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Why 12 Step Programs Don’t Work for Everyone—And What Might

Since its inception in 1939, the 12-step approach has become perhaps one of the most commonly turned to methods of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. There are a wide variety of 12-step groups, including ones such as Debtors Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and Crystal Meth Anonymous, which are all designed to help individuals dealing with these issues. However, perhaps the most well-known of these is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which is estimated to have more than 3 million members as of 2017.

For some people, the 12-step model is the gold standard catalyst they need for positive change. But for many others, 12-step involvement may simply not be the right approach. Understanding why 12-step engagement in programs doesn’t work for everyone—and what alternatives might work better for you or your loved one—can help you make an informed decision about how to move forward with recovery.

Why 12 Step Programs Don’t Always Work

The structured simplicity of 12-step meetings and programs can come as a great comfort to those struggling with the unpredictable ups and downs of addiction recovery. Follow these steps one-by-one, and you will recover—or so some 12-step fellowships and groups seem to promise. For those who find them helpful, this is one of the benefits. But for those for whom 12-step treatment doesn’t work, it can feel as if the problem lies with them, like having defects of character, rather than with the program—as if it is their fault for not being able to follow the instructions properly.

This isn’t the case, however. If you or a loved one have had active involvement in 12-step groups or programs only to fall back into addictive patterns and compulsive behaviors, this isn’t an indication of a personal fault or a moral failing. Rather, it is a sign that something more is needed in terms of treatment in order to support your personal recovery process. Any of the following may be a factor contributing to a lack of progress:

It can be tempting to give up after an initial attempt at rehab hasn’t worked. But just because a 12-step treatment and other self-help groups hasn’t helped you or your loved one doesn’t make it a hopeless case. There are many other options for treatment for substance use disorders—any of which may provide the way forward that you’ve been searching for.

Other Addiction Treatment Options

Thanks to modern advancements in the medical field, there are now a wide variety of therapies and formal treatments available for treating both addiction and related disorders that might work better for you or your loved one than 12-step self-help group involvement. These include options such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, group therapy, and family therapies, as well as more recent innovations such as Active in Recovery. These therapies may be used singularly or in conjunction with one another as part of a larger treatment plan in one of the following types of care:

Unlike 12-step programs, all of the above programs typically include therapies and formal treatment that can address issues such as substance abuse, like alcohol use disorder, drug addiction, as well as other mental health issues. Working with licensed psychiatrists and/or behavioral health professionals offers the added benefit that medications for these issues can be prescribed if needed to bolster the recovery process, and a patient’s success with these medications can be carefully monitored.

Finding an Addiction Treatment Program That Works for You

When deciding what type of treatment program is best, keep in mind that the most effective programs will not only include multiple possible therapeutic approaches but also offer enough flexibility to offer a treatment plan given to you by a treatment provider that can adapt to you or your loved one’s unique recovery needs. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to addiction (one reason why the rigid structure of 12-step programs does not work for everyone); rather, the most effective treatment plan is the one designed to address addiction on an individual level.

If traditional 12-step groups haven’t worked for you, don’t give up on recovery just yet—there are alternatives available that may better suit your needs and your life and lead to positive outcomes. And if you’d still like your 12-step program to be a part of your recovery journey, you may simply need to combine it with another approach to create a system that will work better for you than relying on a 12-step program alone.

Whatever the case, know that recovery is possible. If you or your loved one has relapsed following treatment, this is not a failure—it simply means that more support is needed for now to help create lasting recovery. You can find that support by contacting a reputable rehab center for answers, guidance, or to begin a new treatment program.

If you or your loved one needs addiction treatment beyond what a 12-step program can offer, New Choices Treatment Centers can help. We offer a variety of treatment programs and therapies that can be tailored to each individual’s needs and recovery goals. And if you’d like 12-step programming to continue to be a part of your treatment plan, we can make that happen, too. Contact us today to learn more, or call us at (786) 888-7003.

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