Holistic vs Alternative Addiction Treatment: What's the Difference?

marl clevenger from unsplash

marl clevenger from unsplash


Alternative versus Holistic addiction treatment:

What’s the difference?

“You’re not surrendering and you’re trying to remain in control of an uncontrollable situation. Classic denial!” 

That is what the hosts of a 12-Step podcast were telling a listener. They were attacking the listener’s choice for using a holistic approach in the treatment of his addiction. The hosts explained that the listener was using the holistic approach as a way to avoid Step 1’s admission of being powerless, and therefore, he was in denial.

The hosts made a great case and were asking important questions. Concepts such as powerlessness, surrender, control and denial all must be addressed in early recovery. And when this listener was confronted with these questions, he offered his own reasons, put forth a great argument and proved why he was happy with his holistic choices.

So, who’s right?  Who’s wrong?  Who won the argument?

The answer is that there’s a problem with the question. 

The problem is that alternative and holistic are being used interchangeably;

this is incorrect.

The question is set up so that you either do it the 12-Step way or you don’t.  And if you don’t, then you’re choosing an alternative.

In this case, a holistic approach is the alternative but what’s wrong with this thinking is that: if it’s truly holistic, then it won’t be alternative.

Is that confusing?  Exactly my point. Let me explain.:

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If holistic is being used strictly as an alternative, then it’s not really holistic - it’s alternative.  

This is because:

  • Holistic includes the opposition. It takes into consideration the point of view of whatever it is being used as an alternative to. 

  • Holistic is just that: Whole - which by its very definition, includes both opposing points of view at the same time.

Here’s a way to see the differences between alternative and holistic models of treatment:


  • this versus that / traditional versus alternative

  • right versus wrong / or this way is better than that other way

  • clear delineation between the two

  • oppositional


  • both this and that

  • finding what’s right in all approaches - even the opposites

  • the clear delineation is used to gain even more clarity from both points of view.

  • inclusive

In my opinion and experience…

…there is a great advantage to employing a holistic approach.  This is because it includes all of the benefits of an alternative, and at the same time, honors the possibilities proposed from the more traditional points of view.

This eliminates the struggle involved with any right versus wrong argument.  And in recovery, anything that can reduce stress and struggle is a big win.

In this case, taking up the alternative argument to the 12-Step questions looks like this:


  • 12 Step versus holistic

  • holistic is better than 12 Step

  • alternative is my path, so I do not have to look at what the 12 Steps tries to tell me

Whereas, if we were able to enter the conversation holistically, it would look like this:


  • what is true about the 12-Steps’ perception, as it applies to my case?

  • no path is better than the other  

  • each offers different ways to truth and in recovery, this can be used interchangeably, as one sees fit along their personal journey

The holistic approach embraces the paradox that opposite points of view can be true at the same time. 

For this example, that means that while the listener may very well feel more benefits from his holistic treatment approach than the 12-Steps, he also needs to address the possibility that he chose this path to avoid tackling some tough questions about powerlessness, surrender, control and denial. When he gets these answers, then he’s then ready to take the next steps on his path in recovery - whichever way that leads - and to whichever approach fits best for him.

That’s holistic.

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Randy LyonsalchemyComment