What Is Smart Recovery?

Last Updated: January 23, 2024

SMART stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. SMART Recovery is an evidence-based addiction recovery program that uses peer support groups to help people overcome addiction problems with drugs, alcohol and other harmful behaviors. Unlike other addiction recovery programs that may have a spiritual focus, SMART emphasizes self-empowerment and scientific principles for addiction recovery.

With the widespread addiction epidemic across the United States, people are constantly searching for help and looking for resources to get treatment, find support and ultimately feel connected as they embark on their journey to and through recovery.

It’s no surprise that over the years, alternatives to AA and NA have popped up and gained attention as well as respect in the sober community. SMART Recovery is gaining momentum and popularity as both an alternative to and supplement for other programs.

SMART Recovery Overview

SMART is rooted in a scientific foundation that believes in learning how to be self-reliant. This is in contrast to other teachings based on powerlessness.

History of SMART Recovery

SMART was first started as a non-profit affiliated with Rational Recovery and was first known as the Rational Recovery Self-Help Network. Rational Recovery is best known as a book written by Jack Trimpey. However, it transitioned into SMART in 1994 when the board of directors for the group had a different vision than the owners of Rational Recovery. Thus, they cut ties and formed what we know today as the SMART Recovery Program.

SMART Recovery Today

Beginning with only 42 SMART Recovery groups in 1994, SMART has grown to over 3,500 weekly meetings in over 20 countries. The SMART Recovery Handbook has been translated into 13 languages. The organization also has offices in Canada, Australia, Denmark, Ireland, the UK and the US Today, SMART Recovery is the world’s largest science-based, self-empowering addiction recovery program.

Core Principles of SMART Recovery

SMART emphasizes the use of evidence-based methods for addiction recovery, including their “4-Point Program” and elements of rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT).

The 4 Points of SMART Recovery

  1. Building and Maintaining the Motivation to Change

SMART encourages participants to find, identify and cling to their best motivation for positive change. They may use tools like a hierarchy of values, a cost-benefit analysis and a change-plan worksheet to help participants stay motivated on the road to recovery.

  1. Coping with Urges to Use

SMART acknowledges that even with proper motivation for change, cravings and urges to use can feel overwhelming. SMART endeavors to help participants fight those urges with pre-planned action. SMART utilizes their DEADS strategy to help people find ways to fight the urge to use.

  1. Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviors

SMART acknowledges that people misuse substances for any number of reasons. They emphasize that substance misuse is often a coping mechanism for emotions and thoughts that are otherwise difficult to deal with. SMART encourages participants to work through their feelings in the context of a support group.

  1. Leading a Balanced, Positive, Healthy Life

SMART promotes lifestyle balance. They encourage participants to find the “mean between two extremes” and to find the right place between components of life like work and relaxation, duties and fun, exercise and rest and more. SMART utilizes tools like a lifestyle balance pie to help participants land in a healthy place.

The ABCs of SMART Recovery

SMART encourages using rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). REBT is an action-oriented approach to therapy that helps people deal with irrational thoughts and manage behaviors, thoughts and emotions in a positive way. These ABCs are part of an REBT framework.

A: Activating Experience

There are inciting events or triggers all around us. SMART asks participants to recognize those urge triggers so that they can begin to cope with them. 

B: Beliefs

We may have irrational beliefs about those events and triggers. Someone struggling with substance misuse may hold the (irrational) belief that the only way to cope with a particular stressor or trigger is to turn to a substance. 

C: Consequences

Irrational beliefs about an activating situation or event result in real-world consequences. Irrational beliefs cause people to feel a certain way about events and triggers, and it can be difficult to defeat the spiral of emotion once you lay claim to that irrational belief.

D: Disputes

SMART asks participants to turn their beliefs into questions: Do I really need…? Am I really…? Do I have proof of…? The point here is that irrational beliefs are questioned so that participants begin to see the irrationality of their beliefs about a given situation.

E: Effects

The hope is that once destructive, irrational thought patterns are evaluated and questioned, people can start moderating their emotions and behaviors with rational, collected thoughts about a given situation.

The Power of Choice in Recovery

An important tenet of the SMART Recovery philosophy is self-empowerment. SMART emphasizes that everyone has the power to choose — even if all they can do at first is change how they relate to their circumstances. SMART encourages participants to take stock of where they are in life and to assess how their choices up to this point have worked out for them.

