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Is 12-Step Enough for Substance Use Recovery?

One of the oldest, most popular, and highly effective approaches for recovering from substance use, or other behavioral addictions, is 12-step recovery. This method has proved to be so effective, that it is an evidenced based treatment, acknowledged by professional organizations. However, some question it's efficacy, or if it's enough as a standalone treatment. Is 12-step recovery enough?



This question does not have a simple answer, and it is not black and white. In fact, it may not be possible to answer without follow up questions. Perhaps the most important question is regarding mental health. Is 12-step recovery enough with co-occurring mental health? The answer is most likely no, though there are 12-step fellowships specifically for this population. While these individuals with co-occurring disorders may have personal experience in this area, it most likely involved professionals if they have successfully recovered. Even within these non-mental health integrated 12-step groups, we have lay-people treating mental health, as substance use is technically mental health. The difference is, there is much evidence to support fellowship based substance use recovery, but not mental health. Individuals may progress in mental health treatment in a group setting, but this would be conducted as formal group counseling, and moderated by a trained facilitator. 


Without mental health, we enter into a gray area with opinions on both sides of the aisle. Regardless as to the answer, individuals struggling with substance use may have different needs, such as a desire to make a career change, or some other existential crisis that a lay-person is not necessarily qualified to assist the individual in coping with. There may be barriers that the individual is facing, or they may need to be connected to resources. Trained helping professionals can identify barriers and help to facilitate their removal, or connect individuals to resources within the community.


Another area of contention is regarding 12-step recovery as the sole authority on recovery. Alternative approaches exist, such as SMART recovery. If these methods exist, it is likely that they are effective in some capacity. However, a common thread impacting all methods of recovery is a lack of motivation. This desire to change, coupled with a lack of effort, is a common issue for any change, substance use related or otherwise. Realistically, people that successfully change will take some degree action towards the change. Individuals that successfully make change will find what works for them and apply this effort in that area. However, change is not easy, and may require professional help.


Finally, is 12-step recovery stagnant? Some may believe that this approach is outdated and needs to change. However, in our experience, personal and professional, substance users want an easy fix, and they want to manipulate the work around them to suit themselves. Ironically, individuals will go to 12-step recovery or substance use treatment seeking help, but may choose not to listen. Behaviors such as these may shed some light on why substance use is so hard to treat. No other disease will convince you that you do not have it and should not listen to professional advice.


If you wish to learn more about professional services for substance use, connect with us on our Get Started page. We support your right to chose how you want to treat your substance use. If you agree with 12-step recovery, we are more than qualified to assist you with this in our approach. If not, we are happy to help you find other methods of recovering on your terms. So what are you waiting for, let's get started!