Alternatives to a 12-Step Program

November 24, 2010

How many times have you heard that the secret in winning the battle against your addiction is hidden in the 12 steps? Whether the 12 steps you’re presented with are adjusted for the fellowship of sex addicts or gambler’s anonymous, they remain the most widely implemented treatment module for alcoholics and addicts. A 12 step program is not the only available program on the market, however. There are alternatives; they just don’t receive as much press, have limited popularity and related research findings.

Many of the alternative programs are founded on the notion that spirituality need not be integrated into an addiction recovery process. Still other alternative sources insist that a “cure” for addiction is attainable.

Essentially, alternative approaches to the traditional 12 steps cater to the mindset of logical addicts and alcoholics on the spectrum of afflicted individuals. Addicts who can’t fathom the concept of a higher power, refuse to believe in the possibility of God, and scoff at organized groups like Alcoholics Anonymous, tend to relate more to the non-12 step approaches such as the SMART model, Rational Recovery, and Accelerated Recovery. Let’s scratch the surface of a few of these methods. Perhaps it will give you a new topic to bring up with your buddies during Friday night’s poker tourney.

We’ll start with the SMART Recovery model. SMART is an acronym for Self Management And Recovery Training. SMART advocates point out their model’s effectiveness in keeping abreast of current research in the addiction and alcoholism fields. They claim to base their recovery pointers on science rather than spiritual principles. In addition, SMART’s face-to-face forums are known for being open to discussion among members. Alcoholic Anonymous meetings often require members to refrain from “cross talk” or exchanging anecdotes throughout the course of the meeting. SMART recovery is more lenient in the sense that conversation is welcomed with open arms as long as it conducive to the topic at hand. SMART is “based on scientific research, advocates the appropriate use of prescribed medications and psychological treatments”, and teaches members the tools to cope with life’s stressors in healthy way. SMART groups even touch upon alternative venues for which to have fun in sobriety.

Rational Recovery (RR) is another alternative approach to the 12 steps. This approach utilizesAddictive Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT). The long and short of it is encouraging training participants to distinguish between the healthy, logical side of their brain and the unhealthy hemisphere. In Alcoholics Anonymous, followers call this notorious side of the brain “The Committee”. You’ll hear speakers talk of how they wake up in the morning and hear The Committee whisper, “I’ve been waiting for you to rise.” From there, The Committee tries to egg the alcoholic or addict into action that is ultimately self-destructive. Rational Recovery builds many of its lessons around the premise that the addictive voice, routinely personified as “the beast” — is an evil creature that dwells within all human beings as a byproduct of instinct. “The beast” seeks pleasure whether the source is from sex, drugs, or fluids. The ability to quiet the beast is where true self-discipline and AVRT techniques are put to the test.

Rational Recovery tries to narrow down addiction and alcoholism into simple blocks of distinguishable features that make it manageable for members on a daily basis. Rational Recovery is controversial in the sense that it dismisses the disease concept of addiction and chalks it up to a matter of self-will instead. Many find this message to be somewhat offensive. For instance, as the authors of Rational Recovery’s describe the beast, they write, “Your survival appetite is aimed at the wrong stuff, to be sure, but addiction is more a reflection of health than of a mysterious disease. The desire for pleasure fades among sick or diseased people, further suggesting that addiction is a reflection of health rather than a disease process. In RR, some call the human midbrain ‘the party center,’ because of the bond between pleasure and addiction. Of course, it is often quite stupid (self-defeating) to act on healthy desires or impulses, as in substance addictions.”Adjectives such as “stupid” and “ridiculous” are commonly utilized in the context of describing traditional methods of alcoholism and addiction treatment, i.e. the 12 steps. The 12-step framework and AA program are literally discredited as nothing more than pish-posh.

Third on the docket is AcceleratedRecovery. This alternative claims to have the best non-12 step approach to breaking dependence from alcohol. Advocates treat the physical and psychological malady alcoholism invokes. Omitted is the focus on spirituality. As you can tell, less God and more science seems to be the trend among non-12 step recovery approaches.Accelerated Recovery’s central website cites statistics re: AA’s abstinence rates among members; “Greater then 93 percent of all treatment programs in the United States are based on theTwelve Step philosophy, and their poor outcome results are predictable and well documented.” Interesting.What the writers don’t do is cite abstinent rates for members whom have completed Accelerated Recovery treatment, thus illustrating the flip-side of the coin. Hence, readers have nothing to compare the 93 percent figure against. Even if the so-called 93 percent failure rate is true, it’s certainly better than 100 percent. Chances are, it’s probably higher than the success rate of Accelerated and other non-12 step approaches combined as well.

There will always be alternative approaches to the 12 steps cropping up, probably until research finetunes the answers to alcoholism’s many mysteries more securely. Human beings love to debate, and the 12 step modality as the “gold standard” is a topic of no exception. As for me, I will continue trudging the road of happy destiny with my fellow AA’ers, thank you very much.

  1. Curt /Gebhart March 9, 2013

    The 12-step only model – in both way too much of AA and predominant in
    rehab – was contributing to my downfall. These morons running Hazelden etc
    are criminally inept. Virtually none of their claims are baed on research!
    I got sober by quitting drinking to save my life. (Therapy/reeovery has been
    enhanced by a well-trained addiction psychiatris. It was not until I met
    this gentleman that I became at all aware that the 12-step/God model is not
    the only way. 18 plus years later: my life continues to improve.

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