Yes they can. There are many paths in recovery. But the question is complicated, and is worthy of further exploration:
It is a fairly common and widely held belief that getting clean and sober requires you to go through rehab and then attend AA for the rest of your life. Because of the press, the media, and the stories we have heard, the “rehab to AA” route has become our basic assumption about how people get clean and sober. But is this really the only way?
Short answer: Addicts and alcoholics can absolutely achieve recovery without treatment or 12 step programs.
We know this to be true, based on the fact that both treatment centers and 12 step programs are relatively new creations (only a few hundred years old), whereas people have been successfully recovering from drug addiction and alcoholism for thousands of years. Some people erroneously believe that before AA, no one had ever achieved sobriety. This is not true, and the idea could limit some people in their recovery. How? Because there is a whole world of spiritual growth and personal development outside the realm of the 12 step program.
Does this mean AA is bad, or not useful? Of course not! However, it is very possible to grow spiritually and overcome addiction by other means. In addition, some people are terrified of AA meetings. Their are some who suffer from anxiety, or who cannot tolerate speaking in a group setting. To these people, telling them that AA is the only way is like a death sentence, and is grounds and justification for more drinking. The same might be true for some addicts with a certain aversion to rehab. Whatever. The point is, it is possible to find another way. (note: if you are looking for possible solutions, you might want to have a look at this).
However…..there are 2 sides to this coin.
Why limit yourself?
The challenge that lays in front of the newcomer is monumental. At first, the task of living clean and sober can seem overwhelming. Unfortunately, the rather grim statistics predict that most addicts are likely to relapse, even those who are afforded every opportunity to succeed, and have every support option available to them. This is not said to discourage you. Instead, use it as a tool to help motivate you. In other words, realize that the odds are stacked against the newcomer, and you need to use every available tool at our disposal if you are going to succeed.
The thing about 12 step programs and treatment centers is that they offer concentrated support. They specialize in helping recovering drug addicts and alcoholics, and it isn’t likely that you can find that same level of support anywhere else.
Support might be found elsewhere, such as in a religious community, but the support isn’t specific to the problem of addiction. The peer support there might not be able to relate to you as an alcoholic or drug addict, and therefore cannot give specific and meaningful advice when it comes to the typical trials and struggles of recovery.
In short, most addicts and alcoholics need (at the very least) a supportive community of others in recovery that can help them to stay clean and sober. Treatment centers and 12 step programs are the quickest, easiest, and in some cases, the only place to find this level of concentrated support. To avoid them is to complicate your recovery efforts and possibly make the goal of long term sobriety very difficult to achieve.
Action items – what you can do
1) Stay open to support – regardless of the source (be it AA, church, family members, etc.)
2) Don’t get scared off by the extremists that claim AA is the only way (or that it doesn’t work).
3) Figure out what works for you and then pursue that strategy with overwhelming force.