Alternatives to AA? 3/98

OK, my law partners and spouse have finally convinced me that it’s insane for me to continue to drink. Now they want me to start going to AA meetings, but I am put off by the emphasis on being powerless, and by what I think is a religious tone. Someone told me that there are alternatives. Can you fill me in?

To be honest, our staff has had by far the best results with AA, which also has the longest track record and by far the most available meetings. Probably more than half of newcomers are initially uncomfortable with aspects of AA such as the ones you mention, but perhaps that would be true for any new group experience, and the obstacles are usually overcome.
However, you asked about alternatives to AA and two come to mind, Women for Sobriety (WFS) and SMART. SMART is known as Rational Recovery in some parts of the country.
Historically, WFS grew out of a sense that women’s sensibilities were not well addressed at AA. Nonetheless, WFS encourages concurrent AA attendance. In general, WFS places greater emphasis on concepts such as love and relationships. Meetings have a bit more in common with group therapy than AA meetings do, and seek to empower women. Unfortunately, WFS has only a few meeting in Massachusetts.
SMART on the other hand is a self-help application of Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) to alcoholism/addiction. (RET is also known as Rational Behavior Therapy.) The program emphasizes values such as self-control, self-reliance and the power of rational thinking as a means of combating drinking behavior (unlike AA’s emphasis on powerlessness). For example, an individual facing the urge to drink would be encouraged to use the “sobriety spreadsheet” as a tool to identify and challenge irrational thoughts. Feelings such as guilt and wishes to be loved are seen as useless and irrational. The AA concepts of “higher power” and using a “sponsor” also are non-existent in SMART. Participants are encouraged to discontinue meeting after a year of abstinence, whereas AA sees ongoing meeting attendance as core to the ongoing recovery process.
There are of course many more differences between these programs than can be summarized here. What they have in common is availability at no cost. Also, contrary to rumor, all the programs support the notion that abstinence from alcohol and other drugs is the only workable goal for an alcoholic or addict.

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