Rational Recovery Vs. AA


One clear criticism of AA is that it has no explanation for the approximately 5% of alcoholics who spontaneously quit drinking every year. The rationale is that "these weren't really alcoholics anyhow." Yet those same people would have been welcomed at any AA meeting and recognized as having a life-long, incurable, spiritual disease. Rational Recovery is at least partially a response to this.

The differences between AA and RR are polar opposites. AA is free, member driven, group centric, and offers spiritual help. RR is an individual effort based on the therapeutic model of cognitive behavioral change, is trademarked and abandons any pretense to religion or spirituality. It is also not free -- the program is trademarked, copyrighted, and for sale.

There are no "steps" in RR. Essentially, alcoholics and addicts are encouraged to read their materials and come to an understanding about their own mind and behavior. With this in play, the addict/alcoholic is expected to make the beneficial choice best for themselves and move on. Rational Recovery does include many techniques to help in this process -- I have only given a broad overview here.

Interestingly, both Rational Recovery and alcoholics anonymous share some properties. Both tend to discount medical treatment for addiction (for different reasons). Both are interested in long-term results and believe there is hope. Both offer practical advice and support (AA with steps and a group; RR with written materials). Most importantly, neither type of recovery has demonstrated scientifically that they help a high percentage of alcoholics.

One other distinction is worth mentioning. AA and 12 step programs often partner with both licensed treatment programs and the court system. Rational Recovery is dead-set against this and decries court ordered, 12-step treatment as a violation of personal freedoms. They have even fought mandated treatment in court cases.

While Rational Recovery is based on cognitive behavioral therapy, it differs because there is no trained therapist directly involved. This may be the strongest criticism of RR – it cannot be customized to an individual alcoholic and, because there is no group involvement, alcoholics are left to fend for themselves. In the end, it emphasizes the “self” in “self help.”

The Rational Recovery website can be found here.

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