The Ultimate Guide: Non-12-Step Rehab vs 12-Step Program

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Ultimate Guide To Non 12 Step Rehabs & Recovery

Addiction is not a one-size-fits-all problem. Yet most people only know of one way to overcome addiction: the 12 Steps. Many people can’t even name any Non 12 Step rehabs or support groups that offer an alternative to this philosophy. 


This is unfortunate because while 12 Step programs have been a lifeline out of addiction for many people, it doesn’t work for everyone. 


In fact, there is more and more emerging evidence that Non 12 Step rehabs are as effective as 12 Step programs. 


We put together this detailed guide to give an in-depth look at everything you need to know about Non 12 Step programs – from why 12 Step may not have worked for you to lists of accredited Non 12 Step rehabs and support groups. 


By providing you with the knowledge, we hope to give you the confidence to choose the right recovery path for you. 

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Non 12 Step Recovery Table of Contents:

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What Are Non 12 Step Programs?

Non 12 Step programs include any kind of treatment model that does not adhere to the rules of the 12 Steps (the philosophy originally created for Alcoholics Anonymous). 


To be fair, this doesn’t define Non 12 Step very well.


If something is a “non” something, it doesn’t really make it a “something.”


For example, if I tell you I’m a non-accountant, does not really tell you anything about my actual job? 


For this reason, the pool of treatment models under the umbrella term “Non 12 Step” are drastically different from one another. Some are non-religious. Some are based in experiential learning. Others are focused on maintaining moderation, not full abstinence.


With relapse rates estimated to be 40-60% following treatment, it’s essential that you do your research to choose the treatment option that most closely aligns with your core beliefs about life, addiction and your unique personality.

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Intro to the Non 12 Step World

Welcome to the wonderful world of Non 12 Step! When it comes to ‘Non 12 Step’, it can mean a lot of different things. From treatment centers to support groups, there are many ways to incorporate Non 12 Step into your life.


Read on for an in-depth guide to all things Non 12 Step.

Non 12 Step Support Groups

There are quite a few alternatives to AA meetings available, with more popping up all the time.


Rather than rehashing their failures or focusing solely on their addiction, most Non 12 Step meetings look at one’s present situation and how they’re doing now (emotionally, physically, and mentally). There are also no sponsor-like relationships in most Non 12 Step support groups.


At the end of the day, these groups fulfill one of the most important aspects in overcoming addiction: connection. By connecting with others in a meaningful way, these group members now have a support system behind them in their journey, which is invaluable.


While you won’t find as wide of a network as AA, you instead have the option to find the support group that will be most helpful for you. Whether that’s finding a women’s only group or a moderation-focused group, you now have the ability to customize your group experience.

women's group

For people who want a large non 12 step community

SMART Recovery

One of the most popular alternatives to 12 Step approaches is SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) Recovery.


SMART Recovery has gained a loyal following for their community-based approach. Much like AA, SMART Recovery has meetings around the world (roughly 3,500 meetings weekly). But this is where the comparison to AA ends.


SMART Recovery’s Philosophy


SMART Recovery’s philosophy is scientifically-based and focused on teaching coping skills that work well short- and long-term. They do not use labels like “addict” or “alcoholic” because they do not believe addiction is a disease (though they allow their members to believe this if they wish).


Perhaps the biggest difference from 12 Step is that SMART Recovery does not incorporate religion or spirituality into their program. 


What Does a Meeting Look Like?


SMART Recovery meetings are focused on teaching tools that the participant can use to lead a more balanced and connected life. They specifically focus on the future; as their website says, they “don’t dredge up the past, about which we can do nothing.”  This statement shows how they wish to differentiate themselves from the AA model, which puts a significant focus on past actions (like, for example, Step 8 in the 12 Steps: We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.)


These meetings are led by SMART Recovery-trained facilitators. The facilitator does not need to have struggled with an addiction previously to be part of the organization. 

Moderation Management (MM)

Moderation Management may be the biggest outlier out of any of the popular Non 12 Step Treatments. 


The factor that separates MM from the other programs is that MM is not abstinence-based.


Moderation Management’s™ Philosophy


Instead, MM members have more flexibility to determine what’s best for their specific situation. While MM works only with people struggling with alcohol, their members can set their own drinking goals to what feels appropriate for them. 


MM states that many of their members (about 30%) actually do end up choosing to be abstinent from alcohol, but MM was the training wheel they needed to get to that point. 


What Does an MM Meeting Look Like? 


If a member does decide they want a more structured approach to lessening their drinking, MM has a program in place:

1) You do not drink any alcohol for 30 days.


