Addiction recovery is not a one-size-fits-all process and while a 12-step program has helped many individuals overcome addiction, it may not be the best fit for everyone. There are alternative, non-12-step approaches that have been found to be successful in treating substance use disorder (SUD) and maintaining sobriety. The Stages of Change model recognizes the gradual progression through five stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and motivational interviewing (MI) are evidence-based treatments that do not follow the traditional 12 steps. Experiential and holistic therapies such as acupuncture, mindsight and interpersonal neurobiology can also aid in addressing all aspects of one’s health affected by substance abuse. These alternatives offer a personalized care plan which can support an individual’s journey to recovery.

Non-12-Step Approaches to Addiction Treatment

Through treatment or word-of-mouth, you have likely heard of the 12-Step program for addiction treatment. The Twelve Steps can be understood as guiding principles that outline one specific course of action that individuals can follow to overcome addiction. While this program has proven its effectiveness in helping a large number of individuals achieve abstinence from alcohol and other drugs, there is no one-size-fits-all path for addiction treatment and recovery. It is essential to recognize that there are many treatment paths you can take to recover from addiction.

A variety of non-12-Step approaches have also proven their effectiveness in facilitating and sustaining sobriety for those struggling with substance use disorder (SUD). Some of these approaches include the Stages of Change, evidence-based treatments, experiential therapy and holistic therapy. Becoming familiar with each of these non-12-Step approaches can help you advocate for a treatment plan that fits you best.

The Stages of Change for Addiction Treatment

Designed by researchers Prochaska and DiClemente at the University of Rhode Island, the Stages of Change model illustrates how individuals seeking recovery from addiction experience a series of “stages” throughout their sobriety journey. The Stages of Change model is also referred to as the transtheoretical model (TTM). It recognizes that the modification of behavior involves gradual progression through five stages, which are as follows:

  1. Pre-contemplation
  2. Contemplation
  3. Preparation
  4. Action
  5. Maintenance

Often, treatment facilities include a sixth step in this process: either stability or relapse.

This model is effective in helping individuals understand that behavior change is a gradual process. Change is not linear and it doesn’t look the same for everyone. Likewise, this approach meets individuals where they are in their recovery and then motivates them with a willingness to change, rather than forcing them to change.

Individuals can cycle through these stages multiple times throughout their recovery. They will likely begin at the pre-contemplation stage, experiencing complete denial or lack of awareness of their substance use problem. Then, they move through the stages — not necessarily one after another — into an ultimate transcendence of the problem until it no longer exists.

Evidence-Based Addiction Treatments and Therapies

There are many evidence-based therapeutic treatments that do not follow the outline of traditional 12-Step programs. Some examples include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most widely used and researched treatment approaches. It combines components of both cognitive and behavioral therapy to help individuals better understand how their thoughts, emotions and behaviors are all interconnected. When it comes to individuals working to recover from SUD, CBT helps them confront and restructure their problematic thought and behavior patterns pertaining to substance use.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is another evidence-based treatment that derives from CBT. The main difference between CBT and DBT is that DBT utilizes various mindfulness strategies. Rather than confronting an individual’s problematic thoughts and behaviors, DBT helps individuals accept and regulate their emotions and behaviors. DBT can be especially useful in treating SUD and co-occurring mental health disorders.

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing (MI) is a person-centered treatment approach that helps strengthen an individual’s motivation to change.

The five key principles of this approach include:

  1. Communicating empathy toward the patient
  2. Fostering trust and collaboration
  3. Developing discrepancy
  4. Adapting to resistance
  5. Increasing the patient’s self-efficacy

Experiential and Holistic Therapies

Experiential and holistic therapy approaches are centered on personalized care. Although every intervention provides different benefits for addiction recovery, in general, these therapeutic modalities intend to address the “whole” person. In other words, rather than viewing SUD as an illness and treating just its symptoms, holistic therapy addresses all factors of one’s well-being that have been affected by substance use. These factors include:

  • Physical well-being
  • Mental well-being
  • Spiritual well-being
  • Emotional well-being
  • Social well-being


Acupuncture is one type of holistic therapy. It has been used for centuries and is based on the idea that all living beings have qi, our vital energy. When the body’s energy channels are unbalanced, we are more vulnerable to illness and disease. Conversely, when our qi is balanced, we can experience good health.

Acupuncture consists of small needles being inserted into the body along its natural energy channels. Research has shown that acupuncture stimulates circulation, releases important endorphins and positively influences our neurotransmitters. In turn, all of these things improve brain and body functioning, which can be quite helpful for individuals recovering from SUD.

Mindsight & Interpersonal Neurobiology

Another type of holistic therapy, known as mindsight and interpersonal neurobiology, teaches individuals to “name and tame” their emotions while establishing supportive interpersonal relationships with others. This approach utilizes mindfulness meditation to support emotional regulation. It also recognizes the value that social support can have on one’s overall recovery process and associated brain development.

More Examples

Other examples of experiential and holistic, non-12-Step approaches that can aid in one’s recovery process include, but are not limited to:

  • Family systems therapy
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Relapse prevention therapy
  • Yoga therapy
  • Roleplaying

Cliffside Malibu is an addiction treatment facility that believes in the value of non-12-Step approaches when treating addiction and co-occurring disorders. We utilize the Stages of Change model in conjunction with evidence-based, holistic and experiential therapies to help individuals find the treatment path that resonates most with them. To learn more about Cliffside Malibu and the treatment programs we offer, call us today at (855) 403-5641.