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What Options Are Available When AA Doesn’t Work

Tim Sonnet

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, MFT

May 30, 2019

Article Contents

Alternatives To AA

Article Contents

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) works for many people. But some simply need a different approach to healing. Known as the kingpin of substance abuse recovery programs, AA has been used by millions to kick their substance abuse habits.  But what about those who prefer a different approach. Do non 12 step drug rehab treatment methods work? Yes, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment.

After studying a myriad of different non 12 step drug recovery programs, the researchers concluded that many do work, but that their differences need to be considered when recommending them to patients.  Without commitment and a cohesive plan that includes support and accountability (plus the ability to work through the problems that led to the addiction), no therapy option is going to work. Still, that does not mean that everyone will benefit from the same program. Some people need something a bit more tailored to their own circumstances.

Every addiction (and its underlying cause) is unique, which sometimes means taking a different approach toward healing. When faced with the need to look beyond AA for help, many people struggle with knowing what treatment options are available. For those seeking a different approach to recovery, there are plenty of non 12 step alcohol treatment programs that work – even when AA doesn’t.

Non 12 Step Recovery Using a More Holistic Approach

Understanding that a person is not defined by their addiction, is an important step to getting the kind of specialized help that treats the whole person. This involves working to identify the underlying cause of the behavior, and break it by combining traditional behavioral therapies with holistic ones that promote a healthy active mind, body, and soul.

Don’t be satisfied to simply look for reasons for addictive behavior and work to break those habits with individual and group counseling, a holistic approach goes a step further and works toward complete healing. After all, a sick body is not capable of warding off disease – even ones created by drug and alcohol abuse.

The same is true for the spirit. When emotional scars break the spirit, addiction often results. But, when the recovery process includes ways to soothe those feelings and heal those hurts on a cellular level, the patient is better equipped to break free from his or her addictions.

Using a combined approach which integrates nutrition, exercise, yoga, meditation and other stress-relieving activities with more traditional addiction counseling, many inpatient rehab programsstrive to serve its patients by incorporating a whole-body approach to their treatment; offering strategies for beating stress; boosting immunities; and bolstering self-esteem.

So, what non-12 step drug rehaboptions are available for those who have tried AA and found it tackling something they needed to succeed? Here are just a few options that may be available at the inpatient rehab programs being considered:

Clinical Practices

Evidence-Based Clinical Practices

The cornerstone of almost every treatment plan, evidence-based clinical therapy options like Group Therapy, Individual Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, CBT/DBT/REBT-based Educational assignments (Cognitive, Dialectical and Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapies), Crisis Intervention, and Family Counseling have all proven successful in treating addiction. Each therapy style offers a different approach, geared toward individuals and their underlying cause for the addiction. That is why it is important to use them when recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. But that does not mean that every therapy will work for every patient. By choosing the type of therapy best suited to the individual patient, those who have fallen victim to addictive behavior can discover their triggers and find solid solution strategies for overcoming them.

Holistic Healing

When it comes to healing both mind and body, a more holistic approach has proven to be successful for centuries.  The art of Traditional Chinese Medicine is just one approach that people have turned to for relief of everything from a basic headache to curing cancer. While once considered out-of-the-norm, these holistic treatments are becoming more and more popular these days – especially in regard to drug and alcohol addiction. By concentrating less on the disease and more on the whole person, these types of non-traditional therapies help refocus the healing process on what’s happening throughout the client’s body, mind and spirit to help them better manage their addiction and find complete healing. 

When it comes to taking a more total-body (and natural) approach to drug treatment, there are a number of options available to patients including both the simplest forms of help to more intense ones.  Not sure what is available? Here are a few of the most common options those facing addiction rehabilitation may want to consider:

The Nutrition Factor

Drug and alcohol addiction wreak havoc on every system in the body. Add to that the fact that most people in the throes of addiction starve their bodies of important vitamins and minerals it needs to thrive. This coupled with a bombardment of chemicals, and every cell in the human body begins to break down. This can lead to all sorts of chronic conditions and disease.

This is why fixing a bad diet is vital when it comes to treating the whole person. When the body is out-of-whack it can seem impossible to heal — and it is. But, give the body what it needs, and real healing is possible. This doesn’t stop with learning how to eat right. It also includes an integrated approach to rebalancing minerals, chemicals, and hormones. This begins by developing a good nutritional plan that is filled with healthy foods that are geared toward internal healing. This includes a basic education on the importance of healthy eating as well as an overview of the types of vitamins and minerals the body needs to thrive. By learning how to eat properly, the patient can begin to take control of their health and wellness.

