Why Traditional Rehab Doesn’t Work

The opiate epidemic is on the rise, leaving many addicts wondering why rehab doesn’t work. On average in 2016, over 42,000 overdose deaths were caused by opioids. Since 2000, over 300,000 Americans have died at the hands of opioids. And while a public health emergency was declared in 2017 regarding the opioid crisis in America, there has been little done that is curbing the deadliest drug epidemic the country has ever experienced.

The ever-increasing rise of opioid abuse and skyrocketing addiction rates demands that there is access to all types of addiction treatment. While traditional rehab treatment is typically the go-to for treating opioid addiction (and other substance abuse problems), this one-size-fits-all approach just isn’t working. In fact, traditional rehab treatment approaches often do not offer the results many addicts hope for.

Why Traditional Rehab Doesn’t Work: A Deeper Look at AA and the 12-Step Program

This isn’t to say that traditional rehab doesn’t work for everyone. Some have found lasting freedom in inpatient or outpatient rehab centers. However, these rehab centers, most of which follow principles of 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), have been using the same protocol for treating addiction for years. With the current addiction crisis the country is facing, it’s safe to say that these traditional approaches are falling short of what they’re intended to do.

12-step programs are currently used in 8 out of 10 treatment centers across the country. It’s estimated that some 1 million people in America regularly attend 12-step meetings and that some 5 million attend each year. But for all those that attend, it’s believed the success rates of programs like AA are somewhere around 5-10 percent. Basically, about 1 in 15 people who attend these meetings is able to stay sober.

As far as research on addiction has come in the last 50+ years, treatment has stayed very much the same. While 12-step programs like AA and NA are seen as the “guiding light” for addicts, the principles outlined in these programs are based off the ideas of an alcoholic who found sobriety in the 1930s. The 12 steps are considered the end-all be-all principles for addicts to find and maintain sobriety, however follow a strict attention to a “higher power” that not everyone connects with. Not to mention that the rules laid out in these 12 principles can be very easy to “break.”

The first principle of AA maintains that one admits they “are powerless” over their addiction. From the very beginning, there is a subconscious misconception that addicts don’t have the power to overcome their addiction. The steps that follow encourage the addict to look towards God for help and have this higher power “remove” their shortcomings. It’s not surprising that 81 percent of people who start an AA program stop going within the first month.

Because these programs are what is widely available yet don’t work for the majority of people that try them, we’ve been left in a country where addiction rates continue to get worse each year.

Picking Up Where Traditional Treatment Leaves Off: A Look at Alternative Addiction Options

Traditional approaches to addiction have not succeeded in what they were designed to do. If they were working, we wouldn’t be in the midst of the worst opioid crisis in history. We wouldn’t have tens of thousands of people overdosing each year. In 2016, 64,070 people died at the hands of drugs use. There’s got to be a better solution than the traditional system that has all but failed the very people it is supposed to help.

Because traditional rehab doesn’t work for everyone, there are several alternative options designed to help individuals overcome their addiction for good. Each person responds to addiction treatment in their own way. The following treatments are often used to pick up where traditional treatment leaves off, and may help those struggling to find a way out.

Holistic Rehab Treatment

Holistic rehab takes an unconventional approach to addiction treatment, focusing on natural ways that have been shown to be beneficial for addiction recovery. Most holistic approaches to overcoming addiction focus on healing mind, body, and soul, creating an environment that is conducive to natural healing. A holistic approach to rehab is usually done in relaxing, scenic locations that allow for time spent in nature and reconnecting to one’s self. They typically focus on all-natural nutrition, massage, acupuncture, exercise, physical activity, meditation, yoga, and alternative approaches to psychotherapy such as art, music, and sound therapy.


Intentionally practicing mindfulness and engaging in regular meditation is another alternative that has proven to help addicts successfully overcome the need to use drugs or alcohol. The premise behind mindfulness is to help addicts develop awareness of their thoughts and feelings without reacting to the negative emotions that surface. Experts in the field believe this is fundamental in preventing relapse. There were two 2014 studies that found mindfulness-based relapse programs exceeded traditional relapse programs in terms of reducing substance abuse and drinking up to one year later.


Yoga is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative addiction treatment. The word yoga means “to unite” or “to be made whole” and works with the breath and physical postures to create balance of mind, body, and spirit. Yoga urges one to take a deep look within, bringing awareness to their addiction and a closer relationship to self. There are several courses and centers across the country that offer yoga as a means for overcoming addiction.


Ibogaine is an alternative that has gained the attention of the addiction treatment community for its unprecedented manner of helping with opioid withdrawal. While illegal in the US because of the psychedelic response it elicits in some people, there are countless clinics in Mexico, Canada, and Central and South America that offer ibogaine as an alternative to traditional rehab options. It’s believed Ibogaine is so effective at alleviating physical withdrawal by “resetting” the brain back to its pre-addicted state by flooding areas of the brain that have been damaged by addiction. For those that do experience the psychedelic effects of Ibogaine, many report a realization of the reasons for their addiction that helps them better understand their substance abuse patterns, ultimately leading to lasting change on both a physical and psychological level.


Neurofeedback has gained in popularity in recent years for treating addiction. This form of biofeedback involves EEG sensors attached to the head that provide feedback of activity in the brain on a computer screen. It allows for individuals to interact with their brain in real time to alter their feelings and create new pathways in the brain. Experts believe neurofeedback can not only help patients calm anxiety (a major trigger for substance abuse) but can also help individuals alleviate depression (another trigger) by using biofeedback to create heightened states of arousal. While neurofeedback is relatively new in addiction treatment, it’s an alternative that has shown favorable results.

For more alternative treatment methods and options, read our “Ultimate Guide to Heroin and Opiate Addiction” here.

Traditional rehab is not the only option. However, with the majority of rehab facilities only offering traditional rehab options, it may take some time to discover effective alternative methods. By educating yourself, you can be better equipped to deal with your addiction, or the addiction of your loved one, effectively.