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Paths to Recovery: One Size Does Not Fit All

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Updated on

There is no right or wrong way to choose recovery; everyone is traveling on a different journey to the same end result: finding a path that creates a happier life than a life in active addiction or alcoholism produced. Today, there are innumerable choices of different paths to recovery, including (but not limited to): 12-step-based recovery, SMART Recovery, culturally-specific paths to recovery, peer recovery support services, and clinical treatment. Although enormously diverse in their approaches and methods of living a life in recovery,

the common denominator in each of these is changing one’s self; one cannot keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.


12 Step

Back in 1935, Alcoholics Anonymous was the first widely-used program of its kind, and was accepted as the best (and only “proven”) way to recover. In The Doctor’s Opinion chapter of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book, Dr. Silkworth states, “I personally know scores of cases who were of the type with whom other methods had failed completely. These facts appear to be of extreme medical importance; because of the extraordinary possibilities of rapid growth inherent in this group they may mark a new epoch in the annals of alcoholism. These men may well have a remedy for thousands of such situations. You may rely absolutely on anything they say about themselves.”

It’s clear to see that the most commonly used and easiest to find would be a twelve-step-based program of recovery. The most popular of these being Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and various other “anonymous” programs, specifically tailored to other substances of choice. These programs provide a design for living that ensures, if worked to the best of one’s ability, a reprieve from the obsession to drink and/or use mind-altering substances.

This design specifically relies on two things: a God of your own understanding and the experience of others that have achieved this goal by working the suggested steps. Certain issues potentially arise from those two categories, such as: the religious undertones of the program and the subjectivity of how the steps should be worked within the different routes of sponsorship. Just for a couple examples, those with different belief systems may struggle with the spirituality of the program and those suffering with trauma may struggle with opening up to a stranger regarding their experiences. These programs also adhere to a strict, abstinence-based lifestyle and focus heavily on the length of sobriety one has. Some groups will not even allow those with under a certain amount of time to share at a meeting, which could be detrimental to their experience and self-esteem.

SMART Recovery

SMART stands for self-management and recovery training. This program is self-run and focuses on behavior changes. “SMART provides a 4-Point Program: 1. Building and Maintaining Motivation; 2. Coping with Urges; 3. Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors; and 4. Living a Balanced life. Tools include Stages of Change, Change Plan Worksheet, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Hierarchy of Values, ABCs of REBT for Urge Coping and Emotional Upsets, DISARM (Destructive Imagery and Self-Talk Awareness & Refusal Method), Role-playing and Rehearsing, Brainstorming, and more.” This program utilizes similar techniques as twelve-step programs, but without the spirituality and in-person social aspect. There are SMART Recovery meetings in some areas, but they are nowhere near as prevalent as Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. SMART Recovery does offer 24/7 online support, meeting opportunities, and plenty of self-guided worksheets.

Culturally-Specific Paths to Recovery

Within and outside of twelve-step programs, there are culturally-specific paths such as: Young People in Recovery (YPR), Women for Sobriety (WFS), Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Ourselves (SOS), White Bison, Refuge Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous Agnostica, Celebrate Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, with many more emerging daily. A quick breakdown of these categories would be:

