It can be difficult for people to break free of addiction unless they have sufficient support. One of the most well known ways of getting this type of support is to turn to Alcoholics Anonymous; however, many individuals are put off by the spiritual emphasis of this programme. In the past, there was an unfortunate tendency to blame individuals for not getting AA, but it is now understood that this fellowship is only suitable for a minority of people. Other alternatives have popped up in recent years and one of these is SMART Recovery.
SMART is an abbreviation of ‘self-management and recovery training’. Like AA, it involves attending meetings where members share advice, wisdom, and experience. The emphasis here is more scientific than spiritual and includes approaches such as cognitive-behavioural therapy, motivational enhancement, and motivational interviewing. The SMART group is also keen to be always up-to-date on the latest scientific breakthroughs on dealing with addiction. This approach to recovery tends to work better for those individuals who prize logic and science above more experiential ways of knowledge.
The SMART programme is based on four main areas: coping with urges, gaining the motivation to change, solving problems in recovery, and developing a balanced lifestyle. Just like AA, the goal is permanent abstinence from alcohol, and there is no mention of helping people to drink like a ‘normal person’. The SMART programme is designed to help individuals make it through the different stages of recovery; they are considered to be successful in recovery when the four areas (see above) are in balance.
The main difference between AA and SMART is that the former offers a spiritual basis for recovery while the latter is more focused on a secular scientific approach. AA is not affiliated with any particular religion but there is an expectation that members will turn to a higher power for help. Many atheists in AA think of this higher power as just the power of the group, but others are put off even by the mention of a higher power. There is a great deal of spiritual talk in AA, which can be off-putting for those who are critical of such ideas.
There is no real evidence to suggest that SMART recovery is any more effective than AA. Many more people get sober using the latter, but this is probably because there are so many more AA meetings than SMART meetings. It can be very hard to accurately assess the effectiveness of this type of self-help group because most people tend to just turn up for a few weeks or months and disappear – the fact that anonymity is usually protected makes statistical measures difficult. The fairest thing to say is that AA works for some people and SMART recovery works for others but neither of them offer anything close to a miracle cure.
The only real way to determine if SMART Recovery might work for you is to give it a try. If you live in a reasonably large town, you should be able to find SMART meetings available. It is common for those in early recovery to attend both AA and SMART. This can give you a sense of what both have to offer and you can then make an informed decision about which one is right for you – or you can just continue with both of them.