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It is well known in the treatment industry that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all process. What works amazingly for one person might not be what works best for you. Luckily, there are many programs, therapies, and tools out there to help people struggling with alcohol abuse or substance use disorder.
Two of the most well-known addiction treatment programs are Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Self Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery).
What is SMART Recovery?
SMART Recovery is a science-based, secular, and therapeutic 4-point program for people wanting to overcome addiction. SMART Recovery was initially developed as an alternative to AA for people who didn’t resonate with the religious foundation underlying AA’s 12 Steps Program. Instead, this program focuses on strengthening self-reliance and empowerment.
As put best by SMART Recovery facilitator Ashley Phillips at the annual conference and 20th Anniversary, their mission is to “invite [people struggling with addiction] to join us in creating and sustaining and nurturing a life that is consistent with your values and with your goals for yourself as together we embrace and discover the power of choice.”1
History of SMART Recovery
SMART Recovery was developed in 1985 from an earlier program called Rational Recovery. Rational Recovery was initially created as a secular alternative to AA by a licensed clinical social worker and recovered alcoholic, Jack Trimpey, and his wife, Lois.
In 1992, SMART Recovery was incorporated under the name “The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Self-Help Network,” before rebranding in 1994 as SMART Recovery, led by Dr. Joe Gerstein, a Harvard professor of medicine and internist specializing in pain management.
Today there are over 3,000 SMART Recovery meetings held across 24 countries each week, with another 36 weekly SMART Recovery online meetings so people can attend remotely.
SMART Recovery 4-Point Program
SMART Recovery meets you where you are in your journey, using different techniques based on your stage of commitment.
SMART Recovery divides the process of behavior change into four stages:2
- Building and Maintaining Motivation (identifying your ‘why’ and strengthening your resolve)
- Coping with Urges (learning how to spot and cope with daily triggers)
- Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors (learning the tools to find self-acceptance and avoid relapse)
- Living a Balanced Life (setting realistic goals for sobriety)
Facilitators meet at each stage with different science-backed therapeutic techniques, including cognitive-behavior therapy, motivational enhancement therapy, and rational emotive behavior therapy. SMART Recovery also supports the use of appropriately prescribed medications.
What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
AA is an international, anonymity-driven sobriety program based on recognizing the existence of a “Higher Power” and that we are not in control of our lives and addiction.
As perhaps the most well-known alcohol addiction recovery program, Alcoholics Anonymous has helped create satellite programs targeting other addictions, like Narcotics Anonymous. The spiritual element underlying AA’s 12 Step Program has many on the road to recovery.
History of Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous was born in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, from the minds of two struggling but hopeful alcoholics: Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. Bill was a New York stockbroker, and he struggled with alcohol abuse but found sobriety after developing his relationship with “God” or a “Higher Power.” 3
Bill soon met Bob Smith, a surgeon and Oxford Group member who also struggled with alcoholism. After working with Bill for 30 days, Bob never touched a drink again, and Alcoholics Anonymous was born. Bill and Bob began working together to help those with alcohol addiction on the path to sobriety in hospitals in Ohio, New York, and Cleveland. By 1939, the duo had produced the first 100 sober members.
These 100 individuals collaborated with Bill in 1939 to write the group’s core text: Alcoholics Anonymous. Known casually as the “Big Book,” the text outlines the methods and guiding philosophy, 12 Step Program, and case studies from 30 members.4
Why Do People Choose SMART Recovery over Alcoholics Anonymous?
Although both SMART Recovery meetings and AA meetings have similar results when it comes to member sobriety, they take fundamentally different approaches.
Many individuals seeking recovery from addiction prefer SMART Recovery’s secular approach to healing. SMART Recovery promotes thoroughly researched therapeutic techniques that focus on changing behavior and developing healthful habits.
SMART Recovery meetings generally focus on self-reliance, accountability, and empowerment. This approach is different than AA meetings where relinquishing control to a “Higher Power” and accepting powerlessness over alcoholism is the focus.
Advocates for Choice
Research on SMART Recovery
Other Peer Support Groups for Recovery
Founded in 1976, Women for Sobriety was the first alcoholism support group to provide help strictly for women. Centered on 13 acceptance-based principles of emotional growth, positivity, and accountability for yourself, Women for Sobriety aims to help women exchange negative thoughts and behaviors for positive ones.
While most alcoholism treatment programs highly discourage or prohibit consuming any alcohol, Moderation Management provides a middle ground. Founded in 1994, Moderation Management takes members through nine steps that help each person learn to identify harmful drinking patterns and take responsibility for their actions.
Founded in 1985, Rational Recovery was the precursor to SMART Recovery and was created as a secular approach to alcoholism treatment. RR’s program focuses on recognizing the internal “addictive voice” and dissociating from the impulses and emotions that arise when that voice speaks.