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Differences Between Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery

by Landmark Recovery

November 21, 2017
A woman sitting and thinking about Smart Recovery

Do you ever get annoyed when someone tells you that there’s only one way to get something done – insinuating that unless you do it their way, you’ll make a mess of things? In reality, being closed to alternative ideas and beliefs will only serve to limit our growth of knowledge.

We see different approaches fervently accepted or denied as useful in the treatment of drugs and alcohol. While Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has been around for longer and has had millions of success stories, we also find numerous benefits in newer treatment models.

In this article, we will compare AA to SMART Recovery while being mindful that despite their differences, both approaches have immeasurable benefits for individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. Both valuable in their own right – read on to learn about the main differences between AA and SMART Recovery.


SMART Recovery and AA Introduction:

Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is a support program that teaches people how to manage their addictions by focusing on unhealthy thought patterns and beliefs. SMART considers itself a self-empowerment program.

Contrary to AA, participants are not led to believe that they are powerless to their addiction, but instead are capable of overcoming obstacles to recovery through self-determination and dedication. Spirituality is neither endorsed or discouraged.

AA is also a support program for addicts, and participants follow a set of recovery steps to maintain abstinence from alcohol. Many people have a sponsor who provides additional support and coaching. The program has underpinnings in spirituality although it does not adhere to the belief of a specific God. Members acknowledge that a ‘Higher Power’ is responsible for pulling them out of their addictions, and further believe that they are incapable of overcoming their struggles alone.


How DO SMART Recovery and AA Work?

A woman sitting and thinking about Smart Recovery

SMART Recovery is a 4-point program that focuses on building the skills necessary for maintaining sobriety. Unlike AA, the four points can be addressed in any order based upon individual needs.

Point One – Building and Maintaining Motivation: It’s not uncommon to feel enthusiastic about recovery in the early stages. However, as the stressors of life reemerge, zeal and optimism are often replaced with discouragement. During point one, participants may be asked to recall factors that led to their “rock bottom” or moment of awareness, and to make a list that examines the benefits of sobriety over using alcohol.

Point Two – Coping With Urges: Cravings can be immensely difficult to deal with, and this point explores the triggers behind them. Going back to the concept of empowerment, once an addict is aware of stressors that cause the urge to use drugs or alcohol, he’s better prepared to overcome urges.

Point Three – Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors: The concept of irrational beliefs is explored, and individuals are taught how to recognize distorted thinking that leads to relapse. Examining why you think the way you do is a key component during this stage

Point Four – Living a Balanced Life: Participants take an inventory of what’s important to them and use it to make a plan for the future. Coping skills, community resources and relapse prevention skills are introduced as tools that help addicts stay sober long-term.

AA Uses the “Big Book” as the central text that explains the twelve steps to be implemented in one’s recovery. The twelve steps should be practiced as a way of life, and offers a peaceful, balanced life to those who are fully invested.


The 12 Steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable

2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

In comparison, there is an ongoing theme throughout the twelve steps of reaching out to a Higher Power or God for support, knowledge, and answers. SMART Recovery holds a different view that doesn’t necessarily include God, (but could based upon individual beliefs) and maintains that every addict is capable of managing sobriety through their own internal resolve.

In Summary, the SMART Recovery program centers around behavioral and cognitive methods that enable YOU to take ownership of your addiction, life, and recovery. AA’s method, requires “surrender” and the belief that spirituality is the driving force behind regaining your health and well-being. Which program is right?


They Both Are Great!

Smart Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous provide unique perspectives on living happily without drugs and alcohol, and many people incorporate aspects of both into their “recovery tool belts.” Explore as many resources as possible. Information that doesn’t sync with your beliefs or values can be forgotten. Knowledge that resonates deeply will be treasured for a lifetime!

At Landmark Recovery of Louisville, we pride ourselves on being different. Ongoing groups, regular family sessions, and staff that is both knowledgeable and compassionate set our treatment center apart from the pack. You deserve a substance abuse treatment center that thoroughly prepares you for a lifetime without drugs or alcohol. There’s no time to wait! Call us today.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.