Rethinking Addiction Recovery

Lady sitting on the beach reading a book

Contributor: Staff at Sierra Tucson

The word recovery can have different meanings depending on who you ask. Many of us immediately think of the 12-Step model of recovery, a popular treatment method that emphasizes the importance of remaining sober from drugs and alcohol, gambling or otherwise.

Made famous by the abstinence-oriented recovery group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the 12-Step recovery model is often criticized for its promotion of lifelong sobriety as the only true means of recovery. This approach to addiction treatment may prove beneficial for some, but it’s important to be aware of different treatment approaches when discussing addiction recovery.

Research shows that most people who struggle with addiction achieve recovery by adjusting their substance use so that it no longer affects their relationships or productivity, as opposed to quitting altogether. Additionally, the extended use of medications such as buprenorphine and methadone can cut the fatal opioid overdose rate by upward of 50% [1].

A Closer Look at the 12-Step Model

For years, the 12-Step recovery program has been the standard treatment for individuals who are seeking help for substance use disorders and other addictions. The 12 Steps include recognizing powerlessness to drugs or alcohol, making amends with yourself and those close to you, addressing character defects in oneself and praying to a higher power.

Call Sierra Tucson for Help 844-203-4784

This traditional treatment model celebrates lifelong abstinence and regular meeting attendance. While reaching sobriety milestones and actively participating in peer support group meetings helps some people avoid relapse, this one-size-fits-all approach to addiction recovery can prove less effective for others.

Consider a person who has struggled with an opioid addiction and remained abstinent for ten years. If that person breaks their sobriety streak for just one day, they may consider this to be a failure that renders their ten years of sobriety invalid. This mentality can increase the risk for relapse for someone who has been sober for a long time, as they may use a greater quantity of a substance their body is no longer used to.

But participating in the 12-Step program can help facilitate a successful transition to a state of sobriety for some people who are regularly using substances. This addiction treatment, especially when combined with medically assisted detox services, elements of harm reduction and therapies such as motivational enhancement therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), can dramatically reduce a person’s use of substances and risk for death from overdose.

Are Other Treatment Methods Available Besides 12-Step

There are different — and often conflicting — views of recovery from substance use disorders in the medical community. What works for one person may not work for someone else, and the efficacy of a specific treatment method depends on factors like an individual’s recovery goals, their treatment history and the substance they are addicted to.

woman struggling with s12-step programThe Chicago Recovery Alliance was the first organization to give out naloxone, also known as Narcan, to individuals who were actively using drugs or alcohol and train them on how to safely administer naloxone to others. This potentially life-saving medication is designed to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose within minutes and is part of the group’s approach that they call harm reduction.

Harm reduction practices, including the administration of naloxone, have been shown to prevent injury, disease, overdose, death and other harm faced by individuals who are struggling with addiction. Harm reduction interventions can range from using naloxone when necessary to replacing shared needles with clean ones and going from drinking daily to binge drinking only on the weekends [1].

Medically assisted detox is another option for those who struggle with chronic alcohol or drug use, as this process can greatly reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and lower the risk for death from withdrawal.

There are other evidence-based techniques for addiction recovery, such as motivational interviewing and Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART). Motivational interviewing focuses on teaching people how to make positive behavioral changes, while SMART Recovery is a recovery group led by volunteers who help people use a 4-Point Program to overcome addiction.

The four phases of the 4-Point Program are:

  • Building and maintaining motivation
  • Coping with urges
  • Managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors
  • Living a balanced life

The 12-Step model is a proven treatment approach but is not an all-encompassing solution for everyone. At Sierra Tucson, we use SMART Recovery and motivational interviewing, among other treatment options for individuals who are experiencing addiction symptoms.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, help is available.


[1] Szalavitz, M. (2021, Sept. 29). What does it mean to recover from addiction? Time. Retrieved from

About Our Sponsor:

Sierra Tucson BannerLocated in Tucson, Arizona, Sierra Tucson is the nation’s leading residential and outpatient treatment center for substance use disorders, trauma-related conditions, chronic pain, mood and anxiety disorders, and co-occurring concerns. We provide integrated, holistic care for adults age 18 and older of all genders, including specialized programs for military members, first responders, and healthcare workers. Sierra Tucson was ranked No. 1 in Newsweek’s list of Best Addiction Treatment Centers in Arizona for 2020.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on April 22, 2022
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 22, 2022
Published on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.