Anonymous on other substance abuse related Twelve Step programs. Recent Dev Alcohol. 2008; 18: 71–89.
  3. Lydia Aletraris, PhD, Maria Paino, PhD. The Use of Art and Music Therapy in Substance Abuse Treatment Programs. J Addict Nurs. 2014 Oct; 25(4): 190–196.


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