It is important for people that do not know about either addiction treatment or 12 Step recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous to understand the difference between the two. It is important to make the distinction between the two, because they are not the same thing.

Drug rehab, addiction treatment, substance abuse treatment take place at professional treatment facilities, often offering different levels of care in a residential or an outpatient setting. Treatment centers typically have some type of time limits associated with the treatment and they are paid services or services provided through local, state or federal programs for those that cannot afford to pay. Treatment involves different modalities of therapy and can take place in different settings, such as individual therapy, group therapy and family therapy settings. Some addiction treatment centers incorporate the 12 Steps into a specific group or as an approach, but 12 Step groups in a drug rehab does not constitute taking the 12 Steps or being involved in a 12 Step program.

12 Step recovery programs like AA and NA are not really “programs” at all, but instead are fellowships of people meeting together with a common problem and a common solution. The actual program is the 12 Steps, meaning that someone can attend AA or NA meetings but if they are not actively taking the 12 Steps than they really are not in the AA or NA program but are instead just in the fellowship and attend meetings. 12 Step recovery programs are free, although they do pass a basket to take a dollar or two of donations to be self-supporting as a group. Attendees at meetings can give a dollar if they so choose, but nothing is expected. There are no clinicians or therapists and no administrators. The purpose is simply for one addict or alcoholic to help another through their own personal experience of recovery. AA and NA have no established time limits and in fact hope that active involvement in both the fellowship and the program will be a lifelong endeavor.

Here are some other important differences to make between rehab or therapy and 12 Step recovery:

  • An Intervention versus a 12 Step call: An intervention is typically the first contact made with a person in need of treatment. Interventions SHOULD be performed by a trained and certified interventionist. Interventionists are paid a fee and typically the process involves meeting family members and friends, coaching them on the intervention, setting up all logistical considerations to help the person get to treatment (including travel arrangements and a specific drug rehab that the person will enter) and setting up healthy boundaries and consequences if the identified person is not willing to go get help they need. The end result of an intervention is the person in need either gets into the treatment center or the family has set up healthy boundaries to stop enabling he or she to continue getting high with their emotional and financial help. A 12 Step call is basically one or more persons of a 12 Step fellowship going to try to help someone in need. THIS IS ABSOLUTELY UNPAID. Many times a 12 Step call will be unplanned. The person in need of help may or may not be willing to get help. There can be many end results of a 12 Step call. Sometimes the person in need will be directed to a detox or treatment center for help, sometimes a recovery home and into the fellowship of AA or NA. Sometimes the person does not want help but a seed has been planted where they can get help if they need it in the future.
  • Drug Treatment & Therapy versus the 12 Steps: Drug treatment, as mentioned above, is using different types of therapy modalities and approaches to aid someone in understanding their addiction and themselves so they eventually may learn to live clean and sober. Treatment is performed by therapists and clinicians and are paid services. Treatment typically will have several different levels of care, from a detox (if necessary) to primary treatment in a residential setting to intensive outpatient (IOP) to continuing care. At the end of the process a patient will often live in a recovery residence or sober house for awhile and may continue individual therapy sessions. By this point, they will often have been also inducted into one of the 12 Step fellowships. On the other hand, 12 Step recovery is not treatment or therapy. It involves one addict helping another through the 12 Steps. The 12 Steps are spiritual principles, actions taken by addicts whose sole purpose is to create a psychic change in the addict (or what some call a “spiritual experience”), meaning a change in perception of life which in turn leads to a change in behaviors (such as going from selfish to unselfish, from angry and resentful to a place of serenity, from dishonesty to honesty.) 12 Step recovery and the sponsorship of taking an addict through the steps is unpaid, done free of charge. There are no licensed therapists or clinicians that lead AA or NA (although many fellowship members are therapists, clinicians and other well respected professionals like doctors, psychiatrist and mental health administrators.)

The important thing to remember is that 12 Step recovery is not treatment or therapy, although treatment can incorporate the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous and certainly both can work together in collaboration. The simple way to look at the process for someone needing help with substance abuse or drug addiction is the initial phase of getting help is usually through drug rehab or a treatment center where as the sustainable, long term recovery will come through the 12 Step fellowships. Of course the purpose of each is to take someone suffering from drug and alcohol addiction and give them the necessary tools to take them from a place of pain and loneliness and hopelessness where they can’t stop using to a place where they are not only clean and sober but also happily and usefully whole.

If you or someone you know is suffering from a drug and alcohol addiction and needs treatment please call us for help. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive addiction treatment in the area. If we aren’t the best fit, we will work with you to find a treatment center that fits your needs. Please call us at (410) 773-0500 or email For more information on all of our alcohol and addiction treatment services and resources, please visit the web site at

12 Step Recovery meeting

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