Is SMART Recovery A Smart Choice For An Alcoholic Anonymous Member?

by Dick on April 21, 2012 · 10 comments

in 12 Steps, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Alcoholism, Recovery, SMART Recovery

Differences and Similarities Between SMART Recovery & Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

My previous post about the Huff Post hit piece on AA has made me start reading more about the different alcohol recovery programs. I have all the respect for AA and its fellowship, but it was written in 1937 without the benefit of the last 70 years of major research and groundbreaking work in addiction. As with many recovering persons, I have issues with its over-spiritual and blind-faith-in-God approach.

The one program which has really caught my eye is SMART Recovery which is based in rational emotive behavior therapy. I doubt that SMART has the peer and fellowship power of Alcoholics Anonymous (or maybe it does?), but its principles really appeal to me:

  • Completely accept that you are fallible. Your fallibility includes thinking in a manner that greatly hinders you in your individual pursuits and in relating to people with whom you live, work, and associate.
  • Intensely focus on eliminating your emotional upsets quickly (as soon as they occur) and regularly (several times a week). Follow this practice to give yourself more freedom from self-defeat and toward happiness.
  • Forgive yourself your mistakes. You will make many of them. Practice effective self-help techniques and you will eventually improve your behaviors and your abilities to change. Tolerate others’ shortcomings and forgive their mistakes. Keep your friendships even with their problems, because you won’t find any that do not have them.
  • Accept that you are a creature who thrives on happiness, delight, joy, and love, and work to develop your ability to find and achieve these in as many ways as you can.
  • Accept yourself with your mistakes and shortcomings.
  • Work and practice, and you will eventually improve your abilities to change.
  • Absorb yourself in a long-term interest that brings you happiness.

Here is another very nice summary of the SMART program in comparison to AA. SMART Recovery emphasizes personal choice and responsibility for one’s actions. It is up to each addict to determine what is best for him or her, not have the choice forced upon him or her. This point is in particularly strong contrast with AA’s emphasis on “powerless.” Rather, SMART believes strongly in rational analysis leading to freedom for the individual and his or her empowerment through self-knowledge leading to control over one’s decisions.

This notion really appeals to me because one of the things I would do without is AA’s take-it-or-leave-it approach. While I may be “powerless” over alcohol when I drink it, I am not powerless over my choice to seek sobriety and not drink alcohol for that day. That is my choice over which only I have the power. I decide the choices I make in my recovery. Not AA, not a Higher Power, not my sponsor, not anyone else.

SMART also has a huge library of “homework” assignments and workshops, again, which greatly appeals to my rational and intellectual side. I actually did a lot of this type of work while at the Hazelden Recovery Program. Anyways, I’m considering checking out a local SMART meeting. This would essentially be to “add value” to my recovery, not to replace AA or anything. I may like it or hate it. Who knows? Can’t hurt right?

Anyone have experience with SMART Recovery? I would love to hear your thoughts and experience.

One day at a time…



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  • Julie Ann Theisen

    Hey Dick – I have been kinda curious about other recovery out there as well. In addition to AA, I also did DBT – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. Basically, it is working to take control back of the mind and change thought processes. Although my experiences have mainly been with AA, I find the DBT component the most helpful. I feel like I learned some concrete skills to fall back on when things are going well. 

    I don’t think there is a “wrong” way to do recovery. As long as you are happy sober, get there anyway you can. Hazelden and other facilities that use the MN model of recovery feel that AA is the best bet since post-treatment there is little else available to addicts other than support groups of some kind. 

    I have been checking out Women in Sobriety (don’t think you can attend this one :). There were some additional aspects I appreciated about attending a different group. I don’t think it can ever hurt to explore. There is no 1 right recovery path for everyone. 

    Wishing you much continued success – you are doing well!!! Keep it up!

    • Dick

      Thanks Julie! I would be interested in hearing more about DBT from you. Maybe a blog post??


  • B. (Below Her Means)

    I’m intrigued. You should try reading Rational Recovery by Jack Timpsey. Similar mindset, puts the drinker in the power seat, takes the disease/victim language out of everything.

