SMART Recovery

SMART is a popular alternative to 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. SMART also helps people overcome co-occurring disorders like anxiety and depression.

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    What Is SMART?

    Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is a support program for people with addictions and behavioral disorders. It teaches people how to control their addictive behavior by focusing on underlying thoughts and feelings. Participants in SMART learn skills to manage their cravings and urges for the long term.

    SMART continuously updates its methods based on emerging scientific evidence in addiction recovery.

    SMART is continuously updated to provide strategies researchers have found most effective.

    Organizations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Academy of Family Physicians have recognized SMART as an effective tool for overcoming addiction.

    How Does SMART Work?


    In contrast to 12-step programs that require participants to admit powerlessness over their habit, SMART considers itself a self-empowering program. Trained volunteers help participants examine specific behaviors to find problems that need the most attention.

    Participants are then taught self-reliance to control their addictive behavior. SMART uses techniques from cognitive behavioral and motivational enhancement therapies to teach these skills.

    Participants learn these skills by following a 4-point program.

    The 4-Point Program

    The SMART Recovery Handbook details each point in the 4-point program. It also provides tips and exercises to maintain a sober life.

    The 4-point program is not a step program. Participants can tackle a specific point in any order based on their needs.

    • Building and maintaining motivation. Having the proper willingness to stay sober is an important part of reaching long-lasting recovery. Participants may make a list of priorities and weigh the costs and benefits of using versus being sober.
    • Coping with urges. The second point examines what triggers a craving. Participants learn how to suppress cravings through methods such as distraction techniques. They also identify and overcome irrational beliefs about urges to use.
    • Managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Point three teaches how to prevent relapse by examining thoughts, feelings and behaviors that lead to drug use. Participants learn self-acceptance and how to manage difficult feelings like depression.
    • Living a balanced life. Deciding to be sober is a drastic lifestyle change. Learning how to live a sober life is important for a successful recovery. In point four, participants take an inventory of what’s important to them. They are also taught realistic goal setting and planning for the future.

    Similarities and Differences to 12-Step Programs

    SMART has some similarities to traditional 12-step programs. Each consists of recovering alcohol and drug users working through a series of assignments to beat their addiction. Both programs are private, meaning the identity of each participant stays within meetings. And in both programs, people have successfully overcome their addiction.

    A difference between 12-step programs and SMART is how each program defines addiction.

    SMART does not label participants as “addicts” or as having a “disease.” These labels are considered discouraging and unproductive. Another difference is that recovery is not a lifelong process in SMART. Participants can “graduate” from recovery and begin a new, healthy life.

    Some people don’t join a 12-step group voluntarily because they don’t like the idea of admitting powerlessness or submitting to a higher power. Participants in SMART approach recovery by taking charge of their lives instead.

    Both 12-step programs and SMART provide helpful support. It’s up to the individual to determine which is best for him or her. As the SMART Recovery Handbook wisely points out, “What works for one person in one situation may not work for another in the same situation.”

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      Graduating Recovery

      One of the unique features of SMART is that participants can “graduate” from recovery. Although it accepts that relapse can happen, SMART doesn’t consider relapse a necessary part of recovery.

      In the final stage of recovery, according to SMART, participants experience complete self-control and no longer feel tempted to use drugs.

      Once they reach the final stage, participants in SMART now have the skills to maintain a sober life.

      Is SMART for You?

      SMART was developed to help anyone suffering from any type of addiction. It is also beneficial for people with addictive behaviors, such as compulsive gambling or eating disorders. People with co-occurring mental disorders, such as depression, can also benefit.

      If you or a loved one have tried 12-step programs and found them unhelpful, SMART is a good alternative.

      Get help finding a SMART meeting near you.

      Get help today

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