The present is an exciting time for everyone invested in recovery from addiction. New research is leading to new possibilities, and as people grow in their understanding of how addiction works in the human brain, we can create better and better ways to treat addicts and help them find the recovery they need.
At the same time, some core truths, such as the benefits of a peer support group, remain virtually unchanged. Amid all the dizzying array of choices, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, particularly over something some important as your recovery. Many people engage in vigorous debate over the merits of one program over the other, and it can sometimes feel hard to figure out who or what organization you should turn to control and break your addiction.
To help you make this important decision, here are some basic facts about two of the most sought-after and available recovery programs – Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART recovery.
One of the oldest and best-known recovery programs, Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Bob Smith, who helped each other achieve sobriety with a combination of spiritual and psychological techniques, not just to quit drinking, but truly stay sober and lead a better life holistically. Since then, the 12 step model they pioneered has remained virtually unchanged, adapted to other forms of addiction, including but not limited to Narcotics Anonymous, Gambling Addicts, and Sex and Love Addicts.
"A meetings" can be found almost everywhere; according to the organization's 22nd World Service Meeting in 2012, there are around 114,070 groups worldwide. At their core, these peer-group meetings create space for people to hear and be heard when talking about any of the challenges, struggles, and successes in their lives.
Each person talk about his or her experiences in a community that seeks to be safe and non-judgmental, but also one that encourages progression along a program of 12 "steps," or truths to be accepted and lived out. Steps 1-3 consist of admitting your powerlessness before your addiction, admitting that you cannot find sobriety yourself, but must look to a "higher power" that can support you (that may or may not be tied to any system of spirituality).
In steps 4-7, the recovering addict makes and shares an honest inventory of his or her own thoughts, behavior, and mind, becoming ready and turning to the higher power to help us in the areas we consider character defects. The final steps consist of seeking to make amends to other people harmed by your addictive behavior (8 and 9), continuing to make further personal inventory (10), have regular practices of getting more in touch with our higher power (11), and be of help to others (12).
The SMART (Self Management and Recovery Training) program was developed in 1992, growing out of cognitive-behavioral therapy methods of treating addiction, offered as either an alternative or supplement to 12-step groups. Meetings are offered in many places around the world as well as online. Trained volunteers lead the meetings and make use of a wide variety of activities and guided conversations to help people reach a goal of "lifestyle balance" and a "fulfilling and healthy life." For example, one meeting may consist of making an honest list of both the benefits and harms of substance use, guiding people to see both the challenges and ultimate benefits of sobriety.
The SMART program works through 4 key points, which emphasize personal autonomy and self-empowerment to create change in your own life. The first "Building and Maintaining Motivation," consists of objectively and honestly evaluating your current behavior, thinking about the pros and cons of each action. The second, "Coping with urges," helps you work out steps to gain control over your addictive urges, allowing them to go away over time. The third, "Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors" helps you examine and gain control of your inner dialogue, to better live according your ideals. Finally, "Living a Balanced Life" works on living a happy and addiction free life in all areas, and working to put the past behind you and decide what is best for you in the moment.
What program should you join?
There are as many possible pathways to recovery as there are individuals in need of it, and only you can truly decide what works for you. There are a wide variety of methods, groups, and techniques offering to support you in your goal of a happy, healthy, sober life. Although they may differ, they will also contain some important common elements, such as the support and friendship of fellow addicts, and gaining the ability to face your past fearlessly so that you can become free of it. Ultimately, you should choose a group that feels safe and useful, doing whatever it takes to change your life and gain self-love.