SMART Recovery

Authored by Jane Squires

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Dr Ruth Arenas

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SMART Recovery Addiction Treatment


You have likely heard of the 12-steps method to alcohol recovery. You may have also heard of experienced Alcoholics Anonymous and its model of treatment. While those two methods are very popular and well-known, there is an alternative to them, SMART Recovery.


SMART Recovery stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. It was formed when a group of individuals involved with Alcoholics Anonymous split off from the group due to some of the beliefs and methods used by the organization. Since its creation in 1992, it has become a popular group providing treatment to individuals suffering from substance misuse11.A. K. Beck, A. Baker, P. J. Kelly, F. P. Deane, A. Shakeshaft, D. Hunt, E. Forbes and J. F. Kelly, Protocol for a systematic review of evaluation research for adults who have participated in the ‘SMART recovery’ mutual support programme – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 29, 2022, from


SMART Recovery: How does it work?


Self-Management and Recovery Training uses some of the same ideas Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous do, but differ in some ways. It is a group-based addiction treatment model led by volunteers.


The recovery program is designed to help individuals by using the latest scientifically-based treatments to end alcohol and/or drug addiction.


SMART Recovery works with people suffering from multiple types of addiction, including drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex addiction, overeating, or compulsive money spending/shopping.


The treatment method helps people learn to move forward in life following rehabilitation. Individuals learn a number of tools and techniques while attending Self-Management and Recovery Training group meetings.


These scientifically-based tools and techniques enable individuals to make wiser, healthier life choices. SMART Recovery offers meetings and programs in a number cities around the world. It also has treatment centers and online groups people can attend.


History of SMART Recovery


Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous were the keystones in the self-help group sector. For many years, the two groups were the only ones available for people aiming for recovery from alcohol or drug addiction.


Due to the focus on God and the spiritual aspects of both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, a group of individuals split off to form Self-Management and Recovery Training. In 1985, Rational Recovery was founded. It was based on self-empowerment using scientific principles. It wanted to avoid the idea of God and the spiritual focus.


In 1992, Rational Recovery officially became a non-profit and was renamed SMART Recovery two years later. Since the late 2000s, SMART Recovery has experienced a large increase in interests. The United States, United Kingdom, and Australia are three countries in which Self-Management and Recovery Training has experienced growth.


Four-Point Program


SMART Recovery offers clients a Four-Point Program for healing. The group’s four phases of treatment and recovery from addiction are broken down nicely for clients to follow.


The four phases are:


  • Building and Maintaining Motivation: Having the resolve to remain sober.
  • Coping with Urges: Examining triggers and discovering the best ways to reduce them.
  • Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors: Learning ways to avoid relapse, finding self-acceptance and handling challenging emotions.
  • Living a Balanced Life: Setting realistic expectations about a sober life and making changes to promote an effective recovery journey.


Clients can achieve each phase through the use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by focusing on changing the behaviors related to addiction.


The overall key of SMART Recovery is self-empowerment. The group’s meetings and tools provide you with information to stay motivated after leaving rehab. The aim is to also prevent cravings while living a well-balanced lifestyle.


SMART Recovery program topics:


  • Showing self-responsibility, self-motivation and self-discipline during recovery
  • Replacing self-destructive thoughts and ideas with healthy, rational beliefs
  • Setting attainable goals and milestones during recovery
  • Understanding impulses as part of the recovery process and recognizing when they happen
  • Learning how to resist cravings to drink or act upon a negative thought
  • Being patient with recovery
  • Applying SMART Recovery lessons and resources to everyday challenges


A relapse is not viewed as a weakness or failure at Recovery meetings. They are seen as a chance to start over on the path to recovery. A relapse is an opportunity for individuals to speak about what happened, how it happened, and the ways to get back on track towards recovery. SMART Recovery sees a relapse as a simple mistake rather than failing the program. This ideology increases a person’s opportunity to return to alcohol or drug abstinence.


The SMART Recovery ABC’s


A: Activating Experience


Each trigger begins with a specific circumstance that has taken place. The first step is to understand the event that made you drink or fall back on old habits.


B: Beliefs


When you think about or dwell on that particular event, how do you see or feel it? You need to take into consideration how you are thinking and feeling about it. Beliefs may come in many forms as they can be rational, reality-based, logical, irrational, wishful-based thinking, illogical, and self-defeating.


C: Consequences


Each thought and action has a consequence. A consequence is a result of the activating event and your beliefs.


D: Disputes


You should take the negative beliefs that you may possess and transform them into a series of questions and answers. Doing this will help you look deeper into why the event made you feel a specific way.


E: Effects


Effects occur when irrational thoughts are replaced with logical and rational beliefs. Practice will allow you to begin seeing new behavior patterns form and the decrease of your urges.


SMART Recovery Vs Alcoholics Anonymous


Perhaps the most significant difference between SMART Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous is that the former is not based on a 12-step model, spiritual principles, or God (higher power). SMART Recovery is instead focused on evidence-based treatments.


These treatments incorporate a number of interventions and tools such as CBT. SMART Recovery does not label individuals as “addict” or “alcoholic” and provides online meetings to clients.


In addition, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous base their programs on alcoholism being a chronic disease that is incurable but can be treated. Addiction is not a disease in the eyes of SMART. Clients can refer to their addiction as they wish to.


There are SMART Recovery programs and meetings around the world. Individuals can locate a SMART Recovery meeting and begin their treatment path today.


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    1.A. K. Beck, A. Baker, P. J. Kelly, F. P. Deane, A. Shakeshaft, D. Hunt, E. Forbes and J. F. Kelly, Protocol for a systematic review of evaluation research for adults who have participated in the ‘SMART recovery’ mutual support programme – PMC, PubMed Central (PMC).; Retrieved September 29, 2022, from
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