“Ah, the sun is blinding I stayed up again Oh, I am finding That that’s not the way I want my story to end” – Pink
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other 12-step groups are the leading U.S. approach to addiction recovery. Millions have attended these meetings and “worked the steps.”
However, many individuals will not attend these meetings, or will not attend them long enough to change. Their reasons include not wanting to accept the labels “addict” or “alcoholic,” not wanting to participate in groups of any kind, not wanting to consider oneself powerless, not thinking of oneself as having a disease, or not wanting an approach that encourages lifelong attendance.
In a perfect world, there would be no addiction or need for 12 StepGroups… but nothing is perfect for many the 12 Step program does not work… fortunately, there are alternatives to AA, NA, OA, GA… You get the picture….
The non-12-step mutual aid groups include SMART Recovery, Moderation Management, Women for Sobriety, LifeRing Secular Recovery and Secular Organizations for Sobriety. Each group has an active presence on the Internet. Through their websites, one can also find information about non-12-step based treatments.
These non-12-step groups can be more positively defined as self-empowering groups. Self-empowering groups encourage individuals to take charge of their lives and leave addiction (and eventually recovery) behind. In contrast to the 12-step approach, self-empowering groups support individuals in taking charge of their lives rather than accepting powerlessness and turning their lives over to a higher power.
The Serenity Prayer, often used at AA meetings, provides a framework for understanding a fundamental difference between powerlessness and self-empowering recovery:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… Courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”
A 12-step approach is a serenity approach to recovery. A self-empowering approach is a courage approach. As the Serenity Prayer suggests, we all need both serenity and courage. However, most of us prefer one approach to the other. To use the language of scientific psychology, some of us tend toward an external locus of control (serenity) and others tend toward an internal locus of control (courage). Locus of control refers to our expectation about what in the future will shape our lives more (e.g., what controls us, or who is in charge): What happens to us, or what we do about it.
Self-empowering approaches to addiction recovery are well-suited for individuals who have an internal locus of control. Rather than thinking they have lost control of their lives because they have a disease, these individuals want to learn how to build motivation, control craving, resolve their underlying problems, and move on to creating meaningful and purposeful lives.
SMART Recovery is the best-known and most widely available of the self-empowering recovery groups. The SMART Recovery website and its activities and community could be a substitute for face-to-face meetings for many individuals and locations. Many SMART Recovery participants include 12-step meetings in their recovery plans, either to have a common face-to-face component or because they find aspects of both programs helpful.
SMART Recovery follows certain guidelines many people dealing with substance use issues like, such as:
Teaches tools for recovery based on evidence-based addiction treatment
Does not use the labels “addict” or “alcoholic”
Encourages participation only for as long as it is perceived to be useful
Allows for truly anonymous participation via a screen name on the website
Allows participants their own perspective on whether addiction is a disease
Teaches tools for recovery that are useful regardless of what the participant believes (or not) about God
In addition to providing free, science-based, self-empowering addiction recovery mutual aid groups, SMART Recovery advocates for choice in recovery. SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program helps people recover from all types of addictive behaviors, including alcoholism, drug abuse, substance abuse, drug addiction, alcohol abuse, gambling addiction, cocaine addiction, and addiction to other substances and activities.
The 4-Point Program offers specific tools and techniques for each of the program points:
Point 1: Building and Maintaining Motivation
Point 2: Coping with Urges
Point 3: Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors
Point 4: Living a Balanced Life
The SMART Recovery program is a community-based self-help program, which can be an alternative to, or complement to, 12 step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cocaine Anonymous (CA). Although not as widespread or well-known as 12 step groups, there is an extensive network of over 500 meetings, which are available in many countries, and online meetings on the Internet. This is a boon to people with addictions who require ongoing support: No matter where you go, you can often find a meeting if you want to attend one.
SMART Recovery meetings are facilitated, and the meetings themselves follow a standardized format. This can provide a great advantage over 12 step groups, which can vary greatly, and can be dominated by individuals pushing their own agenda. Another advantage is that, unlike AA and other 12 step groups, SMART Recovery is based on sound and proven psychological and evidence-based approaches.
Some members also appreciate the fact that SMART Recovery makes no demands of participants to engage in spiritual practices. Moreover, particularly important to those with a dual diagnosis involving a mental health problems, or a physical health issue requiring psychoactive medications, you will not be faced with individuals suggesting that this is another form of “addiction,” which can sometimes happen with extremist 12 step participants. In fact, the SMART Recovery Program states that it supports the appropriate use of medications.
SMART Recovery is a valuable tool for anyone struggling with addictions… it’s free, and available online. If following four steps could improve the quality of life, why wouldn’t a person, at least, try it?