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Which is Better: SMART or AA?

SMART Recovery is a program that offers free meetings teaching members research-backed psychological tools to combat addiction. These tools are mainly drawn from Motivational Enhancement Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, all of which are commonly used by therapists treating addiction and other issues. SMART Recovery is generally considered an alternative to 12 Step programs.

SMART is similar to AA in structure. There are groups all around the world where people meet regularly to discuss their addictions and how to apply SMART methods to whatever problems they are having. Both groups preserve anonymity. The idea behind SMART is that you can learn these methods in therapy, but they don’t do much good unless you consistently apply them to your life. The group reminds you of the core principles and supports you through difficult times.

Beyond the group structure, SMART and AA diverge considerably. While the first step in AA is to admit that you have no control over alcohol, SMART is all about learning to control your thinking and behavior. AA considers addiction to be a disease whereas SMART considers addiction to be a bad habit run amok.

The difference in how each group thinks about addiction leads to very different approaches to recovery. The AA approach is total surrender to a higher power and complete abstinence. SMART is not as hardline about abstinence, although it may be the best approach for some or even most people. SMART instead emphasizes learning skills that give you more control over your behavior, something AA doesn’t believe is possible when it comes to alcohol.

Which is better really depends on you. Different people respond to different approaches. A lot of people can’t accept the higher power approach of AA. Despite that, some people still make it work. They just take what’s useful and leave the rest. There are even agnostic and atheist AA meetings. Some people just find the 12 Step approach too rigid and dogmatic. They want something more flexible and scientific. For those people, SMART is probably a better approach.

AA is the clear winner in one respect: there are far more AA meetings to choose from. There might be an AA meeting happening right now, in your garage–check your listing. There are more than 100,000 AA groups worldwide, compared to about 700 SMART groups. If you need support to quit drinking or drugs, 12 Step programs are far more available, even if they aren’t a perfect fit for you.

Although SMART and AA have diametrically opposed philosophies, it doesn’t mean you have to choose. AA’s spiritual approach might be a perfect complement to SMART’s more empirical approach. You can go to both, or you can try both to see which appeals to you more. The bottom line is that the more options there are for addiction help, the better.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.