  • Young People in Recovery – “Our national leadership team creates and cultivates local community-led chapters through grassroots organizing and training. Chapters support young people in or seeking recovery by empowering them to obtain stable employment, secure suitable housing, and continue and complete their educations. Chapters also advocate on the local and state levels for better accessibility of these services and other effective recovery resources.”
  • Women for Sobriety – “WFS is a self-help Program for women with problems of addiction. It is the first and only self-help Program for women only and its precepts take into account the very special problems women have in recovery – the need for feelings of self-value and self-worth, and the need to expatiate feelings of guilt and humiliation. This Program is based on POSITIVE THINKING, METAPHYSICS, MEDITATION, GROUP DYNAMICS, AND PURSUIT OF HEALTH THROUGH NUTRITION.”
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety – “Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) is a nonprofit network of autonomous, non-professional local groups, dedicated solely to helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety/abstinence from alcohol and drug addiction, food addiction and more.”
  • White Bison – “White Bison offers sobriety, recovery, addictions prevention, and wellness/Wellbriety learning resources to the Native American/Alaska Native community nationwide. Many non-Native people also use White Bison’s healing resource products, attend its learning circles, and volunteer their services.”
  • Refuge Recovery – “Refuge Recovery is a Buddhist-oriented path to freedom from addiction. This is an approach to recovery that understands: “All individuals have the power and potential to free themselves from the suffering that is caused by addiction.” We feel confident in the power of the Dharma, if applied, to relieve suffering of all kinds, including the suffering of addiction. This is a process that cultivates a path of awakening, the path of recovering from the addictions and delusions that have created so much suffering in our lives and in this world.”
  • Alcoholics Anonymous Agnostica – “AA Agnostica is meant to be a helping hand for the alcoholic who reaches out to Alcoholics Anonymous for help and finds that she or he is disturbed by the religious content of many AA meetings. AA Agnostica is not affiliated with any group in AA or any other organization.”
  • Celebrate Recovery – “Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery program for anyone struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind. Celebrate Recovery is a safe place to find community and freedom from the issues that are controlling our life.”
  • LifeRing Secular Recovery – “LifeRing Secular Recovery is an abstinence-based, worldwide network of individuals seeking to live in recovery from addiction to alcohol or to other non-medically indicated drugs. In LifeRing, we offer each other peer-to-peer support in ways that encourage personal growth and continued learning through personal empowerment. Our approach is based on developing, refining, and sharing our own personal strategies for continued abstinence and crafting a rewarding life in recovery. In short, we are sober, secular, and self-directed.”

Peer Recovery Support Services

Peer recovery support services are defined as sober coaches, recovery coaches, life coaches, and other supportive, non-clinical individuals. These are employed persons to utilize their experience along with specific trainings they have attended to guide one in their recovery. These persons will share their experience, but only when it will clearly benefit the person utilizing their services, unlike in a 12-step setting. They also utilize motivational interviewing, which means that they will approach each person in a non-judgmental way and respect their journey. In summation, they believe that each person has their own answers and it is their job as a coach to ask the right questions that allow that person to arrive at the answers. Some objections to this style of recovery might be that these persons cost money, don’t have the social aspect that 12-step programs do, and that they might not provide enough structure for those that prefer stricter guidance.

Clinical Treatment

Clinical treatment would be things like residential treatment, partial hospitalization programs, outpatient programs, and individual therapy. These services are conducted by certified or licensed professionals and paid for by the client. These services can be utilized in either group or individual capacities. The pros to these services are that these persons are managed by a certification board of the state, they have been professionally trained, and one can schedule times to meet that fit even more hectic schedules. The potential cons to these services include: that they cost money, that these professionals may not have life experience to guide them on these subjects, and there could be a lack of social support.

In summation, there are so many paths to recovery to choose from that a better life is truly available to anyone who seeks it. The willingness to change one’s self remains the necessity of all of these programs, though. There is also a fine line between truly not feeling belonging in a group and nitpicking to the point of isolation. No one group will fit perfectly, without some flaws, some members that one dislikes, or some uncomfortable moments. Being honest, open-minded, and willing, no matter what program of recovery one chooses, are the key components that will inspire change resulting in an improved life.

  • Ashley Harms, MS, CAP, CRC

    Ashley is the Director of Alumni Services for Lakeview Health. She holds an undergraduate degree from the University of North Florida in Psychology with a double minor in English and Spanish. She is currently pursuing her Master of Science degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at the University of North Florida. She has over two years of experience in addiction and mental health treatment. Ashley is also a person in long-term recovery; her sobriety date is January 13, 2012. She joined Lakeview Health in 2014 as the Aftercare Coordinator. Ashley has experience in working at both adult and adolescent inpatient treatment facilities. She enjoys inspiring other young people to live sober, fulfilling, happy lives.

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