Why 12 Step Programs Don’t Work

Why 12 Step Programs Don’t Work

Why 12 Step Programs Don’t Work

If you were suffering from cancer, chemotherapy didn’t work, and your physician decided it failed because you didn’t try hard enough, you’d start looking for a new doctor — and treatment — right away. Unfortunately, 12-step supporters believe much the same dogma. Here is why 12 step programs don’t work for a large portion of recovering addicts.

The 12-Step Dogma

Addiction researcher Dr. Adi Jaffe used the above example to illustrate the fallacy behind the dogma of decades-old 12-step programming. Jaffe also notes that 12-step education hasn’t been updated since 1939, and its supporters “cling to a book written decades ago” instead of acknowledging important new treatment techniques — and shouldn’t addiction medicine modernize as new techniques become available?

Jaffe believes successful drug and alcohol rehab programs incorporate a large degree of flexibility when treating the recovering addict. Some addicts may respond to Cognitive Behavioral therapy, while others may respond to Contingency Management, pharmacological treatments, or Motivational Interviewing. The point? Addiction relapse rates, according to Jaffe, rest at between 50 and 60 percent — and when a relapse occurs, trying a new therapeutic approach may be the wisest choice.

Making a Commitment to Sobriety

Supporters often believe that those who fall off the wagon while participating in the 12-step process were never fully committed to the program to begin with. Although some 12-steppers never follow through with the program’s requirements — such as partnering with a sponsor — others may fear the program’s religious reputation or the sometimes-too-large or contentious group “therapy” environment. Unfortunately, rather than acknowledging the 12-step program might not be one individual’s path to sobriety, 12-step supporters generally prefer blaming the victim — in this case, the addict.

Holistic Addiction Treatment

The rigidity of the 12-step program and the blame-the-addict attitude for “failure” sets many addiction professionals’ proverbial teeth on edge. Instead of forcing one method of treatment, these professionals believe, why not simply customize a program for each individual? Holistic addiction treatment not only addresses the physical symptoms of addiction, it also rehabilitates the root causes of the problem behavior. Once root causes are addressed, modern addiction medicine professionals believe the corresponding motivation to self-destruct diminishes.

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Posted on August 6th, 2013 in Blog


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