Smart Recovery Is An Alternative
March 15, 2010
Smart Recovery is an alternative to AA that is catching on both in the US and worldwide, writes DENIS CAMPBELL
ALCOHOLISM IS a disease. It leaves victims powerless and needing to stay in permanent recovery if they are serious about stopping the demon drink from inflicting further damage. The best way for chronic drinkers to tackle their addiction, so the theory goes, is to go to Alcoholics Anonymous and be ready to attend meetings for the rest of their lives.
Not so, says Joe Gerstein, a retired professor of clinical medicine in the US. “A myth has grown up that you can’t get over a substance addiction without AA,” he says. “It’s a widely held belief, but it’s a myth.” Although he describes AA as “an absolutely remarkable programme”, given that millions have found it useful over the past 75 years, he also calls it “ethically wrong, medically wrong and psychologically wrong”.
Gerstein is the founding president of Smart Recovery, an alternative to AA that is catching on in America – where it began in 1994 – and worldwide.
The British department of health is funding a £100,000 two-year trial of Smart Recovery, which currently has a low profile and is the David to AA’s Goliath.
However, it is attracting attention from experts in the field. Alcohol Concern’s director of policy and communications, Nicolay Sorensen, says: “AA is huge, and people wouldn’t go if it didn’t work. Smart Recovery at the moment is the only alternative. It’s got momentum, it’s got a good evidence base, and it’s growing in popularity.”
Smart is based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and especially an element of it called rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT). Gerstein calls Smart “a self-empowerment programme”, and rejects utterly AA’s disease theory of alcohol and labelling of people with serious drink problems as alcoholics.
Smart is science-based and secular, while AA has heavy religious associations. Many of the people attending the 370 Smart groups across America have tried AA and been put off by its insistence that members undergo a spiritual awakening, Gerstein says. For him, though, the key difference is that Smart is a positive philosophy. “We believe that addiction is a very human condition that can be corrected, and that it’s the people themselves who do that through natural recovery,” he says. “We don’t think people are hopelessly taken over by addiction. Other people use books, medicines, help from family or professionals, whatever works for them.
“But with Smart Recovery, people do it on their own. There is the belief that human beings have the capacity within themselves to overcome even severe addictions and go on to lead a meaningful life is vital.” – Guardian