Pathways to Addiction Recovery?

Despite effectively supporting 1000’s of people to recovery over decades, 12-Steps methods don’t match the needs or beliefs of some individuals. So how do those people get the support they need?

More than ever before, in our increasingly secular society, people with substance use disorders are looking for alternatives to common 12-Step programmes.

Many people, and for as many diverse reasons probably, see the traditional Alcoholics Anonymous meetings (or NA / CA / etc) as inappropriate for them.

I can understand why people would think that way; general perceptions about the ‘secretive’ or ‘cultist’ nature of the ‘traditions’ can and do worry people. It’s sad but many of these perceptions are often perpetuated by the media and many misinformed members of our society. Additionally and too often, the evangelical marketing and parochialism of pathway dogma is also a significant barrier, for many in need of support. All of this has a profoundly negative impact upon long-term sustained recovery for many.

In the early part of 2018, the (American) Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment published research that said – some ‘alternative’ pathways are “as effective as 12-step programmes” however; despite the fact they can be equally effective, they aren’t the same. No two people seeking recovery are the same. Each person has a unique perspective, experience and recovery goal, so were is the logic that implies ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to selecting a support pathway?

Few people seem to realise there are indeed alternatives. Strangely, available clinical and psycho-social interventions are often, accidentally or intentionally, avoided. Alternative methods exist that are based on modern science and have had their efficacy proven, in randomised, controlled studies. Why do addiction services, some clinicians and elements of the criminal justice system still (almost exclusively) advocate the steps?

The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous: The 12 steps are so deeply ingrained in the United States that many people, including doctors and therapists, believe attending meetings, earning one’s sobriety chips, and never taking another sip of alcohol is the only way to get better. Hospitals, outpatient clinics, and rehab centres use the 12 steps as the basis for treatment. (

Recovery advocacy has a tendency to forget (or ignore) cultural and social differences that exist between the UK and the USA (see HERE). I’d be wrong to suggest 12-steps programmes don’t work, they do… but not for everybody.

So why are these programmes so prominent, when alternatives are available and importantly; why are people still pushed in specific directions? Is it not more about the person aiming to support someone but directing that support via their own desires, beliefs perceptions and self-interest. How can this be correct… if you have a genuine desire to help others find themselves?

To me it is clear and logical; individuals are far more likely to engage with any support structure that dovetails with their own individuality… and hopefully succeed in their recovery journey. Recovery is not about changing somebody by brainwashing and conditioning out their individuality!

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