SMART Recovery Pitched as AA Alternative
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is “an absolutely remarkable program” that has helped millions of people overcome their addictions, said Joe Gerstein, founder of the Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART) Recovery program. But Gerstein rejected the disease concept of addiction and pitched SMART as an alternative for those who dislike AA’s faith-based core philosophy.
The Guardian reported March 10 that Gerstein challenged the notion that addictions cannot be cured. “A myth has grown up that you can’t get over a substance addiction without AA,” said Gerstein. “It’s a widely-held belief, but it’s a myth.”
The secular SMART Recovery was founded in 1994 and is based on principles of self-empowerment and cognitive behavioral therapy. Gerstein recently appeared at a conference in London to promote the program overseas.
“AA is huge, and people wouldn’t go if it didn’t work,” said Nicolay Sorensen, communications director of the U.K. recovery advocacy group Alcohol Concern. “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.”
The U.K. government has funded a SMART Recovery pilot program, and another program in Scotland is being sponsored by the group Addaction and funded by the brewer Heineken.
“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,” said Gerstein. “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. That belief that human beings have the capacity within themselves to overcome even severe addictions and go on to lead a meaningful life is vital.”
Gerstein also called coercion of addicts into treatment “ethically wrong, medically wrong and psychologically wrong.”
Editor’s Note, March 18, 2010: The original headline and text of the above summary have been edited to reflect a March 18 correction published by the Guardian, which stated: “The founder of the Smart Recovery treatment programme, Joe Gerstein, was wrongly quoted as saying that Alcoholics Anonymous was ’ethically wrong, medically wrong and psychologically wrong.’ That comment referred to the coercion of people into AA, Smart Recovery and other mutual aid support groups, not to AA itself.”