SMART recovery, Alcoholic Anonymous, 12-step programs,

SMART Recovery is a popular resource for many people in addiction recovery. Some choose it as an alternative to a more traditional 12-Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Others choose SMART Recovery as a supplement to their 12-Step program. SMART Recovery and 12-Step programs share the three main principles of confidentiality, accessibility, and mutual support.

For those who are not comfortable with the spiritual aspect of 12-Step programs, SMART Recovery may be an option.

A Brief History of SMART Recovery

For decades the main self-help groups for people in recovery from substance use disorders were Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. However, some people did not feel comfortable with the spiritual and religious aspects of the programs. As an alternative to the 12-Step programs, Rational Recovery began in 1985. It was based on scientific principles and self-empowerment and did not have religious or spiritual aspects. In 1992, Rational Recovery and Alcohol and Drug Abuse Self-Help Network (ADAHSN) merged and incorporated. Two years later, the organization was renamed SMART Recovery.

What is SMART Recovery?

Self-Management and Recovery Training, known as SMART Recovery is a worldwide support group that holds weekly free meetings for anyone suffering from addiction to drugs, alcohol, or harmful behaviors, such as over-eating, gambling, or excessive internet use. SMART Recovery uses self-empowerment and evidence-based therapeutic modalities to help members overcome their addictions. At meetings,  discussions center around the Self-Empowered 4-Point Program of SMART Recovery.

The 4-Point Program

Based on their needs, members of SMART Recovery decide the order in which they will address the 4 points. As members learn, understand, and work the 4 points, they acquire the tools, techniques, and skills they need to remain motivated and lead a balanced life, resulting in long-term sobriety.

  1. Build, Enhance, and Maintain Motivation to Abstain: If a person wants lasting recovery, they must be willing to stay sober. Individuals list their priorities and weigh the costs of using or drinking against the benefits of sobriety.
  2. Cope with Urges: Each person must determine their craving triggers. They learn to understand why they have the urge for alcohol or drugs and how to overcome their urges. 
  3. Manage Thoughts, Behaviors, and Feelings: By examining their thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, members learn what led them to substance use and addiction. Over time, they learn ways to manage feelings like anxiety or depression with self-acceptance and relapse prevention skills. 
  4. Lead a Balanced Life: Choosing sobriety is a big decision and life change for anyone addicted to drugs or alcohol. For sobriety to be lasting, the person must learn what it means to live a sober life. They must decide what is important to them and set realistic goals to plan for a healthy, sober future.

Differences Between SMART Recovery and 12-Step Programs

  1. SMART Recovery members go through six stages of change. Participants in 12-Step programs go through the 12 steps.
  2. Most 12-Step programs separate members based on the type of addiction. In SMART Recovery, anyone can attend any meeting regardless of their addiction.
  3. SMART Recovery does not use terms like addict or alcoholic. They believe labels do not serve any purpose.
  4. Some people will not admit they are powerless over their actions or circumstances. In SMART Recovery, they do not have to.
  5. Most participants of 12-Step programs make a lifelong commitment to the program. In SMART Recovery, people only attend meetings until they think they are no longer necessary or useful.
  6. There are no sponsors in SMART Recovery. Sponsoring and having a sponsor are important aspects of 12-Step programs.
  7. SMART Recovery does not refer to a higher power. 12-Step programs use the belief in a higher power as an aid to recovery. 

Possible Disadvantages of SMART Recovery

Although the SMART Recovery program works well for some people, there are also potential disadvantages. Research results suggest individuals in SMART Recovery are more likely to drink or use drugs than those in AA. In addition, the leaders of SMART Recovery groups are not required to have first-hand experience with addiction. This may make it more difficult for members to trust that their leaders truly understand their experience.

Do You Need Help?

If you or someone you care about is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, now is the time to get the help you need. Finding the best treatment facility is essential for healthy, lasting sobriety. Call and speak to a skilled professional at English Mountain Recovery in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. We will answer your questions and concerns. Our treatment specialists will guide you through every step of your recovery process and provide the tools you need to live a sober life.

About the Author: Terry Hurley

Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.

See more articles by Terry.