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SMART Recovery Program

A SMART Recovery program offers an effective and secular alternative to 12-step programs to help with addiction.

What Are SMART Recovery Programs?

SMART Recovery is a science-based approach to overcoming addiction. Different from the familiar format of the 12-steps, SMART Recovery emphasizes focus on what the person themselves can accomplish, rather than turning the ability to overcome addiction over to the influence of a higher power. Many people feel more relaxed and comfortable with the program's secular design and self-empowering approach.

Many people are familiar with traditional 12-step programs and peer support groups, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Since their first meeting over eighty years ago, programs like AA have helped thousands of people achieve and maintain lasting sobriety. Despite their proven success, not everyone is comfortable with the religious aspect of Alcoholics Anonymous and similar 12-step programs. SMART Recovery programs are an alternative to AA and other similar traditional 12-step programs.

What Does SMART Recovery Stand For?

SMART stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. These non-AA recovery programs provide guidance and support for anyone looking to overcome an addiction. An added benefit to SMART Recovery groups is that they can also be beneficial in addressing co-occurring behavioral and emotional disorders. 1

When compared to AA, SMART Recovery programs are quite new. Founded in 1994, the number of SMART programs has only continued to grow. Today, more than two thousand local SMART groups exist in many countries worldwide. 2

How Does SMART Recovery Work?

SMART Recovery Program

12-step programs like AA require participants to admit they are "powerless" over their addiction. SMART Recovery, on the other hand, promotes and encourages self-empowerment. As part of a SMART Recovery group, you will learn specific skills as part of a 4-point program.

The SMART Recovery process differs from 12-step programs. While there are "points" that each person learns during group meetings, they can focus on any point at any time in their recovery process. SMART Recovery is designed to ensure you get what you need when you need it most. There is no required order or specific process for progressing through the program. The 4-points help treat addiction by teaching tools and exercises to maintain long lasting sobriety.

4-Points Approach

The 4 points of a SMART Recovery program include:3

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

How Are SMART Recovery and 12-Step Programs Different?

There are several differences between 12-step programs and SMART Recovery programs. One key difference, as mentioned, is that 12-step programs focus heavily on turning to a higher power as part of your recovery, whereas SMART Recovery programs have a more secular focus. 

Secular Focus

The secular focus of a SMART program allows a greater number of recovering addicts to feel comfortable participating in peer support groups after rehab. Unfortunately, up to 60% of public rehabs in the United States still encourage or mandate the 12-step model as their primary approach. 4

Personal Empowerment

The 12 steps require you to accept or admit that you are "powerless" over your addiction. As an alternative to the AA approach, SMART Recovery programs focus on personal empowerment. Instead of 12 steps, SMART Recovery tools concentrate on learning and practicing specific skills as part of their 4-point recovery and healing program. While the program has four points, there is no particular order of the treatment process. 4

Additional Differences Between the Programs

SMART Recovery programs encourage you to address what you need when you can. You can proceed through the points in any order you choose, which differs from moving in order through the 12 steps. 12-step programs are not designed to "skip around" through the steps.

Differences in Terminology

SMART Recovery programs also offer a different perspective on addiction and relapse. SMART Recovery teachings do not use the same terminology as many other peer support and treatment models. For example, SMART Recovery participants are not referred to as "addicts." Also, addiction is not called a "disease,” as these terms are not in line with the self-empowerment goals of SMART rehabilitation.

Perspective on Recovery

Another notable difference is the view on what it means to recover from addiction. In a SMART Recovery program, the journey to recovery is not considered a lifelong process as it is with the 12 steps. Once you complete a SMART Recovery 4-point program, you can "graduate" from recovery and start over, free from drugs and alcohol.

SMART Recovery Meetings

SMART Recovery Program

SMART Recovery meetings typically last between sixty and ninety minutes. Meetings are free and open to anyone seeking to overcome addiction. SMART Recovery program meetings focus on self-empowerment and encourage participants to choose how they want their recovery to look for themselves. Most groups have between three and twelve participants, and participation during the session is optional, as not everyone has to share if they don’t wish.

SMART Recovery Tools

SMART Recovery meetings are run by a trained volunteer facilitator. During the meeting, generally at the beginning, time is set aside to apply SMART Recovery tools to address issues raised during check-in or concern related to events that may have transpired between meetings.

There are several SMART Recovery tools learned during meetings. Common examples include developing a change plan worksheet, stages of change, DISARM (destructive imagery & self-talk awareness and refusal method), role-playing and rehearsing, hierarchy of values, cost-benefit analysis, brainstorming, and the ABCs of REBT for urge coping. 5

What Type of Addiction is SMART Recovery Useful For Treating?

SMART Recovery programs believe anyone can achieve recovery with the right tools and support. As a result, SMART meetings can help with various addictions, including alcoholism, drug addiction, and behavioral addictions such as gambling and shopping addictions. 

In addition to flexibility and a wide range of treatment applications, SMART Recovery programs as an alternative to traditional AA programs have an excellent success rate. Study data suggests that 68% or more of SMART program participants report maintaining sobriety for ten years or more, and nearly 80% would recommend the SMART Recovery approach to a friend or loved one. 

Whatever your specific medical needs are, telemedicine in health systems can help you see your provider quickly and get the help you need.

How to Get Started with SMART Recovery

If you are ready to address and overcome any harmful habit, the SMART Recovery approach can help you. The tools learned during SMART meetings have proven effective for addressing a wide range of addictions while helping participants achieve long-term, lasting change. Contact us at Genesis Recovery today to learn more about how SMART Recovery can help you.


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