Supplementing the 12 Steps

By The Fix staff 09/19/18

Incorporating additional holistic health practices can help keep your recovery alive.

woman crouches while unrolling her yoga mat

Around the world, when people think of sobriety they think of 12-step programs. For decades, Alcoholics Anonymous and similar fellowship programs were the only treatment available to many people struggling with substance use disorders. These traditions have helped millions of people achieve and maintain sobriety, and even today remain the most widely available treatment option.

While 12-step programs have a great history, today there are more ways than ever to keep your recovery invigorated and live a healthy life. Now, it’s possible to recover from substance use disorders with or without utilizing the 12-steps. Many people strengthen their recovery by incorporating holistic health practices like healthy eating, yoga, exercise and traditional healing methods.

Some people in recovery turn to these practices because they never clicked with the 12-step philosophy. People might take issue with the idea of being powerless, or with the focus on a higher power in 12-step tradition. Others use the fellowship model to support long-term sobriety and also incorporate other practices. Whatever the reason for seeking new practices outside the 12-step practice, there are many great options that can supplement and enhance long-term sobriety without attending a meeting. Here are some of the most common:

Healthy Eating

People who abuse substances put their bodies through the ringer for many years. Not only does addiction lead to ingesting or injecting toxic substances, but it often takes away any motivation or ability to focus on nutrition. Because of this, many people enter sobriety malnourished and physically unhealthy.

In order to heal their bodies, people in recovery should learn about nutrition, making sure that they are getting enough fruits, vegetable and nutrients. Today, with endless recipes available online and healthy vegetarian restaurants easy to find, it’s simple to focus on healthy eating without feeling deprived.


The 12-step traditions focus on sobriety “just for today.” Taking recovery one step at a time, and one day at a time, is a form of mindfulness that helps people from feeling overwhelmed. Because many people already have mindfulness incorporated into their recovery in this way, they find that yoga — with its focus on the present moment — is a natural fit into their recovery programs.

In addition to training the mind not to get carried away, yoga provides a physical exercise that is gentle enough for people who are healing. As a person’s strength in recovery grows, their yoga practice can progress as well, providing new challenges and rewards.


While some people prefer the gentle movements of yoga, others like to hit the gym or pound the pavement in order to keep themselves centered. Exercise is great for your physical health, and it releases the same “feel good” brain chemicals that addictive substances do. Because of this, exercise programs are a great way to deal with cravings and other challenges in recovery.

Zumba class — which combines loud music, Latin dance and a cardio workout — is a particularly great way to exercise in recovery. Just like exercise, music releases certain endorphins and chemicals that leave you feeling naturally high on life.

Traditional Health Philosophies

To supplement their day-to-day routines many people in recovery experiment with traditional ways of healing. Practices like acupuncture, Chinese cupping and cleansing have physical and mental health benefits that some people in recovery find very useful. Of course, it’s important to find a reputable practitioner, so reaching out to experts like those at Padme Hum, a holistic health center, is important.

There is no one way to maintain long-term sobriety. Whether you are newly sober or have been living in recovery for decades, trying a new practice and experimenting with healthy habits can give you just the boost you need to keep your recovery interesting.

Serenity Health is a UK organization that provides treatment and connects patients with services. Learn more on Twitter.

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