Personal Views Page

(This page will carry from time to time the personal views of some of our members on issues which they believe are important in the recovery process. Our present policy is that these authors will remain anonymous and will be limited to members of the Washington, D.C. Area SMART groups. They do not necessarily reflect positions either of the Washington, D.C. Area SMART groups, nor its National Headquarters. Comments are welcomed.)

Differences Between SMART Recovery and AA

Many newcomers to SMART Recovery have previous experience with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Although they have decided to investigate SMART because of dissatisfaction with AA, frequently with its "spiritual" component, they are still unclear about both what they themselves are looking for (aside from either not drinking or cutting back), and what SMART Recovery specifically stands for and how it differs from AA. One member of the Washington, DC Area SMART groups offers some thoughts on the subject (which may differ from other members of the groups):

First, SMART Recovery is not an ideology, that is, a fixed set of beliefs. The emphasis is not on belief, but on rational analysis and action. Unlike AA, SMART Recovery works to provide an analytical framework which allows each participant to chart his or her own path to freedom from addiction. The mainstay of this framework is Albert Ellis' Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy, but this is not the only approach used in our meetings. Our view, unlike AA's, is that we should "utilize and analyze."

It follows from this that second, we do not consider that all addicts are alike. Thus, no one "solution" fits all. Objective scientific studies have shown that everything from drinking patterns (for example, daily use to binge drinking) to degree of dependency, age at the outset of addiction, sex, family patterns, psychological reasons to use (i.e.,, to get "high" or to avoid feelings of inadequacy or discomfort) etc., produce strikingly different types of addicts.

Therefore, third, we do not claim that SMART Recovery is the best program for everyone with addiction problems. We emphasize a goal of abstinence, as does AA. SMART Recovery might be best for some, AA for others, Moderation Management for others, religious denomination-based programs for others, or even personal determination to quit. The only way for a person with an addiction habit he or she wishes to end is to experience SMART Recovery or AA or some other program and see if it works; if it doesn't something else should be tried.

Thus, we see that fourth, 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, we believe 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.

While we fully respect and, indeed some of us hold, personal religious and spiritual beliefs, fifth, we do not view religious and spiritual beliefs as essential in solving our problems of addiction. We do not consider that a malevolent or benevolent "Higher Power" is either responsible for our addiction problems nor will it intervene to aid us in our individual efforts to overcome them.

Sixth, SMART Recovery also does not consider "alcoholism" a life-long preoccupation. We prefer the term "addiction," which refers to the physical addiction experienced while using (and for some time thereafter during withdrawal). After this physical addiction is over, the real problem is psychological---and solvable by the individual. Following this---or occurring simultaneously with it---the individual can move on to work on his or her other goals in life.

Seventh, simple observation as well as scientific studies show that there is no single "alcoholic personality" type or profile which can usefully describe an individual and his or her addictive actions. We instead observe that conflicting desires exist within each individual, some strong to use, but others equally earnestly desiring to end the addiction. We do not dwell on the historical sources of these desires, as is often done in traditional psychoanalysis, but instead on identifying and analyzing the underlying rational and irrational beliefs causing these desires in the here and now.

Eighth, SMART Recovery meetings are self-help groups, not support groups. While we sympathize with and try to assist others in the group, the primary goal of participants in our meetings is to support and strengthen their own efforts to be free of addiction. Unlike AA, probing discussion through cross-talk and feedback is encouraged. Like AA, however, these groups are confidential and administered by their own participants. Also like AA, SMART meetings are free, with minimal contributions encouraged but not required.

Ninth, we have no definitive and incontrovertible text, such as AA's Big Book. We have developed and continue to develop our own suggested reading material, which is available at meetings, but also draw on other sources in our discussions.

This is Essay No. 2, issued January, 1998.

Previous Essays

November, 1997--Fifty Ways to Recover

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