Body Rejuvenation Therapy

All-too-often addiction strips the body of the vital vitamins and minerals it needs to work properly.  Replenishing this supply is essential to good health as well as the overall healing process.  An all-natural approach to restoring  the proper mix of vitamins and  minerals to cells so they can work at peak capacity, body rejuvenation therapy is a way to regulate a clients’ mood; reverse feelings of depression and anxiety; relieve stress; regulate hormones; and restore the body’s natural ability to produce the right amounts of serotonin and dopamine. This is done by replenishing cellular deficiencies through a process called Biochemical Imbalance Repair which uses individualized supplements to feed a client’s cells and organs with minerals that have been lost during the addiction.

Body Rejuvenation Therapy

Mindfulness Matters

Living in the moment can seem impossible in this fast-paced world. When drugs and alcohol are added to the mix, emotions and feelings can run rampant, causing cloudy thinking and poor decisions. But, when a patient is able to find ways to stay present in the here and now, and enjoy the moment, they can find a sense of peace and calmness that an only aids in their recovery.  But how can someone who has always relied on drugs and alcohol to find a sense of peace do it on their own? Here are a few strategies that can be helpful:

Meditation: A good way to fend off drug cravings and sooth those inner demons is by practicing meditation. Offering a way to relax and experience true calmness, meditation helps clients find peace and inner tolerance in a nonjudgmental manner.

Prayer: It does not matter whether the patient is religious or not, having the ability to turn

Breathing: The way you breathe can have an impact on how you feel. Learning how to use specific deep breathing exercises can be calming, allowing the patient to focus on the process of healing in a safe and effective manner.

Yoga: Addiction is the result of an imbalance in the body, of which yoga is able to fix.  Used for centuries to help focus and balance both body and spirit, yoga offers a relaxing way for those undergoing addiction recovery to quiet the mind and replace feelings of helplessness into confidence and strength.  Often used in conjunction with deep breathing and meditation, yoga helps the patient center themselves in order to concentrate on the task at hand.

Massage: Those in the process of breaking their addictive behaviors often harbor a lot of stress. The toll detoxification can take on the body can also be difficult to manage. Massage is a powerful way to soothe a chaotic mind and heal a broken body. Offering the therapeutic power of touch, massage therapy helps boost circulation, decrease tensions and soothe the aches and pains associated with detoxing substances from the body.

Aromatherapy:  A centuries-old therapy option that uses vaporized essential oils to relieve stress and offer a calming environment in which to heal. Commonly used during the detoxification process as well as meditation and other activities, aromatherapy offers yet another complementary therapy to help augment the journey of addiction healing. Its benefits include:

  •  Alleviating withdrawal symptoms
  • Offering mental clarity
  • Stress relief
  • Better sleep
  • Overall relaxation

Art & Music Therapy

Not every patient is able to express themselves verbally with a counselor. For those who find sharing their feelings difficult, music and art therapy can help. Aimed at providing a safe and non-judgmental way for clients to open up and express themselves, facing some of the issues which drove them toward their addictive behaviors in the first place.


A cornerstone of addiction therapy, exercise offers patients the ability to strengthen their bodies while also finding new ways to feel good about themselves internally. From the simplest activity like walking to more strenuous hard-core activities like Cross-Fit, using a variety of forms of exercise to augment therapy helps patients build self-esteem while also rebalancing their inner and outer beings while rebuilding their bodies for a stronger self.

Adventure and Experiential Therapy

Adventure and Experiential Therapy

Those who find themselves thrust in the middle of a drug or alcohol addiction often discover that they have lost sight of anything beyond themselves. But, by reentering the world and experiencing nature at its fullest, patients begin to refocus their thoughts and change their actions in a calmer manner. Adventure and Experiential Therapy takes the patient out into the natural world to discover the calming splendor it has to offer. This can include long hikes in the woods, rock climbing, surfing, or any other activity done outdoors.  By exerting themselves in a natural environment, patients learn how to process stress and fill their leisure time more productivity while also enjoying the outdoors in a new and interesting way.

If there is one thing to be learned from the non 12 step alcohol treatment options available these days is the fact that there is no one-way solution to getting and staying free from a drug or alcohol dependence. The healing process can take a lot of different avenues, and the journey each individual take depends a great deal on their own circumstances, personality and comfort level. The key to attaining success is finding the program that is the right fit for each individual patient.

This page does not provide medical advice.
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Tim Sonnet

Medically reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, MFT

May 30, 2019

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