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Guest Opinion

Expanding options beyond the 12-steps


Battling addiction is a complicated matter that often involves many different pathways to recovery. Besides traditional clinical treatment, individuals are also strongly encouraged to seek support through peer-led programming. These programs provide individuals with a sense of community, peer connection and a safe place to work through potential struggles with the help of individuals who have been down a similar road.

There are recovery supports outside of the 12-step system (Alcoholics Anonymous), which was established in 1938 as a peer support group program that promotes the premise that healing can only happen when one surrenders to a higher power.

These include:

• SMART Recovery (Est. 1994): “Self-management and recovery training” is based on self-empowerment rather than surrendering to a higher power. Groups use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Motivational Enhancement Therapy and Relational Emotive Behavioral Therapy techniques to target problematic behaviors and find solutions for change. SMART recovery is centered on four points: 1. Building and maintaining the motivation to change, 2. Coping with urges to use, 3. Managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors in an effective way, and 4. Living a balanced, positive, healthy life.

• LifeRing Secular Recovery (Est. 1997) focuses on meeting people where they are. It assumes each person has a “Sober Self” and an “Addict Self” and works to strengthen the former. Like SMART recovery, it does not focus on a higher power but harnesses individuals’ internal strength to make necessary changes.

• Women for Sobriety (Est. mid 1970s) was founded by Dr. Jean Kirkpatrick, a recovering alcoholic whose needs weren’t being met by AA. It is designed to meet women’s unique emotional, physical and spiritual needs in recovery. It utilizes positive reinforcement, cognitive strategies for positive thinking, relaxation techniques, specialized diet and exercise as well as group support.

• Refuge Recovery was developed from Noah Levine’s 2014 bestselling book of the same name and is built on Buddhist principles of mindfulness, and belief that individuals possess inner strength to free themselves from ailments.

• Recovery Dharma is another Buddhist path to recovery and describes itself as a “peer-led, grassroots, democratically structured organization.” Groups support everyone on their path to recovery via Buddhists practices and principles.

The advantage the 12-step program has over the others is that it has been around the longest and has paved the way for many of those that came later. Meetings are available internationally, in different languages, in person and online. There is literature available that describes the program and walks the person through the 12 steps they’ll complete to gain a better understanding of themselves and their recovery process. It also has a social aspect that encourages individuals to connect with others in recovery to act as guides and reference points.

Magellan Behavioral Health of Pennsylvania supports our members’ choice and empowers them to identify and take part in whichever peer-led program they find the most useful in achieving long-term sobriety. All have helped people achieve and maintain sobriety. However, due to some vast differences in their principles, it is best that one seeks the program which fits their own values and beliefs.

Each of us is a unique individual with unique experiences and unique motivations to achieve the goals we set. That said, reaching and maintaining sobriety needs to be an individual mission based on a person’s own strengths and needs. What works for one person may not work for another. Some choose religious or spiritual activities, family obligations or hitting up the local gym. Others favor medication-assisted treatments and therapy. There is no right and wrong way to work on your recovery.

For most, it tends to be a combination of multiple approaches simultaneously. It can take time to figure out what works best. Most people struggling with any form of addiction from substances, food, gambling and many others, could benefit from any of the self-help programs mentioned above.

For anyone to fully thrive in their pursuit of long-term sobriety, they first need to identify a self-help program that closely aligns with their needs and beliefs. Then they must remain invested in achieving lasting change.

Magellan believes in educating members on all the different options and encouraging them to choose the path they think is right for them.

Ivana Romeo and Stacey Ricca are care managers at Magellan Behavioral Health of Pennsylvania.

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