Get help today 888-319-2606 or sign up for 24/7 text support.
American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

Can’t Relate to AA? Here’s How to Choose the Right Resources For Your Recovery

The treatment industry is a multi-million-dollar enterprise and knowing who to trust can feel daunting.  Many people feel stressed just at the thought of figuring out where to go for treatment. This is why I personally believe a place like is so helpful. They have come up with a way to provide valuable resources for individuals and families looking to navigate an intense process.

There is no one-size-fits all approach when it comes to recovery. While the 12-Step program of AA may work wonders for one person, the reality is that it doesn’t work for everyone. I have seen people sustain lasting recovery in AA. I have also seen people not relate to it at all and find lasting recovery in the SMART Recovery program, which differs in its philosophy.

Getting to Know SMART

The more widely known 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, offer a spiritual set of principles and steps that a person is to follow for lasting recovery.  In addition to AA, there are other 12-step programs such as Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, and Overeaters Anonymous just to name a few.  Developed in the 1930’s, much of the language is outdated, reflecting the prominent patriarchal time.  Even so, many people simply focus on what does work about the 12-steps, and incorporate it into their lives with great success. You can learn more about AA here.

SMART Recovery was developed by Tom Hovrath of California. It promotes self-empowerment and self-reliance, which has a different flavor than the 12-steps. Although it has its own methodology for self-accountability, a core element of the AA program is that people come to understand that they are powerless over their addiction. This has huge benefits for some, and inversely creates a sense of empowerment through this admittance. SMART on the other hand, rides on the premise that people can actually find their power inside of themselves, and ultimately we all have control over our choices. This is not meant to be magical thinking in the face of an out of control addiction, but rather an understanding that, with the right structure, support, and self-work, a person can make empowering choices.

SMART utilizes a 4-Point Program:

  • Building and maintaining motivation
  • Coping with urges
  • Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
  • Living a balanced life

You can learn more about SMART here.

There is no “right way” to recover. The right way is the way that works for you. In addition to the community based recovery methods above, there are inpatient and outpatient options. There are detox centers, sober living homes, therapists who specialize in addiction, certified recovery coaches, and peer mentorship programs. Frequently, people engage in several of these supports simultaneously.

Additional Information to Consider

There has been mounting research that indicates the importance of trauma-informed care when someone is dealing with addiction. As someone dives into their recovery process, they begin to peel away the layers that motivated them to drink or use in the first place. Underneath there is a trauma, or multiple trauma’s present. As a concept, trauma is often misunderstood. Many people think of it as being limited to some horrifying act, when in fact it’s not about the magnitude of the event itself, but instead the magnitude the event had on the person.

In the simplest of terms, trauma is a response to being threatened in any capacity. For example, people can be traumatized from bullying, the fear associated with emotional neglect, or from a car accident. Trauma reaches far and wide and its impacts are severe. It changes the way the nervous system is operating in someone’s body, which cultivates a perpetual fight, flight, or freeze pattern. A pattern that is incredibly intense and often times left unacknowledged. This constant state of reactivity creates a need to disconnect and numb out. Peter Levine has a wonderful book called Waking the Tiger, which explains the effects of trauma on the brain and body. A shorter read that is also very informative is written by Robyn E. Bickel, MFT. He does a beautiful job explaining why trauma-informed care is so important in recovery.

There are a lot of treatment models out there that are not incorporating trauma-informed care into their programs. I believe this is a grave mistake. Treating trauma through body-based practices, such as somatic experiencing, neurofeedback, and EMDR, is very beneficial. This is because trauma is not healed through talk therapy; it’s healed through body-based practices.

If you are looking for someone who can treat trauma, you may want to seek out someone certified in EMDR or Somatic Experiencing. Do your research. Get to know them. Trust your gut.

Another fantastic methodology for working with addiction is called Motivational Interviewing. Motivational Interviewing is a way of partnering with people to support them in creating change. Rather than creating a hierarchy, it promotes partnership, autonomy, and drawing out the client’s reasons, willingness, and ability to create change in his or her life. For many people with addictive tendencies, there is a desire to have a say in their process. They don’t want to be treated as though something is “wrong” with them, but instead find a way to feel more respected and have a more influential role in their healing. You can learn more about Motivational Interviewing and addiction here.

Take Your First Step

No matter what path you choose, being willing is the first step. From here, the next indicated action can present itself, and that is truly a powerful place to be. All you ever have to take is the very next indicated action. Trying to think too far ahead can stop people from moving forward. Simply ask, “What is the very next thing within my power that I can do?” Start here.

I encourage all of you looking for help to do your research. Talk with people you consider working with. Make sure you feel they have your best interests in mind rather than their own. And finally, listen to your intuition.



Images Courtesy of iStock, Death to the Stock Photo

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.