SMART Recovery, An Alternative to the 12 Step Meetings?

chained up by addictionOn November 17, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the stance on battling the disease of addiction, as a call to action for the country.  “Alcohol and drug addiction take an enormous toll on individuals, families, and communities,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. “Most Americans know someone who has been touched by an alcohol or a drug use disorder. Yet 90% of people with a substance use disorder are not getting treatment. That has to change.”  Surgeon General Dr. Murthy also acknowledged that with more than 21 million Americans suffering from this disease.  Let’s face it, if you do not know someone affected by this disease, you are in a very small percentage of the population.  SMART Recovery started as an alternative to  NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and provides a new mechanism of support and encouragement for men and women recovering from drug addiction.

Most recovering addicts are at least familiar with the 12 Step program that’s included in many programs including AA and NA..  While the 12 Step Program is based on a spiritual recovery that deals with external cues, there is also the option of following a 4 step program that can be found in SMART Recovery.

What is SMART Recovery?


Self Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is relatively new and not as well renowned as NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous).  However, unlike the conventional 12 step program that’s long been associated with both AA and NA, SMART recovery operates on a 4 step principle that’s designed to help men and women suffering from addiction develop the necessary strategies and life-skills necessary for long, lasting recovery.  Of the many tools associated with this program are the concepts of decision making, understanding a hierarchy of values, and unconditional self-acceptance.  SMART Recovery includes the below 4 steps:

1. Building and maintaining one’s own motivation

2. Coping with one’s urges to us

3. Managing one’s own thoughts, behaviors, and feelings

4. Living a balanced life in sobriety

What is the Difference Between Traditional 12 Step Programs and SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery promotes and teaches self-reliance.  SMART Recovery supports the disease model approach to addiction treatment.  However, the views and stance taken are to utilize and analyze one’s own actions.  Smart Recovery also supports harm-reduction.  While NA and AA view one as being powerless to an addiction, SMART recovery promotes courage and pro-activeness to addiction.  Implementing the tool of self-empowerment is the biggest difference between this and the 12 Step Program.  SMART Recovery acknowledges that treatment is different for everyone while supporting abstaining from mind-altering substances.

Both the 12 Step Programs and the 4 Step Programs agree that addiction is a progressive disease that turns deadly without achieving sobriety.  The 12 Step Program’s focus is on the external “locus of control”, focusing on outside events and situations that remain outside of our control. The 4 Step SMART Recovery program’s focus is on the internal locus of control, where we have control over our own choices and power over some of the circumstances in our own lives.  By understanding the motivation behind one’s thought and actions, the basis is to focus on personal issues and to empower one with the tools necessary to work through them.

SMART Recovery Focuses on Self Empowerment

Should Heroin Addicts Go to Jail?SMART Recovery recognizes that spirituality is a personal choice for everyone and unlike Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, spirituality is not a focus of this program.  By putting the focus of one’s recovery into their own hands, one acquires and possesses the tools and life-skills to promote lasting sobriety and recovery.  SMART Recovery promotes understanding of one’s self on a personal level.

SMART Recovery also employs seven stages of change.  These stages include:  pre-contemplation, determination or preparation, action, maintenance, relapse, and termination.  With addictive behavior being defined as an over-involvement with a substance or activity, these stages allow a person suffering to have the tools necessary to bring themselves away from this behavior.

SMART Recovery, along with the traditional 12 Step Programs, believe that the results of one’s success is completely dependent on the person.  But, unlike NA or AA, SMART believes that anyone, at any stage in their addiction, can be successful in their recovery by using psychiatric medications or medicine assisted treatments (MAT) while in the program.  This includes Suboxone, Methadone and Naltrexone.

CRAFT, SMART Recovery’s Support for Family Members of Addiction

SMART recovery also views enabling as an addictive behavior in itself, even though this is defined as a response to another person’s addictive behavior.  As a result, the CRAFT program is also included.  This is a Community Reinforcement Approach and Family Training program that is encouraged for friends and family of those suffering from addiction.

How SMART Recovery is Funded

SMART Recovery is a non-profit organization, just like NA and AA.  But unlike the traditional programs that are self-sustaining by their members, funding for this comes from individual contributions, group donations, and publication sales.  Since this program utilizes various resources, through the use of its own suggested materials for reading, it is not restricted to one main source, like the Big Book for Alcoholic Anonymous.  This program also allows for one’s own charting of personal recovery, unlike the traditional approach.

The Role of SMART Recovery Meetings


Similarly to the traditional programs, SMART uses group meetings as a tool, but the approach is one that encourages support through self-help, in contrast to the traditional support groups, with the goal being to strengthen one’s self and personal efforts.  These group meetings that also allow for introductions to be made by its members are led by specially trained facilitators that bring strategies to combat addictive behaviors.  This is followed by a group discussion for sharing coping mechanisms and abilities.

The History of SMART Recovery

SMART recovery was initially part of the Rational Recovery Program (RR) that broke away in the early 1990’s to become its own program.  However, it still utilizes a basis of this program that uses Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).  This is an important inclusion, as the Brandsma Study, that was conducted in 1980, found that over a two year span, this form of therapy provided its groups with a 10% higher recovery rate over those in the traditional 12 Step Programs.  As recovery rates are anywhere from 35% – 50% over a one year time frame, the additional 10% can be a strong determinant for choosing SMART recovery over NA or AA.

Can You Be a Part of SMART Recovery and the 12 Step Program?

chained up by addictionIt is also important to note that SMART recovery does not see NA or AA as being an exclusion from a person’s recovery.  Some have even found that attending a 12 Step meeting can be beneficial for recovery if regular attendance cannot be made.  These traditional programs prove to be helpful and additional information is found in them.  While the 12 Step Programs do work in recovery, some find that they are not comfortable attending them.  But it is up to the individual to choose the program that is right for him or her.  SMART recovery is just another option.  When it comes to recovery, it is important to remember that combining one or more tools and programs can only increase one’s chances for maintaining success in recovery.

An Addict’s Greatest Chance at Success

Unfortunately, our society is one that breeds drug abuse.  From prescribed medications to recreational drug use, the options seem limitless and abounding for one to fall into the hands of the crippling disease of addiction..  Whichever route is chosen, it is the ability to live a balanced and full life that is the goal and objective of all of the available addiction treatment programs in recovery.  While none of these programs are meant for lifelong commitments, active recovery on the other hand, is.  Giving yourself a variety of tools for success is all that can be expected once the decision is made to be sober.

While many resources and tools are available for those in active recovery and those choosing to take action in their sobriety, they may feel limited (rightfully so) to what is available.  Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide and the National Alliance of Addiction Treatment Centers (NAATC) supports all treatment modalities and options that have a proven track record of success in promoting sobriety and lifelong recovery.  We know that there are many ways that one can learn how to use the tools and techniques for active recovery to be successful.

Sobriety is an active decision.  The decision to change is what makes a change.



Written by Kristi Tullis – Writer/Blogger for Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™
Edited and Published By William – Publisher and Founder

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