- Posted by EmpowerNonprofit
- On January 8, 2018
The opioid crisis has pushed the debate over treatment options back into the spotlight, with many asking “What’s the best solution for treating addiction?”
Based on the sheer volume of participation, 12-step treatment programs might be considered the best option for someone trying to stop using alcohol or drugs. It’s pretty easy to find an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting on any evening in every decent-sized American city. Plus, many residential treatment programs and sober-living environments encourage 12-step meetings as an important supplement to professional counseling and a key component of long-term aftercare.
Not everyone agrees with this approach, as I learned several years ago while working on the administrative team of a large in-patient treatment facility. One of my fellow directors was a committed practitioner of cognitive behavioral therapy and dismissive of 12-step meetings. But another director was an old-school AA adherent who believed that true recovery was impossible without the support of the meeting environment. Neither could stomach the other’s approach, and both were happy to share their opinions with me—but who was right?
Both were, according to writer German Lopez. His recent Vox article on 12-step addiction treatment programs reviewed recent research and offered personal insight from several AA veterans. His conclusion: 12-step programs work—for some people. But for others, they aren’t a good fit. In fact, research has shown that only about a third of people who utilize 12-step programs get enough from the experience to maintain recovery. That means two-thirds of people fighting addiction need some other solution.
When considering a serious health issue like addiction, a solution with a 33 percent success rate should be considered pretty effective. But Lopez points out that AA and similar 12-step programs have become the dominant solution, to the detriment of other options, even though they aren’t a good fit for two-thirds of the people battling addiction.
That’s not uncommon in the American social services landscape. Resources flow easily (and sometimes exclusively) to solutions that are politically popular or seem to help the most people—even when “the most” is actually just a small percentage of the total affected population.
Plus, Americans love simple solutions, the magic pill that can fix any problem. During my time working for a homelessness services organization, people honestly asked me why we need so many organizations addressing this issue. “Why isn’t there just one big entity working to solve this problem?”
“We’ve tried that,” was my smart-aleck reply. “The big entity is called the U.S. Government. People didn’t like the poor customer service and high taxes.”
In all seriousness, we moved away from a reliance on big-government solutions because they tend to limit our options. The flourishing nonprofit sector may confound some people with its myriad organizations but the diversification is an honest reflection of the demand for new ideas, especially ones suited to a particular place or culture.
“We need as many options as possible” Lopez concludes in his review of addiction treatment. It’s good advice for all of us to follow as we work to address the most serious problems that plague our communities. People are unique and so are their problems. They deserve access to a wide variety of solutions so that they can find the one best suited to their particular circumstances.