Alcoholics Anonymous (also known as AA) has become synonymous with traditional rehab since its inception in 1935. In spite of its vast popularity, there are a number of equally competent alternative outpatient programs potentially more compatible with you or a loved one’s specific battles with addiction.
One of those options is SMART Recovery, a nonprofit specifically designed as another option for AA. Both organizations have similar motivations; likewise, some aspects are the same across both. For example, while the “SMART” in SMART Recovery stands for “Self-Management and Recovery Training,” according to their website, AA emphasizes individual growth as they “recover from alcoholism.”
There are a number of forthright apparent differences between the two — potentially the most apparent being SMART Recovery’s secular nature compared to inevitable spiritual influence in AA’s 12-step program — but the long-term success rates of both are indicative of how beneficial they both can be.
Deciding which option is best for you will most likely depend on what style of program you best respond to rather than the nature of your substance abuse issues. Understanding the differences between the two may help you make a more informed decision when considering the future of your or a loved one’s recovery.
The Only Requirement: A Desire to Abstain From Substances
All AA participants must have a desire to rid themselves of their addiction issue in order to continue through the program — a fact that is true of SMART Recovery, too.
The Role of Secular vs. Spiritual Empowerment
While recovering, Alcoholics Anonymous participants must consciously admit they need help to a higher power in one step and subsequently seek their help. Although it is possible for AA members to follow along in rehab without believing in a specific religion, they still have to become willing to believe in a power greater than themself.
SMART Recovery programs allow users to follow a religious code, but they primarily are devoid of spiritual influence. Those enrolled in SMART Recovery instead are instructed methods they can implement to rebuild confidence.
As AA users strip their identities down to their struggles with addiction and receive explicit aid, SMART Recovery participants are instructed to move past their flaws by learning how to prevent them.
12 Steps vs. 4-Point Program
Differences in how each organization treats addiction are most clearly defined in their methodology. SMART Recovery treats addiction like a systematic behavioral program; ergo, subsequent treatment seeks to treat these problems through scientific treatment.
Every step is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapeutic method that focuses on changing behaviors that induce addiction. In the same vein, SMART Recovery does not call its participants “addicts” because their actions are simply a behavioral setting that can be adjusted.
AA treats addiction like a chronic disease — something that can be treated but not cured — and its 12-step model is indicative of this belief. The steps of the AA program focus on growing a relationship with a higher power of the individual’s choosing, making amends to those they have done wrong, a continual effort to improve one’s self, and helping others as they have been helped.
This brings up another important difference between the two processes: the end goal. The last step of the 12-step model has a person continuing onward in their lives by following the previous steps, spreading the virtue of abstinence, and maintaining their goal to continue to treat their addiction. SMART Recovery has an end to its program; once participants have undergone therapy, they become better equipped to deal with addiction issues moving forward.
In spite of their differences, studies indicate that SMART Recovery and AA have equal results in decreasing relapses in the future.
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