What’s the difference between 12-step drug treatment programs and other drug treatment programs?

Guest post today from John Daily:

What is the difference in drug treatment programs, and what is the best type of drug rehab available? This is a common question for people researching drug treatment for a loved one or who have an addiction problem themselves.

Two fundamental differences that separate drug rehabs are “The 12 steps” and the “Non-12 Step.” Following are the main differences between the two types of drug treatment programs, and why one is better than the other.

According to the General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 2007, there were 1,867,212 members of the 12-step groups and 106,202 12-step groups, which includes both inpatient and outpatient drug treatment centers. That means the majority of the drug rehabs in the US use the 12-step programs. Although it is great to see so many rehabs available for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, their success rate is very low; somewhere around 5-10 percent.

The reason is the 12-step programs teach that addiction is an incurable disease. They also teach that “once an addict, always an addict”, and that relapse is a part of recovery. This is a dangerous philosophy that victimizes the addicted individual and does not allow him to take full responsibility and understand why he turned to drugs in the first place.

A non-12-step drug rehab center offers a much more common-sense approach in dealing with drug addiction. They don’t teach that addiction is a disease; rather they teach that it is a learned behavior. They don’t accept relapse as a part of recovery. And they teach that you can overcome your addiction and live a happy, healthy life without drugs and alcohol. During treatment, the focus is on health, and counseling to learn why a person did drugs in the first place, along with life skills to teach the person how to live life without drugs.

This type of drug rehab is also long-term which allows for the person to separate himself from his drug-using environment. Most of the non-12-step drug rehabs have a 70-80 percent success rate; much higher than the 12-step drug treatment programs.

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11 Responses to What’s the difference between 12-step drug treatment programs and other drug treatment programs?

  1. Gio Novem April 19, 2010 at 12:09 am #

    The patients are expected to go through the program with a sense of responsibility through the twelve-step process. The patients are to actively participate in all the meetings in a setting with supportive structure. The patients participate in these programs that offer information and are quite educative.

  2. Carol November 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    I did go through a 12 step rehab and recovery program and am doing well. However, I have a family member who is interested in the non 12 step approach. So far my research has turned up only positive information on this method of treatment. I find it very encouraging that there is an alternative. As you pointed out, there are those who just do not do well in AA.
    I find the success rate statistics encouraging and wonder if you might share your source. I have googled unsuccessfully for this information so it would be a great help if you would direct me to the proper site.
    Thank you so much.

  3. Jere Matlock November 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm #

    The best site to learn about the non-12-step approach to drug rehab and recovery is http://www.narconon.org. You can also go to http://www.stopaddiction.com.

    Here are some specific links within the Narconon site that explain the program in some detail. I’ve been a friend of Narconon since 1972, when I first heard about it and stopped by their LA office. They’ve been doing good work that I can personally recommend, for over 40 years.



    For a drug rehab expert’s opinion on the Narconon program see this page:


  4. frank jones January 27, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

    I am not sure where you get your information about Aa but you are not describing AA as I know it to be. Relapse was never apart of AA. Many people do relapse and are welcomed back into AA but I have never relapsed. I have learned to be a useful person again and was taught in AA that I am responsible for everything I did drinking and everything I do sober.If you have ever truly worked the 12 steps you would realize that they help us to understand what made us turn to drinking and how to avoide it. It sounds like your just trying to push your opinion on the reader. AA isnt for everyone thats very ture but please dont distort what AA is.

  5. Jere Matlock January 27, 2011 at 5:51 pm #

    Hi, Frank –

    Thanks for chiming in. The info I had is from people I know who have gone through AA — and relapsed. I’m glad that you haven’t.

    One of the points I was trying to make is that in AA (and other 12-step programs), you are always considered an addict, even if it’s been 20 years since you had a drink. This is an “effect” viewpoint. The addict will always be the effect of his or her addiction.

    In other treatment programs (such as the Narconon program I mentioned) the addiction is eradicated — the graduate is not an addict any longer, upon completion of the program.

    It’s a big difference.

  6. michael coleman August 18, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    The lie is dead: that old theme once an addict always an addict will not be tolerated anymore by society or the individual.

  7. Jere Matlock August 18, 2011 at 9:19 am #

    Not sure what you mean by this, Michael. Care you explain?

  8. Pamela March 17, 2012 at 9:45 am #

    I researched Narconon for several years as well as other 12 step programs. My son abused drugs for years. It concerned me a bit the connection to Scientology and it was also mentioned to me that in a 12 step program there were support groups everywhere. I ended up putting my son in a 12 step long term inhouse program even though the concept of constantly giving your self the negative self afirmation of “hi, I’m so & so and I’m an addict” for the rest of your life never resognated well with me. It never felt right the concept of alchohol/drug addiction being a disease. He went through the program and into a soberhouse where relapse happened right away even though my son actually seemed to enjoy going to meetings. After the addiction got MUCH worse and almost losing him several times with heroin addiction I decided the last ditch try was Narconon. He is actually learning new life skills The difference is amazing. 12 step programs work for many but if it doesnt resignate well within you or your love one I highly encourage you to check out Narconon.

