“We need discernment in what we see and what we hear and what we believe.” – Charles R. Swindoll, Pastor and Founder of Insight for Living
[Note to Reader: Twenty-two years ago, I was “guided” to go straight from jail to a 12 Step meeting in Tampa, Florida. In AA, I learned that over half of the members found the 12 step program through treatment. I recently began wanting to know more about treatment and what made it different from or similar to 12 Step recovery. After doing an online “deep dive” into what distinguishes addiction treatment from 12 Steps programs, I began writing up what I found. Some of my discoveries are in “Part One” of this blog-post (see Archives), and here in “Part Two,” I’ll share more of what I uncovered.]
According to NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, “several general types or modalities” of addiction treatment are currently being used by treatment centers across the country (i.e., after the typical “detox” stage, which may include medically managed withdrawal, when found necessary): long-term residential treatment, short-term residential treatment, outpatient treatment programs, individualized drug counseling and group counseling.
And within each of these different types of addiction treatment, there are distinctly different therapeutic modalities, beliefs about addiction and the recovery process, highly structured processes and activities, medical regiments, etc. These all seemed to be aimed at addressing both the individual’s addiction and his or her “social and psychological deficits… (with a) focus on developing personal accountability and responsibility, as well as socially productive lives.”
Now, while substance abuse treatment offers a more comprehensive scope of recovery than 12 Steps programs do, what I found to be of particular significance is the following: Treatment programs seem to be generally split between those that incorporate 12 Steps in their approach to treatment, and those that do not.
What, then, are some of the features that differentiate these two groups of treatment programs?
- Non-12 Steps treatment is secular (i.e., “worldly”), whereas 12 Steps recovery involves “spirituality.” (That is, non-12 Steps addiction treatment doesn’t require or recommend the adoption or following of any “spiritual principles” or “higher power,” whereas treatment that utilizes the 12 Steps suggests it. It’s important to note, however, 12 Steps fellowships emphasize they’re not religious, but spiritual in nature.)
- Addiction treatment programs that do not use the 12 Steps focus on different principles (i.e., ones less likely to be viewed as “spiritual”), such as motivation, personal responsibility and striving to establish and maintain balance, wellness and regular participation. In treatment programs that incorporate the 12 Steps into their therapeutic modalities, emphasis is placed on practicing and “living” the spiritual principles behind or embedded within the 12 Steps.
- One aim of 12 Steps-based treatment is to encourage the alcoholic/addict to turn control over to “a higher power of their understanding” and to provide a “spiritual awakening” to the person practicing the 12 Steps; whereas non-12 Steps treatment programs stress self-reliance and one’s personal responsibility, believing that, with proper peer support and effective modes of therapy, people have the ability to develop control over their addictions themselves.
The bottom line is that, whatever the type of addiction treatment program one is evaluating, at its core, “treatment” is synonymous with providing various forms of therapy, including counseling, to address a person’s substance abuse, whereas 12 Steps programs do not. But if a treatment program incorporates the 12 Steps, in my mind at least, it’s utilizing the best of both worlds: secular and spiritual.