Succeeding With An Alternative Addiction Treatment

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Traditionally, addiction treatment has been synonymous with 12-step recovery but what if it’s not working for you? Today there are many alternative treatment programs available with their own pros and cons. Let’s see what they offer and whether or not you should try them.

The Downside of 12-Step Programs

Although 12-step programs have been considered the gold standard of addiction recovery for many years, that view is beginning to change. They may not be as effective for recovery as once thought. According to this article from The Atlantic, peer-reviewed studies place the success rate of AA at only between 5 percent and 10 percent of participants. In fact, the Daily Beast reports that the main criticism of these 12-step programs is that they are not evidence-based treatments.

The programs are also criticized for:

  • Requiring belief in a higher power.
  • Labeling clients as addicts.
  • Maintaining that substances abusers are powerless to help themselves.
  • Teaching that addiction is a lifelong disease.

Others even claim that 12-step programs can be harmful, particularly for relapse, for these very same reasons. Read why this recovering addict rejected these programs at the Pacific Standard.

There are numerous alternatives to consider when considering an alternative program. For example, an alternative to the 12-step program is a Refuge Recovery Meeting, which is available twice each week at Perfectly Here in Tarzana. This 3-year-old program leaves behind the negative labels and reliance on a specific higher power.

The Benefits of An Alternative Program

Fortunately, there are many alternative treatments for addiction recovery available today. A study from the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment found that many of them were as effective as traditional programs.

These programs tend to focus on:

  • Evidence-based treatment. In other words, studies have shown that they are effective.
  • Appealing to a secular audience. You can believe in a higher power but that’s not necessary for these programs.
  • No negative labeling of clients.
  • Self-empowerment. According to a 2013 issue of Social Work Today, these programs focus on the patient’s own internal power to overcome the addiction.

Some examples of programs include SMART Recovery, LifeRing, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), Women for Sobriety, and Moderation Management.

Another evidence-based approach is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). There are numerous ways to implement this technique into treatment. Research has found these programs to be effective, especially when a patient has a dual-diagnosis of a mental health disorder.

There are even more alternative treatments available. Read this review of 13 “outside-the-box modalities” or treatments from The Fix.

The Risks of Alternative Programs

These alternative programs, however, are not without controversy. Some of them integrate medication to reduce craving, such as naltrexone. Other programs may involve medication for mental health disorders or advise supplements and other drugs.

Another controversy is that while AA and NA enforce abstinence, some of these programs don’t require it. Instead, they teach “harm reduction.” This teaches the client safer ways to use substances, according to this overview from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

For some in recovery, these might not be wise choices. Check with your doctor and therapist to make sure they are for you.

Making Healthy Choices

Whatever treatment you choose, you should make healthy choices to support your recovery. A balanced diet and regular exercise will benefit your physical and mental health as you detox your body and mind. Try these tips:

  • Minimize junk food and empty calories.
  • Replace them with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and healthy nuts and grains.
  • Walking is a great exercise for nearly anyone and will help you get outside and into nature, which also has restorative qualities.
  • For more rigorous activity, talk to your doctor about a fitness routine that is right for your health, body, and weight.
  • Drink 6-8 glasses of water daily to cleanse your system.

Alternative treatment programs can provide great options when a 12-step program is not working for you. Do your research and choose wisely. They may help you recover without giving up your power.

Opioid addiction is a national crisis; fatalities have risen more than 500% in recent years. Perfectly Here in Tarzana now offers families affected by addiction and loss the opportunity to heal through the Kuroosh Compassionate Recovery Program.


Kimberly Hayes enjoys writing about health and wellness and created to help keep the public informed about the latest developments in popular health issues and concerns. In addition to studying to become a crisis intervention counselor, Kimberly is hard at work on her new book, which discusses the ins and outs of alternative addiction treatments.