SMART Recovery vs. AA

image of apples and oranges to symbolize comparison of SMART Recovery and AA

There are a number of recovery options available for those dealing with addiction, and it is truly up to the individual to determine the best fit for them. One of the most popular paths to recovery is Alcoholics Anonymous (while there are many 12-step programs, this article will, for brevity, reference AA and alcohol use)  which has been around for quite some time and has become nearly synonymous with addiction recovery. It is important that individuals be aware that there other recovery options outside of AA. If you have explored AA and feel that it is not the best fit for you, consider looking into SMART’s approach to recovery.

SMART Recovery vs. 12-Step

SMART Recovery is the largest alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous and the disease model of addiction. SMART Recovery was co-founded by Tom Horvath, Ph.D., as a self-empowering alternative to the 12-step method. The fundamental difference between SMART and AA is locus of control. That is, whether one’s recovery should be guided from within, or by an external higher power.

What is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)?

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a non-profit foundation built on using spirituality to reach sobriety. “Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere.” AA was established in 1935 in order to teach alcohol users the way to live a satisfying life without alcohol.

What is SMART Recovery?

The SMART acronym stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. SMART is an newer recovery approach, and rather different than the 12-step program of AA. SMART is based on scientific methods rather than on spirituality, with a heavy emphasis of self-empowerment, cognitive-behavioral techniques, and coping with cravings. Rather than focusing on alcohol use as the only issue, SMART methods are meant to help resolve underlying issues surrounding addiction. SMART Recovery is a non-profit organization with an emphasis on four points: 1) Building motivation, 2) Coping with urges, 3) Problem Solving and 4) Lifestyle Balance.

The SMART Recovery approach appreciates that individuals experience substance use differently and that the definition of “recovery” is as unique as the individual. In the same light, the SMART Recovery approach appreciates the innate power of individuals to change their behavior with the right tools. As such, SMART Recovery builds upon the strengths of individuals, versus tearing them down, and, through cognitive-behavioral techniques, gives people the tools to build upon those strengths to achieve their own goals.

PROGRAMAlcoholics AnonymousSMART Approach
FOCUSSerenity, powerlessness, acceptanceSelf-empowering, courage, activity
ESTABLISHED19351994
FOUNDATIONSpiritual-basedEvidence-based
PURPOSEAbstinenceBased on individual’s goals
PRINCIPLESBased on the 12 Steps4-point program

Building motivation

Coping with urges

Problem Solving

Lifestyle Balance

EMPHASISAdmit powerlessness over alcohol, seek help from higher power, use prayer and meditationCognitive behavioral methods

Non-confrontational approach

Motivational methods

PROFIT STRUCTURENon-profitNon-profit
IS ADDICTION A DISEASE?YesUp to the participant
ACCEPTANCE OF MODERATION?NoUp to the participant

If you are looking for a treatment facility that offers evidence-based, non 12-step treatment, Practical Recovery’s outpatient services may be a good fit. Please give us a call, we’re here for you.

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