The best form of alcoholism treatment is the one that actually works.
You may have heard of some of the ideas listed here before, but you probably haven’t considered all of them. And even if you are not looking for a bizarre alternative treatment method for addiction, it can be helpful to identify some of the options out there and at least consider them.
In other words, if there are alcoholics or drug addicts who are using a certain technique in order to overcome addiction, I want to know about that technique. Whatever method they are using could offer some insight into my own journey and potentially help me. In that sense, I believe that it pays to explore the options and learn what we can from others.
Mainstream recovery techniques
Most alcoholism and drug addiction treatment these days falls into one of two similar approaches:
1) 12 step programs such as AA and NA, and
2) Religious based recovery programs.
The key here is that both of these approaches are faith based.
If you are not very familiar with the program of AA then you might, as an outsider, believe that it is just a support group where you meet with other recovering alcoholics and talk about your problems. This is not truly the case, as the program of AA is very specifically a faith based program of recovery. If you have any doubt of this just review the 12 actual steps in AA and pay very close attention to step three: “Made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God…” This is the essence of the program and it is where you are getting relief from the obsession to drink alcohol or use drugs. You are turning your life over to your higher power. This is clearly a faith based program.
Religious based programs may not use the 12 steps, but the underlying concept is the same: You are turning your life over to a higher power and using religion to overcome your addiction.
These two approaches are mainstream and they are traditional recovery. This is simply based on the numbers. There are alternatives to these two approaches that we will look at below, but for the vast majority of people who are trying to sober up, they are going to be introduced to a faith based approach. I am not sure on the hard statistics or percentages but I believe faith based programs make up somewhere around 80 percent of all the help available out there for alcoholism or addiction. (Someone please shoot me an email if this stat is wildly off!).
So that is the mainstream and the traditional approach: Faith based recovery. It works for many but not for all. And there are some alternatives but they are not very popular. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Alternative treatment centers to religious and 12 step programs
Rehab centers in particular have tried to find some alternative approaches.
One interesting example is the idea of a survivalist treatment center. So instead of staying in a medical facility, the alcoholic or drug addict would go through a short medical detox before being turned out in the wild with a field guide who is also a recovery therapist of sorts. Imagine being on the show “Survivor” without the games and being with a group of other struggling alcoholics and drug addicts. You are dropped in a remote location far away from civilization and you have a field guide with you who is teaching you how to survive with your limited supplies. In addition to this, all you really have to do other than survive is to sit around each night and talk about recovery, tell your stories, and generally have recovery meetings.
There are not a lot of survivalist treatment programs out there like this but there are a few. I believe that most of them are targeted towards teens or younger people, though I am not sure on that and you would have to check. A quick Internet search should give you more information if you are interested in this style of recovery.
Having worked in a traditional style treatment center for several years, I can tell you that it is quite interesting to me to have a group of recovering alcoholics stuck out in the woods somewhere in which there is no possible potential for relapse. So even if someone “snaps” and decides to go drink alcohol, they can’t really do so as they are stuck out in the woods. When I worked in a traditional rehab people could “snap,” pack their bags, and walk to the liquor store in under an hour and start drinking. So you have to ask yourself: “How far removed from temptation are you?” In a survivalist treatment center the removal of temptation is pretty much absolute. You are stuck in the woods and even if you wanted to get drunk or high you really have no options. In that sense I think this could be a powerful tool for certain alcoholics who have not had much success with a more traditional approach.
Physical based programs
There are a few recovery programs out there that attempt to treat addiction or alcoholism entirely with fitness or competitive sports.
This is an interesting model and it is obviously not going to be for everyone. But just the existence of such an approach should be giving all of us a huge hint about our own recovery journey. And that hint is that we should all be taking exercise and fitness very seriously and making it a priority as part of our sobriety!
One such program is called “Racing for Recovery.” These people sober up, quit using drugs, and then they push themselves to get into shape and compete in various racing events. They spread the message of sobriety through competitive racing.
Is it a perfect model for all recovery programs? Certainly not. But it is working for some people, several hundred or even thousands of people, in fact. And so that gives the program at least some degree of validity. It is worth investigating and wondering exactly how these people are staying sober because what we learn about them could seriously help us.
This is another hint in terms of what we stand to gain by examining these alternative programs. The “mainstream” programs are strictly spiritual and faith based programs. Now we realize that there are programs such as Racing for Recovery that are entirely based on physical fitness and exercise.
But there is more to life than just spirituality and physical fitness. There is also mental, emotional, and social health.
And this is part of the important message here that we need to learn: Recovery is holistic. It is not only about faith. It is not only about physical fitness. It is all of these things and more. Addiction affected our entire lives and therefore recovery needs to be holistic as well.
In my opinion, it is a mistake to focus too narrowly on any one aspect of your overall health. If you want to push hard for better spiritual health, you can certainly do so….but not if you totally neglect your physical health while you do it. Or your emotional health. And so on.
Recovery is holistic. We have to treat the whole person, not just one aspect of their health.
Creative art recovery programs
I have very, very limited knowledge about creative based recovery programs. I just know that they exist, and a tiny handful of books have been published about the topic.
An example of this is someone who uses painting, sculpting, or some other creative art in order to replace and overcome their addiction.
I don’t believe that this ever could have worked for me in my own situation but obviously it has worked for some people, as there are entire books written about the topic. If it worked for one person then it might work for others. And it is certainly an idea and a concept that might be able to teach all of us something on our own journey.
I think in general, it helps to make something in recovery. To build something. To use your creative muscle, and to create.
All of recovery, in my opinion, is an act of creation.
We all get it wrong at first, of course, when we believe that we have to eliminate drinking, to eliminate drugs, to leave this old life.
