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SMART Recovery vs. A.A. – Is One Better?

by | Last updated Apr 16, 2021 at 11:39AM | Published on Aug 18, 2019 | Addiction Treatments, Relapse Prevention

SMART Recovery vs. AA

New organizations have emerged when it comes to alcohol addiction recovery programs, offering a different approach to addiction recovery support. These programs provide similar structures to traditional 12-step programs, but they have different beliefs and philosophies. Two of the most popular ones have their pros and cons, so let’s explore SMART Recovery vs. A.A. and see if one is better than the other.

What is SMART Recovery?

A nonprofit organization that focuses on self-empowerment, Self-Management, and Recovery Training (SMART) is also a self-help group of people who wish to abstain from drugs, alcohol, and other behaviors. This research-based program uses a 4-point plan that involves:

  1. Obtaining and maintaining motivation
  2. Learning to manage urges and triggers
  3. Handling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors
  4. Finding and striking a balance in life

SMART Recovery uses a variety of tools and homework exercises to help members work through these four points. Meetings are face-to-face and follow the same format worldwide, and are run by a trained facilitator.

Their program centers around behavioral and cognitive methods of recovery. Intensive therapy is the basis of their principles. They’re diversified and work well with many individuals suffering from alcoholism or addiction, incorporating learnings from scientifically based therapies and adapt these scientific principles:

  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET)
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
  • Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT)

Pros & Cons of SMART Recovery

Overall, SMART recovery programs are an excellent alternative to individuals that feel the spiritual guidance of A.A. meetings doesn’t align with their beliefs. They also encourage online meetings, which means the program is available to an addict or alcoholic no matter where they are.


  • Teaches self-empowerment and self-reliance
  • Provides educational and support meetings with discussions
  • Encourages abstinence from alcohol and drugs
  • Alternative to A.A. and N.A. for those who don’t want a twelve-step program


  • Supports legally prescribed psychiatric medication
  • It has not been proven as effective as A.A. or N.A.
  • The recovery program isn’t lifelong

SMART Recovery vs. AA Principles

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?

Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) is an international mutual aid fellowship founded by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith. Based on “The Big Book” literature, the program aimed to work as an alcohol abuse self-help network. There are no dues or fees to be part of A.A.; the only requirement is for members to show a desire to stop drinking.

A.A. is based on the doctrine that asks members to admit their lack of control over alcohol. It revolves around the idea that individuals must turn themselves to a higher power and find spiritual awakening. While this concept is helpful to some, it can be challenging for those who don’t consider themselves religious individuals.

Pros & Cons of A.A.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that supports the benefits of the programs. Some formal research even points out that 12-step programs can work for many individuals. However, addiction treatment is a very personal journey, and various points of view might be positive or negative.


  • Programs offer anonymity to allow members to get support without privacy concerns
  • No cost access to addiction recovery support
  • Access to a broad network of support within the member’s existing community
  • The sponsorship method promotes accountability


  • The model focus on powerlessness might not be effective for everyone
  • Most twelve-step programs are not a fit for humanists or atheists
  • There’s a lack of emphasis on physical recovery
  • The programs are run by recovering addicts, not physicians or therapists

Choosing the Right Recovery Program

These types of support groups are in almost every community in the United States. If you’re considering attending a rehabilitation program at a treatment facility, odds are they incorporate these meetings into their addiction treatment programs. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we encourage twelve-step program meetings in the evening, after a day of individual and 12-step group therapy.

The vast majority of these programs are free of cost, and the only requirement to participate is a desire to stop using. A quick online search will show you recovery programs near you, whether you want SMART Recovery meetings or A.A. meetings. There are also many types of 12-step programs available to recovering addicts.

Comprehensive Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Alcohol Addiction Treatment 

When you’re looking for the right substance abuse treatment, the more options you can choose from, the merrier. When it comes to alcohol rehab centers in Florida, it’s vital to find one with comprehensive treatment plans that adapt to your needs. Our rehab center is equipped with licensed staff members who will guide you in your recovery process. We incorporate various evidence-based treatments.

Treatment Options

  • Alcohol Detox: Every alcohol rehab journey starts with a detox program. Here, our staff members ensure a safe and comfortable environment for individuals to begin tapering off their alcohol abuse.
  • Inpatient Treatment: Usually, after detox, patients move to an inpatient treatment setting for an intensive rehab program. These are structured and strict programs that allow for little flexibility. The change in environment and structure helps patients focus their recovery efforts to promote sobriety and long-term recovery.
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment: These programs are perfect for struggling alcoholics ready to continue their recovery but must maintain daily responsibilities like family care, work, and school. Individual therapy and medication-assisted treatments are a huge element of these treatment programs as patients start working on their recovery journeys.
  • Dual Diagnosis Programs: Many people struggling with alcohol abuse also struggle with mental illness or other co-occurring disorders. A dual diagnosis program can help them get help for substance abuse and mental health disorders simultaneously.
  • Group Therapy: Many alcohol abusers benefit from participating in group therapy settings and continue to assist A.A. meetings or 12-step programs after completing their time in rehab centers. These group therapy sessions also help build a social network of new sober individuals that understand early recovery struggles and can be a healthy support system to maintain sobriety.
  • Aftercare Programs: Alcohol addiction recovery doesn’t end with treatment. Aftercare programs allow recovering alcoholics to develop a sense of community, building life skills that help them reintegrate into society, and continue learning relapse prevention mechanisms to maintain long-term sobriety.

Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, don’t wait any longer. Countless treatment options can help them conquer their addiction and manage any withdrawal symptoms. Remember, quitting potent drugs alone can be life-threatening. It’s essential to have the support and supervision of drug addiction specialists by your side.

At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we believe in offering customized drug addiction treatment plans for those struggling with drug or alcohol abuse. On a case-by-case basis, we look at each treatment program to cater to whatever your needs are to get better and walk towards recovery. From detoxification programs to group meetings and more, everyone in our team is committed to helping you win the struggle with addiction.

Lighthouse Editorial Team

Lighthouse Editorial Team

Our editorial team includes content experts that contribute to Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s blog. Editors and medical experts review our blogs for accuracy and relevance. We consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA and NIDA to provide you with the most comprehensive addiction-related content.
Medical Disclaimer:

Lighthouse Recovery Institute aims to improve the quality of life for anyone struggling with substance use or mental health disorder. We provide fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their outcomes. The material we publish is researched, cited, edited, and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide in our posts is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be used in place of the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.

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