SMART Recovery

Self-Management for Addiction Recovery Training (SMART)® Recovery

There are many roads to recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the 12-Step treatment programs are just a couple of examples that have worked for many. Though both programs are effective, this is a similar recovery program that may be better suited for you. It’s called Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART)®. While it is not nearly as significant of a program as AA, there are more than 1,000 groups in the United States.

How Does SMART Recovery Work Exactly?

Joe Gerstein founded SMART in 1994 with other experienced psychologists. The nonprofit organization works to remove the spiritual aspect of 12-Step treatment programs and the aspect of being in recovery for the rest of your life. Instead, SMART Recovery places the focus on evidence-backed steps. It utilizes the most recent medical research on substance abuse and addiction to help individuals overcome the behavior of compulsion by altering their thoughts and putting those actions into practice.

SMART Recovery Meetings: No Cost and Abstinence Based

SMART Recovery meetings are no cost and are mainly focused on abstinence. They focus on assisting members with the development of tools that will change the patterns that have already been developed in their lives that have led to their addictions. Using these tools, the SMART Recovery program aims to assist individuals in leading meaningful, satisfying lives.

Alternatively, the SMART Recovery program doesn’t only focus on drugs and alcohol. The program meetings are also for individuals who struggle with certain addictive behaviors. For example, addictions to shopping, gambling, exercise, eating, and more. As this program gained popularity throughout the U.S., it has also gained web-based support communities. These are particularly beneficial to those who need support when in-person meetings aren’t available. Additionally, there are support programs for family members.

The Terms: “Abuse” and “Addiction”

While the SMART Recovery program may use certain terms like “abuse” and “addiction,” it is not required for individuals to refer to themselves as substance abusers or addicts at meetings. Research has shown individuals in the early stages of their recovery may prefer to avoid using these types of terms. AA and 12-Step programs, however, require that individuals refer to themselves as “addicts,” and the reason for this is this certain “step” is a way to accept responsibility for their problem. Unfortunately, this keeps some individuals from entering into the program that could actually help them.

Recovery Does End

Additionally, the SMART Recovery program focuses on the fact that there IS an end date to your recovery. While it is true individuals struggling with a drug or substance abuse battle may need a long time to overcome their compulsive behaviors surrounding addiction and relapses, it is possible for it all to come to an end. SMART Recovery focuses on that. Within the program, you will learn you can eventually reach a stage of full recovery rather than remaining in a stage of recovery for the rest of your life. The SMART Recovery program believes you can and will reach a point where SMART meetings aren’t useful for you any longer. The goal is for you to overcome your addiction through self-exploration and mindful effort. When this time comes, congratulations!

The SMART Recovery program utilizes a specific tool set from Rational Emotive Behavioral therapy (REBT) and Cognitive Behavioral therapy (CBT).

These tools include the following:

  • Understanding and focusing on the different levels of change
  • Making use of the plans of change worksheets
  • Performing a decision-making breakdown of substance use vs. abstinence
  • Upholding a hierarchy of values
  • Reviewing your ABC(DE)s:
    • Activating event (when something occurs)
    • Beliefs, attitudes, thoughts that are triggered by A (the event)
    • Consequences of B: behaviors and thoughts that are used to cope with B
    • Disputes: evaluating arguments against initial behaviors/thoughts, developing logical techniques of handling B
    • Effects of D: brand-new behaviors and emotions from a better understanding of yourself
  • Making use of DISARM (Destructive Irrational Self-Talk Awareness & Refusal Method) tactics
  • Brainstorming
  • Role-playing to establish and embed brand-new behaviors
  • Practicing Unconditional Self-Acceptance (USA)
  • Locating Vital Absorbing Creating Interests (VACI)

At a SMART meeting, you can expect to focus on at least one of the aforementioned tools, and they will be applied to the problems the group has experienced within the previous week. The group will then create a plan that focuses on better habits as well as sensible ways of thinking for the upcoming week.

While it is true the SMART Recovery program is not nearly as popular as AA and the 12-Step program, it is a support group recognized by many medical organizations, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and the Center for Health Care Evaluation.

Who Can Benefit From the SMART Recovery Program and Who Won’t?

Due to the nature of SMART Recovery meetings, its website specifically states these studies do not address the direct effectiveness of the meetings. However, some studies indirectly show this type of supportive therapy can be beneficial for individuals needing to conquer an addiction.

Looking at scientific psychological research, there are two types of individuals as follows:

  • Individuals with an internal locus of control
  • Individuals with an external locus of control

What Is the Locus of Control?

The locus of control refers to who is in charge of a person’s future. This may be something external (the focus of most 12-Step programs that are from religion) or it may be something internal, like themselves (the focus of the Smart Recovery program).

Individuals That Get the Most Out of the SMART Recovery Program

These types of individuals include the following:

  • Individuals who are not interested in spirituality, religion, or other similar philosophies to be involved in their recovery process
  •  Individuals who are interested in working with facts and evidence, especially with a group, will benefit from the participation aspect in the SMART Recovery program 

SMART Recovery understands each person has a different history and varied preferences when it comes to their treatment, and this may allow individuals to gain more benefit from certain aspects of the program (like meetings over online support or vice versa).

  • Individuals who don’t want to put a label on themselves and prefer to focus on the future change from true understanding of themselves

As mentioned previously, the “addict” label is required in AA and 12-Step programs. This often keeps people from wanting to join. Labeling of that type is not required or even warranted at SMART meetings. Instead, these meetings center on what each person encountered in the week prior, and what can be changed to be healthier in the upcoming week. There is no judgment—even when relapse is involved. The only focus is to get healthy.

  • Individuals that require medications and therapies

The SMART Recovery program permits prescription medications (sometimes monitored), including maintenance therapies like psychiatric medications and buprenorphine.

Individuals that May Not Gain as Much from the SMART Recovery Program

Those individuals may include the following:

  • Individuals who prefer spiritual or religious guidance throughout their recovery
  • Individuals who have an external locus of control
  • Individuals who have specific goals for their future or need to be responsible for others apart from themselves
  •  Individuals who may be unable to emotionally handle interruptions of personal narratives or direct criticism in the discussion encouraged during SMART Recovery meetings.


The SMART Recovery program is relatively new, but it is gaining an increasing foothold in the U.S. as a new form of supportive group treatment that offers various different therapy methods and goals - all for the goal of including more people that need help enter into a program and stay on track during their recovery.

If you are struggling with addiction, contact us at Shadow Mountain Recovery, so we get you on the road to a healthier you.

Don’t wait another day to get the help you or a loved one needs. Call us now.