But you can’t just eliminate and walk away from the old life. It doesn’t work. You have to walk into something. You have to create something in its place. This is one reason why I think the spiritual solution is so popular. It is a replacement strategy. When you remove the drugs and the alcohol, what are you going to replace that with?
And so every new day in your recovery is an act of creation. You can’t just say “well, I’m not getting drunk, so that is good.” That will not sustain you forever. You have to create, you have to pursue something positive, and it has to have some meaning.
Avoiding something doesn’t give enough purpose. Sure, you get some purpose out of avoiding addiction. But it is not enough. Not in the long run. In the long run, your purpose has to be driven by something positive, by something that is built, that is created. So maybe you want to rebuild your family, or save the whales, or cure cancer. Or build a new home for your family. Or finish a degree. These are just examples of course. But there has to be something more driving you in recovery other than “I don’t want to drink.” That is only the start. You have to create from there.
And I think this idea of creation is what we can learn from the creative arts recovery programs. Not that we all need to paint or sculpt for 8 hours per day, because that isn’t going to work for most people. But the idea is still there, that we all need to find a way to create, to build, to make something in our lives that gives us purpose. Not even necessarily something creative, but just something that gives purpose.
Equine based treatment programs
In a broader sense, this is the pet therapy solution.
Get clean and sober, get a plant. Keep it alive for a year successfully, then get a dog. Keep the dog for a year, then get a relationship. You have probably heard these ideas before.
I was shocked to learn that there are treatment programs that are based entirely on equine therapy (taking care of horses, essentially). And that they offer these programs to treat a range of problems, to include addiction and alcoholism.
Obviously this is not going to work for everyone, and probably not for most people. But it can be another piece of the puzzle, and we can probably learn something from the example. At the very least we can come to know about the benefits that you can get from pet therapy in general, and how that might help a person emotionally in recovery. It’s another option, and possibly a supplemental idea to your own holistic approach.
Medication based therapies
There are some recovery solutions that are based primarily on medication. There are various drugs and medications that exist that can try to replace other substances, or control cravings, and so on. There is a wide range of this and there are also many new medications that are popping up recently to try to help treat various addictions.
Most of the time the pitch for these medications is that they are to be supplemental. So the idea is not to just take a magic pill and be instantly cured, which certainly doesn’t work anyway. The idea is to combine the medication with counseling, therapy, group support, and other recovery strategies.
But it is still worth noting that this is another tool in the toolbox for fighting addictions.
A word of caution though based on my own experience working in rehab. One thing that I noticed was that the struggling alcoholics and drug addicts who typically elected to try some form of medication to specifically help them beat addiction…..these people never fared as well in terms of relapse.
To be clear: The people who asked for medications to help them fight cravings or to replace their drug of choice in some way (such as Suboxone maintenance for opiate addiction) never did as well based on my subjective observations. However, even though these observations of mine were purely subjective, the evidence that I received from my observations was absolutely overwhelming. After watching this unfold for a few months I was really taken aback by the trend that I witnessed, and after a few years of watching it I became downright cynical about it. I couldn’t help it though. Everyone who elected to get medications to “help them” beat addiction ended up coming back to detox later for more treatment. Nearly every single time. It was really astounding.
But that is just my subjective observation, and there are new medications being developed all the time, so take all of that with a grain of salt.
Moderation programs for alcoholism
Believe it or not, there are programs of recovery that are not based on a model of complete abstinence. Instead, they attempt to teach the drinker how to moderate their drinking (or their drug use).
My knowledge of this is very limited as well, but I would caution people not to get their hopes up too high. If moderation programs worked even slightly, the vast majority of us would have taken this “easier, softer way” a long time ago.
I know that one alcoholic who writes about a moderation program that he developed only drinks about one or two glasses of wine each month. Every month, one or two glasses of wine! Now I happen to be a real hard core alcoholic of the hopeless variety, and I can honestly say that this is totally baffling to me. What in the world is the point of drinking one glass of wine per month? Just so you can say you are still in control? Is this just a display of power or something? I really don’t get it. But that’s me–I am a real alcoholic! So a single glass of wine is annoying at best to me.
As they write in the Big Book of AA, if you can figure out how to moderate your drinking successfully, then “our hats are off to you!” But then again, what are you reading this for if you can moderate successfully? If there is no problem then there is no problem! I had to abstain completely or I was going to die, simple as that.
This is one bizarre treatment method that I cannot personally recommend, and I also think it is just plain dangerous. If you are already sober, then attempting to moderate is a completely disaster of a decision. If you are still struggling with drinking every day, then by all means, try to moderate! But be honest with yourself. At some point you have to draw a line and say “OK, I have tried and tried over and and over again to control my drinking, and it always gets away from eventually. It is time to stop. It is time to try total abstinence.”
Moderation never worked for me and that is why I am a real, true, hard core alcoholic. The very idea of moderation just plain makes me mad. If I am going to drink, then get the heck out of my way. One glass of wine per month, indeed! What the heck is the point?
The fundamentals and surrender
If there is one thing that we can learn from all of these people who are using various methods of recovery, it is this:
There are certain fundamentals of recovery that exist. One of them is most certainly the concept of surrender.
In other words, it doesn’t matter if you use fitness or creative arts or religion or AA meetings to get sober–in all of these examples the person has to surrender totally and completely to their disease.
Different recovery programs may be a better fit for different people, and that is OK. Perhaps AA or religious based programs work just fine for you.
But I think we can all learn a thing or two by considering the alternatives. And perhaps the most important lesson of all is to consider the similarities. Because whatever concepts these various treatment methods share with each other, those are the fundamental principles. Those are the keys that unlock real recovery.
What about you, what treatment methods did I miss here? Are there other strategies or techniques that you have heard of (or that you use yourself) to help people to recover? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!