People at a SMART recovery meeting

Understanding the SMART Recovery Program

SMART Recovery is a secular, evidence-based peer support program for people who are trying to end their use of addictive substances and curtail other compulsive behaviors. It is one of the more popular alternatives to the 12-Step model that is central to organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

What is SMART Recovery?

The “SMART” in SMART Recovery stands for Self-Management And Recovery Training. 

According to the organization’s website, this acronym represents “a transformative method of moving from addictive substances and negative behaviors to a life of positive self-regard and willingness to change.”

Features of SMART Recovery include:

  • Incorporating the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) to help people live healthier lives.
  • Emphasizing personal choice, self-management, and mutual support.
  • Holding meetings led by trained volunteer facilitators, many (but not all) of whom have personal histories of addictions or compulsive behaviors.
  • Sponsoring SMART Recovery Family & Friends to help the loved ones of individuals who have become dependent on alcohol or other drugs.

SMART Recovery USA is a 501(c)3 organization, which means it has been approved by the U.S. government as a tax-exempt non-profit company. It is led by a national executive team and a board of directors.

The History of SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery was officially established in 1994, though the roots of the organization go back a bit farther than that:

  • The organization that we know today as SMART Recovery was originally part of Rational Recovery Systems, a for-profit company that was owned by Jack Trimpey. 
  • During this period, it was identified as the Rational Recovery Self-Help Network. 
  • In 1994, the Rational Recovery Self-Help Network separated from Rational Recovery Systems and changed its name to SMART Recovery. 

Today, SMART Recovery reports that it has a presence in more than 23 nations and hosts more than 2,500 regular meetings throughout the world.

In 2018, SMART Recovery International was established to coordinate the efforts of groups in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and South America.

How Does SMART Recovery Work?

SMART Recovery works by combining peer support with time-tested therapeutic principles. By attending meetings, participating in volunteer training sessions, and reviewing handbooks and other printed materials, participants improve their skills in areas such as:

  • Managing their thoughts and behaviors
  • Making healthy and productive choices
  • Sharing support with others who are working toward similar goals

While SMART Recovery and the 12-Step recovery model both offer structured support to help people overcome the urge to use addictive drugs, there are a few key differences between the two approaches. For example:

  • Unlike the 12-Step model, SMART Recovery does not have a spiritual element. SMART Recovery does not require you to acknowledge any type of higher power.
  • The 12-Step model directs participants to admit that they are powerless over alcohol and other drugs. SMART Recovery does not call for any such admission.
  • The 12-Step model emphasizes complete abstinence from all addictive substances. SMART Recovery encourages abstinence, but it allows participants to define success as they see fit. 
  • Some 12-Step groups do not consider people to be in recovery if they are taking methadone, Suboxone, or another prescription drug as part of an approved medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program. SMART Recovery welcomes participants who are taking medications as directed by a doctor to help them stay sober. 

The 4-Point Recovery Model

SMART Recovery is structured around a four-point program that can help people accomplish the following goals:

  1. Build and maintain motivation: This point focuses on helping participants find the motivation to make significant changes in their life, then retain the drive to resist relapse and protect their sobriety.
  2. Cope with urges and cravings: Drug cravings and other unhealthy urges are common among people in recovery. Learning to process these emotions without resorting to substance abuse can be vital for long-term success. 
  3. Manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors: Using the principles of CBT and REBT, SMART Recovery helps participants identify maladaptive beliefs and self-defeating behavior patterns, then adopt healthier ways of thinking and acting.
  4. Live a balanced life: Balance and moderation are key attributes of a healthy life in recovery. SMART Recovery helps participants achieve this sense of harmony, which includes finding productive and satisfying ways to fill the hours that were previously taken up by seeking, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol and other drugs.

SMART Recovery Meetings

As we noted earlier in this post, SMART Recovery meetings are led by trained volunteer facilitators. There is never a charge to attend meetings, which are conducted both in person and online. 

Meetings are designed to be safe and supportive places where participants can gain important information about recovery, share their thoughts, and learn from the insights and experiences of others. 

The content and focus of a meeting will understandably be influenced by the contributions of the participants. In general, though, most SMART Recovery meetings adhere to the following structure:

  • Check-in: Participants have the opportunity to share any current milestones or challenges, as well as highlight successes and setbacks from the previous week.  
  • Discussion: The majority of a standard meeting will involve a facilitator-led discussion on a topic or topics related to the four-point program. These discussions often incorporate the principles of CBT or REBT. Though the facilitator plays an important role, this section of the meeting is a discussion, not a lecture. All participants are encouraged to ask questions, provide feedback, and otherwise remain actively engaged.
  • Checkout: As the meeting’s end approaches, participants are given the opportunity to highlight a lesson they learned or a discussion point that was of particular interest to them. 

A typical SMART Recovery meeting lasts 60-90 minutes.

Contact Sanctuary Treatment Center to Learn About Using SMART Recovery During Treatment

At Sanctuary Treatment Center, we are committed to providing the personalized services that reflect each patient’s unique needs, goals, and preferences. This includes recognizing that there are many valid pathways to successful, long-term recovery.

We do not host on-site SMART Recovery meetings at our rehab facility in Southern California, but we do support patients who wish to explore the benefits of this approach. We also offer cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, both of which are research-supported approaches that align with the SMART Recovery philosophy.

To learn more about SMART Recovery and other recovery support methods at Sanctuary Treatment Center, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.

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