If you’re struggling to make the 12-Step process work for you, don’t give up hope of a lasting recovery. Although Alcoholics Anonymous and other similar groups play a vital role in keeping millions of people clean and sober, these organizations aren’t right for everyone.
SMART Recovery is one AA alternative that you may wish to investigate as a resource for post-residential treatment support. The program can also be helpful as a supplement to AA meetings if you feel you are in need of additional recovery support.
About the SMART Recovery Program
SMART Recovery is an abstinence-based nonprofit organization offering self-help services for people wishing to overcome alcohol or drug addiction. It was founded in 1994 by a group of mental health professionals that included Dr. Joseph Gerstein, Dr. Tom Horvath, Dr. Philip Tate, Dr. Rob Sarmiento, Dr. Michler Bishop, Rich Dowling, Dr. Jeff Shaler, Ann Parmenter, LCSW, Peter Bishop, Dr. Robert Dain, and Dr. Hank Robb.
SMART is an acronym that stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. The program is based on a cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy known as Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Developed in the 1950s by psychologist Albert Ellis, REBT teaches that changing your beliefs and emotions empowers you to change your actions in regards to self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse.
SMART Recovery’s approach to treating addiction is recognized by a number of respected substance abuse treatment experts, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
A 12-Step Alternative
Like Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-Step programs, SMART Recovery meetings are free and intended to offer both support and information. However, there are some important differences between the two programs.
The SMART Recovery program:
- Is secular and scientifically based
- Focuses on the present instead of dwelling on the past
- Encourages an empowerment mindset to change behaviors
- Does not encourage individuals to admit to powerlessness over addiction
- Avoids the concept of a higher power
- Rejects the disease theory of substance abuse in favor of viewing addiction as a habit that can be overcome
- Believes certain people have a predisposition towards addictive behaviors
- Is open to people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction as well as process addictions such as eating disorders or sex addiction
Stages of Change
While AA uses the 12-Steps, SMART Recovery talks about four points that participants need to master:
- Building motivation
- Coping with urges
- Problem solving
- Lifestyle balance
The program also refers to the stages of change that people go through when gaining control over addiction.
- Precontemplation – The person doesn’t realize he has a problem.
- Contemplation – The person performs a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether addiction is interfering with life goals.
- Determination/Preparation – The person makes the decision to work towards personal change. A Change Plan worksheet may be completed at this time.
- Action – The person seeks out new ways of handling addiction-related behavior. This can include self-help, group support, or professional guidance.
- Maintenance – The behavior has changed and the person looks for ways to maintain this progress.
- Graduation/Exit – The person has been in recovery long enough to feel confident in graduating from the SMART Recovery program.
Under the SMART Recovery model, relapse is considered a side event. The program teaches that relapse is not inevitable, but a relapse does not mean change is not possible. If a relapse is handled well, it can serve as a learning experience that helps the person overcome addiction.
SMART Recovery Meetings
Every group is a little different, but SMART Recovery meetings typically run between 60 and 90 minutes in length. Meetings are open to the public unless they are specifically labeled as private or specialized.
Meeting facilitators receive SMART Recovery training before becoming volunteer group leaders. Some facilitators are mental health professionals, but others are concerned individuals who have overcome drug or alcohol addiction and wish to use their newfound skills to help others.
Meetings typically begin with a group welcome, followed by a check in where each person can discuss the challenges they’ve experienced in regulating their behaviors or the progress they’ve made in reaching specific life goals. New participants can share what brought them to the group, but all participation is optional.
After the check in, the facilitator will determine what issues the group will discuss. Everyone will brainstorm potential ways to use the SMART Recovery program to address the specific issue being discussed. Participants often say this part of the process helps them look at their problems in a new way and boosts confidence in their ability to tackle the challenges of building a sober life.
Although meetings are free to attend, a hat is often passed for donations at the end to help with group expenses such as venue fees.
To find a meeting near you, enter your address or zip code in the SMART Recovery meeting locator tool. If you are interested in attending an online meeting, the SMART Recovery online meeting schedule provides a comprehensive list of all live online meetings.
You can visit the SMART Recovery website and use the meeting locator https://www.smartrecoverytest.org/local/ to find a meeting near you. An online forum https://www.smartrecovery.org/community/ is also available to provide supplemental support.
By Dana Hinders