SMART also emphasizes that there is no right or wrong path to recovery. According to SMART, “individuals seeking recovery have the highest chance of success when they have the opportunity to choose the pathway (or combination of pathways) that best suits them.” SMART endeavors to have participants not only feel confident and self-empowered enough to choose recovery but also to choose the path to recovery that best suits their unique situation.

How Does SMART Recovery Work?

Fully based on rational thinking and backed by scientific evidence, SMART seeks to keep its ideas, strategies and beliefs simple and uncomplicated. They strive to teach people effective and long-term approaches to healthier thinking, emotional intelligence and taking intentional actions.

SMART Recovery aims to teach participants self-reliance rather than powerlessness. Instead of rooting their power to change in a sponsor or higher power, people are equipped with tools and resources to choose recovery for themselves. Through the application of core principles and support found in SMART Recovery meetings, individuals are empowered to make incremental progress toward positive change until there is a compounding effect that helps the individual get sober and stay sober. 

SMART Recovery Meetings

SMART meetings are run by a trained facilitator and are typically attended by three to twelve participants or more. Participants can share successes, challenges and progress on any goals. Meetings will also take time to review and apply SMART tools directly to participants’ situations. Group discussion and participation are encouraged so all attendees can learn from one another’s experiences and share successes and difficulties. 

Where to Find SMART Meetings

SMART Recovery offers meetings across the United States and in many other countries. You can find an up-to-date list of meeting locations and times at meetings.smartrecovery.org.

Tools and Resources in SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery has developed a library of tools, techniques and resources for their participants. The SMART Recovery Handbook is the foundational resource for recovery. In addition to the handbook, SMART has developed techniques and tools like the following to help participants in recovery:

In addition to these tools, SMART Recovery offers participants face-to-face meetings worldwide, online meet-ups and message boards and a chat room available 24/7 for people to connect.

SMART Recovery versus AA

Perhaps the biggest difference between SMART and AA lies in how the recovery works. While AA focuses on the serenity prayer and admitting you are powerless against substances, SMART focuses on empowerment and problem-solving. Other differences include:

Aspect of RecoveryAA (Alcoholics Anonymous)SMART Recovery
FoundationSpiritual foundation with a higher powerAnalytical foundation with no spiritual emphasis
Approach to cravings and urgesBelieves in using meetings, sponsors and prayerEmphasizes problem-solving for effectiveness
Pathways to recoveryStrongly believes in 12 stepsBelieves in multiple paths and personal choice
View on addictionHas referred to addiction as a disease but does not lay out an obvious positionDoes not tend to refer to addiction as a disease but emphasizes personal choice and change
Labels usedUses labels like “addict” and “alcoholic”Avoids using such labels
Popularity and ageMore widely known and establishedNewer, with lower awareness among the public

How Effective Is SMART Recovery?

SMART has cited several studies demonstrating the efficacy of the SMART Recovery program and philosophy. The studies demonstrate that SMART is at least as effective as other recovery methods like AA, Women for Sobriety and LifeRing. SMART acknowledges that addiction recovery has a lot of variables, however, and that certain programs may fit the unique needs of an individual better than others.  

The Role of SMART Recovery in Addiction Treatment

SMART Recovery is among many tools for getting sober and entering lifelong recovery. Programs like SMART, AA and others may work for some individuals struggling with substance misuse. Still, they may not be as effective for others. The specifics of your addiction will determine what sort of support and treatment you need. 

If you have struggled a lot with alcohol or drugs, and your substance misuse has significantly impacted your life, you may want to consider a more robust treatment program like inpatient rehab at an accredited facility like Orlando Recovery Center. Inpatient rehab offers you the chance for a hard reset where you can receive 24-7 care for detox and rehabilitation. After getting clean and being equipped for recovery in a highly supportive environment, a program like SMART Recovery may benefit your ongoing sobriety after you receive more intensive care and treatment.

Is SMART Recovery For You?

This form of recovery is a self-empowering group that encourages its participants to take charge of their lives through motivation, problem-solving and creating a better lifestyle. The crux of SMART is not to work with an incurable disease but to change human behavior.

If you have attended AA or NA meetings and they did not work for you because accepting powerlessness and turning your life over to a higher power did not resonate with you, SMART may be a better fit for you. Likewise, you may be in treatment or facing addiction on your own while looking for a support group to complement your sobriety. SMART helps you work from an analytical and scientific approach.

Whatever road to recovery you choose, help and support are available. We would love to provide you with more information and talk to you about addiction treatment programs at Orlando Recovery Center Drug and Alcohol Rehab. Contact us today, and let us help find the best methods for you.

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