Most people are familiar with 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, but fewer people know about SMART Recovery. SMART stands for Self-Management And Recovery Training and was founded in 1994. SMART is a non-profit created to help people struggling with addiction by teaching them strategies shown by research to help control addictive behavior.
The SMART philosophy
SMART is different from 12-step programs in several important ways. The first is that SMART rejects the disease model of addiction and the idea that we are powerless over our addiction. Instead, SMART sees addiction as a dysfunction habit, a destructive learned behavior. And just as these dysfunctional habits can be learned, they can be unlearned. Whereas 12-step programs focus on addressing character defects and building mutual support, SMART focuses on the addictive behavior itself and aims to teach self-empowerment. A major consequence of this difference is that 12-step programs are abstinence only, whereas SMART does not insist that abstinence is the only way. For many people, abstinence is a good choice, but it’s not necessarily the only option. SMART also does not have a concept of a higher power and does not emphasize service. SMART’s primary goal is to teach members research-backed tools for controlling addictive behavior. These tools are not set in stone like the 12 steps, but are meant to change and evolve as new research is made available. The “SMART toolbox” primarily draws from motivational enhancement therapy, or MET, and cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, especially a variety called rational emotive behavioral therapy, or REBT.
Four point program
SMART divides its tools and techniques into a four point program that includes building and maintaining motivation, coping with urges, managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and living a balanced life. These roughly correspond to arc of addiction recovery. To even try to get sober, you need to find some motivation. This point typically includes exercises like creating a cost-benefit analysis of addictive behavior, where you write down the costs and benefits of continuing addictive behavior and compare them to the costs and benefits of quitting. When people do this, it usually becomes obvious that quitting is the best thing to do. After deciding to quit and making an initial effort, withdrawal symptoms and cravings are the first major hurdles people face. SMART teaches strategies for dealing with these, such as mindful awareness and cognitive restructuring. For example, most people experiencing withdrawal symptoms or cravings will tell themselves things like “This is awful!” or “I can’t stand it!” A much more rational way to think is “This is painful or extremely unpleasant, but it’s not unbearable, and it will eventually stop.” It seems like a small difference but it can get you through a tough time. Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors includes important skills to get you through the intermediate period of recovery when you’ve had some success staying sober for several months. This is about the time when you start having to deal with problems like complacency and backsliding. Learning to deal with these issues along with the regular kinds of problems that derail recovery such as stress, anxiety, and depression is important during this phase, and CBT has many strategies for helping you keep your head in the right place. Living a balanced life is basically what keeps you on track. These are the big picture things that help make you a happy, productive person. This point includes strategies to help you clarify your most important values and set long-term goals for yourself.
How to participate
There are four ways to participate in SMART–read material from the SMART website, read SMART publications, participate in online meetings or forums, or attend in-person meetings. You can, of course, combine these in any way you like. Meetings are educational and include open discussion. The purpose is learn strategies and discuss how to apply them in a supportive environment. While 12-step meetings are more about listening and sharing, SMART meetings are more of a discussion and are often run by therapists or counselors. Meetings are free, whether in person or online. SMART also has many materials and worksheets available for free on its website. The organization is funded primarily through book sales, donations, and grants. One major drawback to SMART is that there aren’t nearly as many meetings as there are for 12-step programs. There are about 100 times as many AA meetings as SMART meetings. However, whereas 12-step meetings are often specific to one addiction, such as alcohol, narcotics, or gambling, SMART methods work for any addictive behavior, so you can attend any SMART meeting. SMART also has a more organized online presence, which makes it more accessible. Since SMART emphasizes teaching techniques and strategies rather than building a sober network, a major component of 12-step programs, attending an in-person meeting may not be as important.
Does SMART work?
Recent research has shown that SMART is comparable to 12-step programs in terms of outcomes. Fewer people maintained abstinence in SMART programs, but not everyone participating in SMART aims for abstinence. Many just want to moderate their drinking or drug use. Of those who specifically intended to remain abstinent, the success rate was the same as 12-step programs. Although SMART Recovery is considered an alternative to 12-step programs, the two are not mutually exclusive. SMART recognizes that everyone has different needs in recovery and doesn’t discourage anyone from attending 12-step meetings as well. People can and do attend both SMART meetings and 12-step meetings. Smart is also a good alternative for people who are put off by the need to believe in a higher power. SMART’s main goal is to give people research-backed tools to empower them to fight addiction and those tools are compatible with other programs. The more resources people have at their disposal to fight addiction, the better.
If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, we can help. Recovery Ways is a leading addiction treatment provider with an excellent recovery rate. Our expert staff includes masters and PhD level therapists and board certified addiction psychiatrists. Our comfortable facilities will help to make your treatment as enjoyable as possible and our therapists use proven techniques like sensory integration and recreation therapy to help to engage the world without the assistance of drugs or alcohol. Call us today at 1-888-986-7848 or email us through our contact page to learn more.