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What Is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery is a nonprofit organization that helps those struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction achieve and maintain sobriety. Their acronym, which stands for Self-Management And Recovery Training, shows how their program is distinct from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Whereas AA is a 12-step program that involves admitting powerlessness over one’s circumstances and asking for help from a higher power, SMART is based on science and empiricism and involves the individual in recovery taking responsibility for changing their own situation without allusion to God or a higher power.

Instead, SMART has 4 main principles. According to the organization itself, they are:

  1. Building and maintaining the motivation to change.
  2. Coping with urges to use.
  3. Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in an effective way without addictive behaviors.
  4. Living a balanced, positive, and healthy life.

Part of SMART’s core philosophy also involves identifying the goals one has for oneself, examining long-held beliefs, gaining interpersonal intelligence, and finding hobbies and interests to replace the addiction in question. SMART also borrows from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and encourages members to identify and correct mental distortions that create inaccurate and negative thoughts that lead to addiction.

How Is SMART Recovery Similar To AA?

  • Both have the goal of helping those who struggle to quit drinking get and stay sober.
  • Both provide a support network of sober individuals who have experienced addiction and can therefore empathize with and assist a newcomer working to get clean.
  • Both offer local, regular meetings as part of a long-term commitment to lasting lifestyle change.
  • Both are free, and rely on volunteer efforts and donations in order to function.

How Are They Different?

  • Unlike many followers of AA, those in SMART programs do not necessarily view alcoholism as a disease.
  • SMART does not use labels like “addict,” and rejects the idea that one has to be in recovery for the rest of one’s life.
  • SMART has no sponsors, unlike AA.
  • SMART’s meetings have more crosstalk among members, from SMART Recovery’s own website, “SMART Recovery meetings are discussion meetings in which individuals talk with one another, rather than to one another.”

Does SMART Recovery Work?

SMART has certainly seen an explosion in popularity, with the number of SMART meetings increasing 5x over the course of the past decade. It also has been recommended by the US government’s institutes and agencies – including the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

One study conducted on criminal offenders with substance abuse issues found that SMART methods led to a significantly reduced reconviction rate compared to the general population. Another study, published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, found that SMART is roughly as effective as AA when it comes to getting and staying sober.

The good news is that there’s no reason to have to pick one school of thought over the other. There’s no rule to stop someone in a SMART program from attending an AA meeting, or vice-versa.

Ultimately, the key difference seems to come down to a matter of personal preference: do you find it more appealing to view your addiction as outside of your control, and view recovery as a spiritual endeavor, or would you rather view your addiction as within your control and view recovery more scientifically? There’s no right or wrong answer; it just comes down to preference.

Finding Treatment

If you want to explore recovery options, contact a treatment provider today to get more information.