Yes! There are alternative programs to AA

A few months ago on a Tuesday evening I was sitting with my therapist discussing options to help me recover from alcoholism. Once again, we were discussing AA. We spoke about it a lot because it is the most popular resource out there and he is a big advocate for the program. I have shared with him that I have tried a few different AA meetings, but I wasn’t clicking with the program. That Tuesday night he brought up a few other options such as Women for Sobriety and SMART Recovery. These options gave me hope that there are alternative ways in getting support.

What I learned about SMART Recovery

The next day, I took the time to learn more about these programs and found that SMART Recovery had meetings throughout the week and one on a Saturday that wasn’t too far from me. I was so energized about a new option that I spent a significant amount of time on their website and bought their handbook for my Kindle. I found that SMART Recovery was a science based program and used a variety of techniques such as cognitive behavioral, rational emotive behavioral and motivational enhancement therapy techniques to help the recovery process. SMART Recovery stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training and was founded in 1994 by addiction psychologists who implemented a four-point program.

Each week, more than 1,200 SMART Recovery groups meet in the U.S. and 12 other countries. In addition, participants gather in 30 more meetings online. Search for a meeting in your area by visiting SMART's online resource

My Experience with SMART Recovery

10 weeks ago, I became a member of the SMART Community. I attend a meeting regularly on Saturday mornings. The meeting usually consists of about 10 - 15 people that are struggling with a variety of addictions. I find that most stories are related to alcoholism but there are a few in recovery for different types of drugs. The format of the meeting is a big reason I keep coming back. I enjoy that everyone in the room gets a turn to speak and are encouraged to have cross conversations. SMART Recovery meetings can vary by facilitator, but I’ll share with you a little more about my regular meeting. Each meeting we start with an opening statement. This statement is brief, but it reminds everyone about confidentiality standards and gives you an idea of what to expect in the next hour and thirty minutes. We then go around the table asking everyone to introduce themselves, share what addiction they are working on and answer what we call a ‘secret question’. Hearing answers to these questions is my favorite part of the meeting. A few examples are questions like, ‘What type of activities do you engage in through recovery’, Name positive traits about yourself’, ‘How do you recognize your own recovery accomplishments?' Not only do I enjoy hearing others responses, I like answering these because it gives me a chance to think about the question and if I am having a hard time answering I know I should do a little more self-reflection. After our round of introductions, we go around the table again but this time we take a deeper dive into our journey. We typically talk about our week. The facilitator encourages us to share accomplishments and challenges. This time allows us to speak about something that is heavy on our mind where we may want feedback from the group. If time allows, we go around the table for a third time where we set a goal for the upcoming week and name something or someone we are thankful for. Like the beginning of the meeting, we end with a closing statement. A donation ‘hat’ is then passed around for people to add cash. SMART Recovery meetings are free but donations are a way to help pay for the room we meet in.

What do you have to lose?

You have nothing to lose by trying. I encourage you to check out a meeting to see if this is something for you. Not every resource works for everyone but you wont know unless you try. The program recommends that a new member should attend at least five meetings before determining if the program is a good fit for you. It may also be wise to try a couple different meetings as each facilitator runs meetings in their own way. You can also try online meetings if you aren't ready or unable to make it to a face to face meeting. Because the online meetings are larger, you may not find the experience I noted above but I think you will enjoy it as you will get a chance to learn about SMART Recovery's tools.

If you would like to hear more about my experiences with SMART Recovery or if you are looking for someone to go to a meeting with in the Chicago area, you can reach me at

For further information about the program, visit SMART Recovery online at

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