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How Do 12-Step Programs Compare to Other Recovery Programs?

Which Type of Addiction Recovery Program is Right for Me?

Photo of a peer support group seated in front of someone with a clipboard.

We’ve all heard of 12-step programs for addiction recovery, made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous. Today, this is the most prominent type of addiction recovery program in the country, used in about 74% of treatment centers to treat over 300 different addictions and psychological disorders.

However, this isn’t the only type of program out there. So, how do you choose between 12-step facilitation (TSF) and non-12-step programs like SMART Recovery?

Here’s a breakdown of the core differences in how these two classes of addiction recovery programs approach recovery, and how you can decide which type of program is right for you.

 

How Do 12-Step Programs Approach Recovery?

The TSF model was first developed and popularized by AA, but is now practiced by many hundreds of organizations across the country. How does it work?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s guide called Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment, 12-step programs are driven by three key ideas:

  1. Acceptance that you have no control, life has become unmanageable, and that willpower alone isn’t enough to rid you of your addiction.
  2. Surrender to a higher power, to the support of others in recovery, and to the structure and activities of the 12-step program.
  3. Active participation in the meetings and activities of the 12-step program on a continued basis.

The higher power that the participant surrenders to is explicitly referred to as the God of the Christian faith in the original Big Book used by AA and many of its offshoots. In TSF, step 3 is to turn yourself over to God, step 7 is to as God to remove your character defects, and step 11 is to commit yourself to a spiritual practice, namely prayer.

However, many modern organizations using AA’s template of TSF have made the language more inclusive by allowing for it to be any sort of higher power. Step 3 is more about placing your trust in the process after having admitted your own powerlessness, step 7 is a commitment to address your core issues that led to your addiction, and step 11 forces you to continue to look inward through practices like meditation to monitor your mental and spiritual health.

Still, the lasting spiritual overtones in some programs can rub some participants the wrong way. A study in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly found that 60% of recovering alcoholics who are unsure about religion and 75% of recovering alcoholics who are explicitly secular did not participate in AA in the past year. These individuals may be more likely to seek out non-12-step programs instead.

How Do Alternative Programs Approach Recovery?

Then there are non-12-step programs, such as SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), Women for Sobriety, and LifeRing Secular Recovery. Unlike TSF, these programs tend to follow a different set of three driving principles:

  1. Motivation to change based on the negative effects that addiction has wrought in your life.
  2. Personal responsibility for your own recovery and sobriety instead of surrendering to a higher power.
  3. Balance in your life established through active participation in meetings and developing overall wellness.

As you can see, the main distinction between the two types of programs is that TSF emphasizes that the individual is powerless to face their addiction on their own and encourages them to surrender to a higher power. In contrast, non-TSF programs focus on personal responsibility and encourage participants to take control of their addictions themselves.

Both of these approaches are legitimate, and each is better suited to a different type of individual. If you value faith and/or feel powerless, a 12-step approach may be right for you. If you instead feel uncomfortable with spirituality and insist on self-reliance, then an alternative program may be more appropriate.

If you’re unsure what type of program you want to pursue, or have any other questions about addiction and recovery, feel free to reach out to New Directions Addiction Recovery Services at (779) 220-0336. We’re always here to try and help you take your life in new directions.

New Directions Addiction Recovery Services

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