2) After 30 days, you may slowly reintroduce alcohol with a few limits:

  • Men can drink no more than 14 drinks a week
  • Women can drink no more than 9 drinks a week
  • No drinking for more than 3 or 4 days for either


MM is viewed by many as a stepping stone to determining your drinking problem – if you have a moderate drinking problem, you may be able to manage it through MM. If your drinking habit has gotten to the point where you can’t safely moderate it, you may likely need to seek clinical help. 

For people who want to manage their drinking

For women who want to heal around other women

Women For Sobriety

As apparent by its name, Women For Sobriety is an organization dedicated to helping women overcome alcohol or drug addiction.


Women For Sobriety was created specifically as an alternative to AA in 1976. The organization wanted to separate itself by designing a healing plan that addresses the special needs women have in recovery, like the need to nurture feelings of self-value and self-worth


Women For Sobriety’s Philosophy


Additionally, Women For Sobriety is a secular recovery program; rather than needing a Higher Power, the organization teaches that a woman can heal herself through her own mind. They also do not adhere to the idea of being powerless over one’s addiction. Instead, they focus on reducing guilt and shame as they rebuild their self-confidence.


What Does a Meeting Look Like? 


Adhering to an abstinence-model, Women For Sobriety holds support group meetings. In these meetings, each woman introduces herself by saying, “My name is ____ and I am a competent woman.” 

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Proudly offering an alternative to 12 Step in the Pacific Northwest

LifeRing Secular Recovery

One of the biggest differing factors of LifeRing from other Non 12 Step recovery groups is that they don’t have a prescribed protocol for achieving sobriety. While they offer a workbook and use their meetings to help guide an individual, the individual creates their own recovery plan.


LifeRing Secular Recovery’s Philosophy


LifeRing welcomes people struggling with any drug into its support groups. They also focus on the present rather than the past. In meetings, they focus on everyone’s past week, while discouraging personal drug histories.


What Does a Meeting Look Like?


While its programming is very different from AA, LifeRing Secular Recovery’s structure is quite similar. 


For example, LifeRing is an abstinence-based support group that has “ordinary people in recovery” lead their weekly meetings. While meetings are confidential, LifeRing does allow its members to reveal identifying factors if that will help in their recovery.


However, what is discussed in meetings is far removed from the 12 Steps. LifeRing believes the power to become sober lies in oneself (what they refer to as “the sober self.”) This means that a person does not need to believe in a higher power to become sober. 

For people who want a personalized recovery plan

Non 12 Step Rehabs

As we’ve mentioned, just because two rehabs are both “Non 12 Step” does not mean they are the same program. Oftentimes, there are some components that Non 12 Step programs will share, such as using an evidence-based treatment approach and incorporating some level of holistic practices into their program.


From there, however, the programs can differ greatly. For example, some Non 12 Step rehabs view addiction as a disease – some do not. Some incorporate faith, most do not. 


As you’re looking into Non 12 Step programs, here are a few things to keep an eye out for:


  • Programs that say they’re Non 12 Step, but then in the fine print they say they also integrate 12 Step meetings into their program.


  • Or a treatment program that has a page written about Non 12 Step, but then when you look through their website, they never really say what their treatment philosophy actually is.


  • Others still offer both 12 Step and Non 12 Step programs – they say they personalize the treatment to what the client wants. In these instances, make sure to ask many questions about the care provided in a Non 12 Step program.


For example, what would replace the 12 Step meetings the other clients are going to? Do they have therapists trained in a Non 12 Step methodology? If you don’t believe in addiction being a disease, will they support you in looking at addiction from another perspective?


While we don’t give an exhaustive list below, we tried to highlight the well-known Non 12 Step rehabs, as well as any Non 12 Step rehabs that offer a unique approach. 

things to look out for in non 12 step rehabs

For people who want to learn practical tools to overcome addiction

Avive la Vie

At Avive la Vie, your recovery journey is focused on healing the root cause of your addiction. The staff teaches their clients practical life skills to use when they feel triggered.


Clients get the opportunity to practice these self-regulation tools throughout their stay at the residential treatment program.


Avive la Vie teaches these skills through their innovative primary treatment modality, Experiential Engagement Therapy (EET). EET is based on the idea that humans learn better by doing than by getting a lecture (or sitting in an AA meeting). By being an active participant in their healing process, Avive la Vie’s clients retain lifelong skills to create long-term change in their lives.

Bayside Marin

*If your insurance is in-network with Bayside Marin. 


Bayside Marin’s highlightable feature is that it is in-network with many of the major insurance companies (Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield, HMSA, Regence, Kaiser Permanente, and more).