  9. Robert James February 19, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    Your characterization of 12 step programs is way off the mark. It also appears that your analysis and experience with them is based on what ? i`m a little confused ,and could be wrong ,but it seems like this is based on what some people told you ? Anyhoo pretty sketchy sounding.

    What people would “like” to believe about addiction and the reality of addiction are two completely unaligned perspectives. There`s a reason most facilities , as well as well-respected associations such as the American Medical Association recognize addiction as a disease. It isn`t to victimize people , on the contrary , its to give them the best tools and fighting chance they have to deal with the phenomena of addiction.

    I`m not going to belabor the point here but suffice it to say if you take a long term alcoholic , “cure” him of alcoholism and then give him a bottle of booze to drink , you going to be rudely introduced to the phenomena of addiction and why a “cure” is [ in the vast majority of cases] a pipe dream. I think you`ll find it works the same way for most addicts. A “cure” suggests a return to the same state as anybody else, which in turn would suggest the individual could then use substances in a controlled way as a “normal” person would. This has been disproven a million times over ,and with deadly results.

    In closing, the idea that 12 step or the disease model “does not allow him to take full responsibility and understand why he turned to drugs in the first place” is so far removed from the reality of the how approach works – its almost the opposite . The 12 steps themselves , and the working of them , directly steer the individual through this understanding and responsibility.

    Putting the success or failure on the effectiveness of 12 step just isn`t measurable , as the degree to which any given addict or alcoholic practices and “lives” whatever method of recovery they choose and their degree of “willingness” just isnt quantifiable.

  10. Jere Matlock February 19, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    Hi, Robert —

    Thanks for responding. If it sounds sketchy, I hope I am stretching your reality a bit. I couldn’t disagree with your viewpoint more than I do.

    I am very familiar with the reality of addiction. I was an addict. My parents were alcoholics. My sister-in-law died of a heroin overdose at 18. My oldest sister, a drug dealer, died at 40, my youngest daughter’s boyfriend died of a heroin overdose at 17. One of my sisters is an addict now. So I’m not coming at this subject from an ivory tower.

    My experience in drug addiction is that I was a drug addict at one point in my life. I am no longer a drug addict. I haven’t had any drugs for over 40 years (other than medical prescriptions for emergency health situations). I am not taking any drugs now. I have no urge to take drugs, and only take the medical drugs when it is an actual emergency. I’m not opposed to medical drugs or painkillers when needed — I’ve used them and stopped using them since being a drug addict many years ago, without any problems. If I had gone the route of the 12-step programs, I would still be attending meetings saying, “Hi, I’m Jere, and I’m an addict.” Which isn’t true. So “once an addict, always an addict” is not true in my case and I strongly suspect it is not true in ALL cases. If addiction is a disease (which I do not stipulate) then it should be curable.

    What I did to become clean and sober years ago was essentially what the Narconon drug rehab program does now: withdrawal, a sauna purification program to get rid of the drug residues built up in the fatty tissues of the body from drug abuse, a vitamin and good healthy food regimen, and the various courses that they do on the Narconon program to teach life skills. Plus lots of one-on-one counseling on how to apply what I’d learned. With all that under my belt, I was no longer an addict.

    About 70%-75% of those completing the Narconon program remain clean and sober for at least two years afterward. Most of them never do drugs again. Which is a lot more than one can say for the typical recidivism rate (95%?) of a 28-day “rehab” program. The Narconon program works for alcoholics, tweakers, speed freaks, crackheads, heroin addicts or people stuck on Oxycontin pain relievers — the whole gamut of drug abusers.

    I know many drug rehab intake counselors personally and have discussed all this with them. I work on many drug rehab websites because I want to help get people off drugs.

    The statistic to quantify is the recidivism rate. 28-day programs that lead to 12-step programs have horrible recidivism rates. Either they get people off drugs permanently or they don’t. Mostly, they don’t. There are occasional successes: My niece went through a 28-day program and is involved in a 12-step program, and it turned her life around.

    So that’s my view, as an ex-addict. And plenty of Narconon graduates agree with me. I recommend you watch some of the testimonial videos on the Narconon website: Here’s one: http://www.narconon.org/drug-rehab/centers/vista-bay-testimony-jeremy.html


  1. anonymous female - April 14, 2010

    I need the best drug rehab clinic in iowa, i just got paid for my accident and the insurance will cover it? | Rehab Centers Network

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