If you’ve been researching addiction treatment options, then you probably already know that 12 Step-based care is the prevailing model in the industry today.

According to American Addiction Centers, approximately 74% of United States treatment centers are 12 Step based, leaving 26% Non 12 Step.

While there are a growing number of alternatives available, for many 12 Step based rehabs are still most convenient and cost-effective. So, why might you look elsewhere?

The History of the 12 Steps and Why It Matters

In case you aren’t familiar with the program’s history, the 12 Steps are a set of spiritual principles designed by Bill Wilson, who co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935.

When the 12 Steps were created, little was known about the science  of addiction. Since then, our understanding of addiction has grown thanks to myriad advances in modern psychology and neuroscience.

For example, we now know that most addictions involve a dual diagnosis: a mental health concern coupled with substance abuse.

But in 1935, many considered addiction a moral failing, pure and simple. There was no cohesive psychological or psychiatric care for individuals with a dual diagnosis.

In this context, 12 Step groups were a watershed. For decades they were the only accessible, humane option for addiction treatment.

What Has Changed in the Last Century

Today, however, the situation has changed. Cohesive, integrated treatment for both mental health and substance abuse is now available.

While 12 Step groups done a lot of good for a lot of people, they are not the same as professional mental health treatment.

The 12 Steps were created as a community-based spiritual support program to provide accountability for people struggling with substance addiction.

They were not designed to treat clinical depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or related issues.

What Non 12 Step Programs Have to Offer

Let’s make this clear upfront: not all non 12 Step recovery programs are created equal. There are a wide variety of programs and treatment modalities out there, some of which are much more effective than others.

Yet it’s also true that Non 12 Step programs can offer you a better chance of receiving true dual diagnosis addiction treatment.
By that we mean addiction treatment that effectively addresses the underlying mental health concern along with the substance abuse.

In order to claim dual diagnosis treatment with integrity, the program must provide substantive, high-quality professional mental health supports.

What to Look for in a Non 12 Step Program

Ideally, a non 12 Step program will feature a significant amount of one-on-one counseling as well as in-depth, professionally led small group therapy.

It will utilize an effective, evidence-based counseling strategies such as Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), Gestalt Therapy, and Developmental Psychology, among others.

It will have a person-centered approach, empowering individuals to address their unresolved physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual issues.

Most of all, it will focus on helping people to heal the underlying core issues that drive substance use in a compassionate, safe, and respectful environment.

When to Be Wary

Be wary of programs that don’t list the number of counseling hours they provide, or rehabs that substitute AA or NA meetings for professional therapeutic hours.

Groups such as AA and NA have always been free and volunteer-led, so the fact that they’re packaged as part of professional rehab services is problematic.

When we spoke with New York Times bestselling author and journalist Maia Szalavitz in a recent interview, she said:

“Some people really do find fabulous meaning and purpose in [the 12 Steps] and we should not discourage that … [but] it shouldn’t be sold to people as professional health care. [When you do that], you are also violating the program’s own traditions by paying for something that should be voluntary service.”

Seek a Program that’s a Good Fit for You

If you’re dealing with a dual diagnosis, take the time to research 12 Step Alternative treatment options. Seek out a program that will address your mental health concern with concrete, measurable, professional supports.

Don’t settle for vague assurances; ask to see real schedules and daily details. If something feels off, trust your gut and look elsewhere.

This is your time, your life, your recovery. Spend it wisely.