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What Is Rational Recovery?

Rational Recovery (RR) is an addiction recovery program developed by Jack Trimpey. Its goal is to help people overcome alcoholism. 

Unlike Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), it doesn’t call for a higher power. RR is a true self-help program that promotes abstinence through self-autonomy.

How Does the Rational Recovery Program Work? 

Rational Recovery believes that people addicted to alcohol have an addictive voice. This inner voice (called the Beast) is what pushes them to drink. While they want to continue this behavior, many of them want to quit.

The goal of treatment is to recognize this voice. This can be done with the Addictive Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT). A person also has to learn to resist this voice. Otherwise, they will remain stuck in a cycle of substance use.

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Rational Recovery vs. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

RR dubs itself as a “revolutionary alternative” to AA. Both self-help programs help people who are struggling with alcohol. However, they have different views and approaches in treating alcoholism. 

Below are their key differences:

1. Alcoholism

AA views alcoholism as a psychological obsession. This obsession causes the physical compulsion to drink. The desire to consume alcohol is beyond a person’s control.

On the contrary, RR doesn’t consider alcoholism a disease. The program defines it as a voluntary behavior that involves a conscious decision.

2. Abstinence

Abstinence is the complete discontinuation of alcohol. Alcoholics Anonymous and Rational Recovery promote it. However, their approach is slightly different. AA encourages quitting drinking one day at a time. RR believes there is no better time to stop drinking than now

3. Recovery

RR adherents don’t keep track of their recovery time. This is because RR views recovery as an event. Under their program, you’re either recovered or not. 

During AA meetings, members typically announce the last time they've had a drink. This means people are often in a constant state of recovery. In other words, it’s a lifelong process that requires a continuous battle. 

4. Higher power vs. Self-efficacy

AA sees alcoholism as a lifelong and incurable spiritual disease. They also believe that people are powerless against it. People addicted to alcohol must submit to a "higher power" if they want to recover.1

Rational Recovery has no such spiritual influences. Instead, it promotes self-efficacy or the belief that you can achieve things on your own. This includes beating alcohol addiction.

5. Meetings

Meetings are an important aspect of AA. Members meet regularly to share their experiences and struggles with alcoholism. It is also a time when they encourage one another.

Meetings are led by people who have recovered through the program. After all, this is Alcoholics Anonymous’ mission: “To stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.”2

RR doesn’t have any meetings. In fact, they consider them unnecessary and obsolete. The program teaches people to overcome their alcohol and drug addiction alone.

6. 12-Step Program vs. Addictive Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT)

Alcoholics Anonymous created the 12 Step Program. Members use it as a guide for overcoming their addiction to alcohol.3 

Rational Recovery has no such steps. Adherents are only expected to read materials and learn the Addictive Voice Recovery Technique (AVRT). Once a person develops control over their addictive voice (the Beast), there are no additional steps to follow.

7. Membership

AA is a membership-based program. To stay in the program, members must follow the 12 steps. Rational Recovery has no membership. It is a commercial enterprise that sells copyrighted material on addiction recovery.

8. Group Involvement vs. Individual Effort

AA members are heavily involved in the recovery process. Many of its functions are dependent on the support of members who have successfully recovered through their program. Group meetings are also part of one’s therapy.

RR is patterned after cognitive behavioral therapy. As such, recovery depends solely on individual effort. Every alcoholic must understand their own thought patterns and behaviors. Afterward, they must make the conscious decision to quit alcohol.

9. Well-rounded recovery

Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step recovery groups work with licensed treatment programs, medical health professionals, and the court. As stated on their website: “Cooperation with the professional community is an objective of AA.”4

Rational Recovery is against court-ordered 12-step programs. They consider it a violation of one’s freedom.

10. Resources

AA sells books in their online bookstore. These include resources for the recovering alcoholic and health professionals who want to work with the program.

However, members do not need to pay for these resources. AA is a non-profit organization. While there are voluntary donations at the end of every meeting, you can always get free help.

RR is a commercial enterprise that sells resources online. The most popular of which is a book written by Jack Trimpey, Rational Recovery: The New Cure for Substance Addiction. Alternatively, you can get a free crash course on AVRT to learn more. 

Statistics & Criticisms of Rational Recovery

The first study on Rational Recovery was published in 1993. Based on their findings:5

  • 38% of members were abstinent within the first month of attending RR meetings
  • Of the members who joined Rational Recovery for three months or more, 73% remained abstinent in the past month
  • 58% of members who had joined RR for six months or more said they were abstinent in the last 6 months
  • Only a few members continued drinking after three months with Rational Recovery

Researchers concluded that RR successfully promoted abstinence among people with substance use. 

A study published in 2008 explores the effectiveness of Rational Recovery in treating alcohol and drug dependence. They found that people who subscribed to RR showed significant improvement. Researchers concluded that the program increases openness and reduces denial among participants.6

Despite this, there are some valid criticisms of Rational Recovery.

Rational Recovery Meetings

RR does not host meetings for its followers, and this lack of social support can lead to poor outcome rates in the long run. Dr. Keith Humphreys, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Studies, led a study on Alcoholics Anonymous. Based on their research, the social interaction is what makes AA work.7

Rational Recovery and Self-Efficacy

Removing the spiritual and social aspects of recovery has its advantages. But it also places the burden of recovery entirely on the individual

84% of studies show that faith is strongly associated with positive outcomes for recovery and relapse prevention of substance addiction.8 Furthermore, having the support of household members and the community resulted in less severe alcohol problems.9 

While recovery is possible without faith and social support, followers of RR are missing out on their potential benefits.

Rational Recovery for Alcoholism

Perhaps the biggest criticism of Rational Recovery is that it offers an over-simplistic cure for substance addiction. It does not address possible psychological issues (e.g., trauma) which may have caused a person to develop an addiction to alcohol and drugs.

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Is Rational Recovery Right for You? 

Rational Recovery may be a good option if you want a non-spiritual and cognitive approach towards recovery. Some studies show that it can work for some people. However, it also doesn’t work for everyone.

Alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous

There are other alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous besides Rational Recovery. Some of them include:

  • LifeRing Secular Recovery
  • Moderation Management
  • Secular Organizations for Sobriety (S.O.S.)
  • Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) Recovery
  • Women for Sobriety

Many of these self-help groups rely on peer support. Joining them is free, and resources for relapse prevention are provided for.

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