Very few treatment centers will actually declare themselves as non-12-step based, but many will offer alternative programs that are designed to help people deal with alcoholism and addiction, but which use no part of a 12 step program in their recovery.
Sometimes this is because these rehabs believe the 12 step model is in some way flawed, and other times because they know there is a market for people who are apprehensive about what is perceived as a religious/spiritual approach to recovery.
The majority of treatment centers and rehabs base their addiction treatment programs around some elements of the AA 12 step model of recovery.
Historically, what most of them have done is to take the principles of the first five steps, and modify or change them to their own requirements, yet still present them as being part of the AA recovery approach.
This approach does inevitably lead to some confusion, especially for the individuals undergoing treatment, who believe they have gone through the AA approach to recovery, when in fact they have gone through a different version of it.
Traditional 12 Step Rehabs
A number of people believe that the real value of most treatment centers and rehabs is twofold.
Firstly they provide a physically safe environment for people to begin to deal with their alcoholism and addiction, that is out of their normal life, and as such away from pressures that they associate with their drinking.
In this environment, it is believed that it is easier for people to begin to comprehend the enormity of what they are dealing with, and lay the foundations for their recovery.
The second value that people associate with treatment centers is that most of them will introduce people to the actual reality of Alcoholics Anonymous, both in terms of the treatment centers approach to 12 step recovery, and an introduction to actual meetings of AA, either on site or in the local community.
It is believed that if individuals in recovery are exposed to AA early on, then it is more likely they will make AA a part of their recovery process, both whilst in treatment and once they have left.
The above is a slightly simplistic approach to the effect that rehabs and treatment centers can have on people, but is probably a fairly good basic guide to the 12 step model that is often used in this type of recovery.
12 Step Programs
12 step programs inevitably apply to the principles used in Alcoholics Anonymous, and a wide range of other fellowships/organisations that have borrowed this approach, and applied it to their own recovery needs around different addictions.
Whilst there is a significant amount of experience, both current and historical, that this 12 step approach can be hugely beneficial for a lot of people, there are also a significant number of critics of this approach, for different reasons.
Without going into the debate itself, it is fair to say that a number of people on both sides tend to get quite fundamentalist about it, and inevitably distort many of the actual issues themselves.
When someone is looking for help to deal with an alcohol or drug problem, it is probably not that helpful to get involved in this debate itself.
There are however a significant number of people who have already decided that they don’t want anything to do with a 12 step program, and such seek some type of recovery that does not include it.
Non 12 Step Recovery
Any type of recovery that begins with the premise that it is not something else is perhaps slightly suspect, but is perfectly valid in the sense of trying to help people who are heading in a particular direction.
There are a number of treatment centers whose programs tend to be focused around a more holistic approach, the word holistic implying a rounded approach to recovery.
This approach will often include a number of different areas of help, including diet, yoga, meditation, therapy, exercise etc.
All these areas of recovery can be extremely helpful, if practiced professionally and correctly, and which in theory can benefit anyone, whether they are in recovery or not.
Whilst this type of recovery can be beneficial to anyone, it is more debatable whether it can genuinely help shift the nature of someone’s alcoholism and addiction.
Often in all types of medicine and approaches to illness and recovery, the phrase clinical evidence or evidence-based research is used to verify a particular type of treatment or not.
The intent is to make sure that any treatment for any illness is based on actual evidence and proof that the treatment works, and that such proof can be validated in clinical terms.
With regard to alcoholism and addiction this is very difficult, if not impossible to do.
AA itself keeps no records of membership, or any type of records about so-called success rate in terms of sobriety.
As such we can simply do not know how effective it is, in terms of short-term and long-term success rates
The same applies to virtually all treatment centres and non-step approaches to recovery.
Some rehabs will talk about a success rate in terms of percentages, but they are normally meaning how many people have actually physically stayed and completed their recovery program.
As such, assessing the most suitable approach to treatment can be quite a difficult thing.
Many people will simply go with the accepted wisdom of our age that Alcoholics Anonymous, and rehabs and treatment centers based program around it, offer the best hope of recovery.
There are others who are for whatever reason are ideologically opposed to the whole idea of 12-step recovery, and will look for any type of alternative recovery available.
Spirit of Recovery
The spirit of the early members of AA was very open in that they believed they did not have a monopoly on recovery, and genuinly encouraged people to try alternatives if they were not able to adhere to the principles of the AA program itself for any reason.
This was an authentic approach to recovery. These people knew that they had something that worked, but were also humble enough to know that there may well be other ways for people to heal their alcoholism and addiction as well.
The spirit of openness and looking for help whenever it may be has probably become much more marginalised in the recovery world today, where the different approaches to recovery have become more driven by ideology, rather than simply being driven by need.
Buddhism and the Smart Recovery Program are two good examples of this.