  • Kristen

    I’d heard of SMART before, but always held off on reading into it because AA worked for me and I didn’t want to cloud my head early on, if that makes any sense. Since blogging, I’ve learned that some people I admire use a variety of programs and tools in their recovery. I suspected this must be true — that there must be other programs that work as well, if not better — but in AA, no one talks about anything but AA. You know how it is.

    Thanks for the info. I bookmarked the pages and look forward to reading more about it.

  • Pingback: My First SMART Recovery Meeting | The Sober Lawyer()

  • Claire Saenz

    Another lawyer here who’s a long term member of SMART. I’ve found that although SMART is not as big as AA and has fewer face to face meetings (except in some areas, particularly large metro areas such as NY and Chicago, where SMART is very popular) it’s a much better fit for me than AA. As far as social support, I’ve done AA (it’s hard to get anywhere near the topic of recovery without encountering it at some point) and find that I also like the support in SMART better because it’s a different quality of support. The support in SMART seems to be more about actually getting sober and living a sober life, whereas AA support always struck me as being more about finding God. Anyway, my feeling is that we each need to find a path that works for us, and I’m glad that word is really getting out there about SMART. In my 14+ years of happy recovery, I haven’t found anything I like better!

  • Slip_Mahoney

    I’ve spent some time investigating SMART lately. They seem to be well meaning. But, in the same respect, to me the program seems to serve as a “shortcut” for the many who can’t get past the first three steps of the Twelve Steps. For whatever reason, they must remain in control rather than admit that the true addict can’t do it by him or herself. They ask for help, but refuse to make that last step in turning themselves over to something larger than themselves. I guess many have “God” issues (I being among them), but I feel bad for the people who resist twelve-step programs because they feel a requirement to acknowledge a popularized version of “God.” SMART seems to be chock-full of people like this. And many chronic relapsers too, it seems to me.

    What frustrates me is that although they proclaim to be supportive of other programs, any mention of a twelve-step program brings out the “quick-reply” disclaimers and the advice to new members that twelve-step groups are “cults.” Sad that their egos get in the way of perhaps saving someone’s life.

  • Babs

    I never liked the submissive, self-defeating attitudes in AA-like you, only I have the power to not use today. I exercise MY willpower to be sober, be happy and get on with my life. Love SMART and have gotten my therapist interested enough that her office is starting a face to face meeting in my city. She likes the CBT/REBT approach as do I. And AA is so depressing, everyone so focused on alcohol and their hard luck stories. Get on with having a good life, there’s a lot more out there than wearing your sobriety on your sleeve!

  • Todd Koch

    There is NO wrong way to recover if it enhances the process of change in my life. There are MANY pathways to recovery SMART being one of them. I too am a person in long term recovery that got his roots in AA, BUT we know a lot more now in regards to addiction and mental health issues then they did at the conception of AA. I agree with if it works don’t fix it, BUT I also agree that everything is contempt prior to investigation as well. I have gone beyond the rooms of AA to grow in my personal recovery and you know what??? It worked for ME!!! LOL. and if it works for me and is promoting the process of change in my life, improving my health and wellness, helping me be SELF directed and allowing me to strive to reach MY full potential, then it’s right. Right for me. Do what you feel is right Dick and leave no stone unturned.
    Todd K.

  • Jim Williams

    After detoxing, I went to Daytox, a program sponsored by the BC provincial government. They gave us science based tools and showed us our options when we graduated. AA, NA and etc. were given as adoptions, but so was SMART Recovery.

    I chose SMART as I felt uncomfortable with the 12 steps because I’m agnostic. I don’t regret that choice and every meeting the use of the tools is reinforced and I find the cross talk awesome. (Though you need a strong Facilitator for sure!)

    At the suggestion of my Facilitator, I have signed up to become one myself.

    I have attended a few AA meetings to get a feel for it. I know if I travel that if I can’t find a SMART meeting I will be able to find an AA meeting.

    In our group (in White Rock BC) there are some that go to both SMART and AA or other recovery groups and as SMART believes there is no such thing as the “perfect” recovery group for all people, all the time, that is considered absolutely acceptable.

    I am ultimately responsible for my addiction… ergo, also responsible for my recovery.

    I wish you success in your recovery. And the same to every reader of this blog that is struggling with addiction. Play the tape forward, change the way you think, and you will change the way you behave.

    Jim Williams-Cloverdale BC Canada

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