Bayside Marin offers a 5-phase addiction treatment model to help their clients change their lives. Clients attend sessions and exercises related to each of the five phases (Incentive, Awareness, Support, Vigilance, Preparation), and are given five assignments that they are asked to complete before finishing their program. Each phase is personalized for each individual client and they are allowed to go through them at their own pace.


Location: San Rafael, California


Maximum number of clients at a time: 30

For people who want to use in network insurance

Insurance Explanation

*A quick insurance tutorial if you’re not sure what “in-network” means: 


Typically an insurance company has two rates –


1. In-network rate

These in-network programs have contracts with insurance companies and have agreed to accept discounted rates


2. Out-of-network rate

The programs do not have contracts with insurance companies for these discounted rates


In-network rates are typically less expensive than out-of-network rates. This means less of an out-of-pocket payment for treatment.


You often give up the intimate, personalized experience of a small program if you decide to go to a larger, in-network program. However, for those whose pocketbooks are stretched thin, this can be a good option if you want to explore an in-network Non 12 Step rehab.

for people who want a mindfulness centered approach

Kiloby Center

Mindfulness has continued to gain steam as an essential part of maintaining a healthy, balanced life. While many treatment centers have added mindfulness to their rosters, Kiloby Center makes it their focus.


The Kiloby Center helps their clients live in the present moment. They help them move away from what they call the “Velcro Effect” – one’s thoughts being stuck together with emotions and sensations.


They work with people struggling with addiction or other mental health issues, such as anxiety, phobias, and depression, as well as any relationship issues.


Location: Rancho Mirage, California


Maximum number of clients at a time: 6

St. Gregory Recovery Center

People of faith who disagree with 12 Step programs are in a particularly tough situation. If they don’t want to go to a 12 Step program, but still want faith front and center in their program, they have pretty limited options.


Enter St. Gregory, a rehab that utilities Catholic-based aspects in their programming (though they are not officially affiliated with the Catholic church.)


By using their Virtuous Life program, they explore seven virtues (faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) to help their clients transform their lives.


Location: Bayard, Iowa


Maximum number of clients at a time: 50

for people who want a faith-based non 12 step approach

for people who want to heal in California

Passages Malibu

Passages is one of the most well-known Non 12 Step residential treatment centers. Known for catering to celebrities, Passages offers the ultimate luxury when it comes to treatment. 


In addition to their amenities, Passages also offers a holistic treatment plan. They do not believe in labeling a person as an addict, and they also do not view addiction as a disease.


Location: Malibu, California


Maximum number of clients at a time: 30 

Bayshore Retreat

If you start perusing rehabs, you’ll notice that the lion’s share are in California. If someone is from the East Coast, for example, they may want to stay a little closer to home.


That’s where Bayshore Retreat comes in. Located in Florida, it’s more accessible for some eastern-dwelling folks. 


Bayshore Retreat program is focused on a holistic approach – they believe addiction affects all aspects of a person, so they want to incorporate all aspects of healing. Their program also does not rely on a higher power to achieve one’s sobriety.


Location: Destin, Florida


Maximum number of clients at a time: 6

for people who want to heal on the East coast

Non 12 Step Outpatient Programs

Say you’ve completed your residential stay and still want a structured recovery plan – what are your options? 


Non 12 Step outpatient recovery programs have been popping up all around the country to fill this need. In these programs, clients go to the treatment center for therapy throughout the day, and then sleep at another location. Outpatient offers a flexible schedule for one’s program – some people go six days a week for eight hours at a time; others go for four hours every other day. 


Let’s look at a few popular Non 12 Step outpatient programs. 

for people who want a SMART recovery inspired treatment

Practical Recovery

Remember SMART Recovery? The largest alternative to AA?


Well, the founder of Practical Recovery, Dr. Horvath, was one of the co-founders of SMART Recovery. So, you can imagine there are some strong ties between the two. 


An interesting aspect of Practical Recovery’s treatment is that they do not believe group therapy is absolutely necessary in recovering from an addiction. They believe the most important factor is to focus on individual therapy and resolve one’s underlying issues. 


Location: San Diego, California

Good Heart Recovery

With only 15 clients at a time, Good Heart Recovery limits the number of people in their group therapeutic sessions. 


With different daily schedules based on your level of care (partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, outpatient) the clients are often staggered, offering new combinations of clients to work off of in therapy.


Location: Santa Barbara, California

for people who want a small group atmosphere

Is Non 12 Step Right For You?

While we’ve laid out the benefits of a Non 12 Step treatment approach, it’s ultimately up to you to decide what’s going to be the most healing environment.


We wish you luck on your journey and hope you find the program that helps you heal and create long-term change in your life.

*Avive la Vie is not affiliated with any of the above programs. This list is not meant as a list of clinical recommendations, but merely a resource guide.