Updated on March 26, 2024
3 min read

SMART Recovery vs. Alcoholics Anonymous: What's the Difference?

Choosing an addiction recovery program isn’t just about which program is the best, it’s about which one is best for you. The most popular programs for alcohol addiction recovery are SMART Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Both provide a unique approach, methodology, and philosophy to recovery. In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between these programs and which is better for you.

Key Differences Between AA and SMART Recovery

AA is a long-standing program based on the 12 steps. It emphasizes seeking help from a higher power and forgiving yourself for past mistakes.

On the other hand, SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is a secular alternative to AA. It uses the 4-point program that focuses on building motivation, coping urges, and managing thoughts and behaviors.

Other key differences include:

FeaturesAlcoholics AnonymousSMART Recovery
Views on addictionSuggests that members are powerless over their addictionAdvocates for self-empowerment and believes individuals can control their recovery
Meeting StylePeer-led meetingsFacilitator-led meetings (may include addiction professionals)
Discussion and crosstalkFocuses on individual experiences without crosstalk Encourages crosstalk,  interactive discussions, and collaborative problem-solving
PhilosophyEmphasizes belief in a higher power Grounded in science and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Graduation and involvementEncourages lifelong participation and ongoing workAllows people to “graduate” once they’ve achieved sustainable change
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)Doesn’t have an official stance on MAT, some members may be critical about medicationSupports taking medication and evidence-based treatments alongside recovery tools
SponsorshipsSponsorships and mentors are a core component of AADoesn’t include sponsorships

12-Steps vs. 4-Point Program

AA’s 12 steps are a set of spiritual principles that help guide you through addiction recovery. The steps emphasize vulnerability, admitting powerlessness, and turning yourself over to a higher power. 

It involves making amends for past mistakes, having a spiritual awakening, and carrying AA’s message to help others. SMART Recovery’s 4-point program focuses on self-reliance and empowerment.

Each of the 4 points talks about building a healthier and more balanced life. It teaches you how to cope with urges and manage negative thoughts and behaviors.


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Which is Better For You?

Both programs have a good track record for helping people recover. But determining what’s best for you can be difficult. 

Before choosing between AA and SMART Recovery, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you prefer a spiritual approach to recovery, or are you more comfortable with a scientific approach?
  • Would you like a more facilitated meeting or a peer-led discussion?
  • What are your thoughts about medication?
  • Are you looking for ongoing support or a program with an achievable goal?

Some people might even benefit from a combination of the two programs. Overall, the most important thing is finding what’s best for your recovery journey.

Which Program is More Effective?

Neither is better or more effective than the other. The success of these programs depends on your needs, goals, and preferences.

Some people may benefit from the structure and spiritual focus of AA. Meanwhile, others might prefer a more secular program. 

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Key Takeaways

Both SMART Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offer unique ways to overcome addiction and maintain sobriety. Neither option is more effective than the other, and its success depends on your individual needs.

AA offers a more spiritual approach that focuses on individual experiences and ongoing support. On the other hand, SMART Recovery is a secular program that focuses on self-reliance and empowerment.

Although both programs have different views and philosophies, you can participate in both programs to maximize support. Overall, choosing between AA or SMART Recovery will depend on your preferences and needs.

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Updated on March 26, 2024

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Updated on March 26, 2024