What is SMART Recovery, and How Can it Help You?

SMART Recovery, The Differences Between SMART Recovery and the 12-Steps

Most addiction rehabilitation centers introduce their clients to 12-Step recovery education and meetings. Willingway uses this approach in our treatment programs as well. For many people, the 12-Step philosophy provides essential accountability, foundational progress, and community. There are also other mutual aid support programs individuals turn to as additional reinforcement for sober living. For example, if you’re curious about SMART Recovery and how it can help you, here’s some information that may help.

What is SMART Recovery? 

For nearly a century, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the original 12-Step program, continues to be a reliable source of external recovery support. In the decades since its development, many subsets emerged—including Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), and others—to provide a system by which people handle cravings, triggers, and negative environmental factors, and maintain strength, focus, and purpose in their sobriety. However, the guideposts of a 12-Step program may not be enough for some individuals’ recovery goals. 

In 1994, mental health experts explored the benefits of using cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques in peer support groups. Specifically, they utilized an approach called rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT) pioneered by psychologist Albert Ellis, which helps people change emotional reactions and belief systems. These changes act as the foundation to alter actions that may trigger self-destructive behaviors, including those associated with substance use disorder (SUD) and alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

The technique is known as SMART: Self-Management and Recovery Training. It’s now endorsed by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, to name a few, and some studies demonstrate favorable outcomes.   

The basic concept of SMART is simple: once you understand your perception of events or circumstances, you’re able to work through the emotions that once triggered damaging or unwanted behaviors. Here are more of the program’s principles: 

  • All programs are based on scientific evidence and on-going evaluation.
  • When given the right tools, people can manage their own behaviors.
  • It’s vital to connect with and learn from other individuals with similar experiences.
  • The power of choice is important: people should establish their own goals, tools, and skills.
  • Individuals with “lived experience” are central to the program’s continued development.

Crafting successful recovery for life means adapting to various methods that reinforce wellness. A thoughtful self-care plan, consideration of triggers, a strong support network—these are just a few of the tried-and-true ways to prevent relapse. But within this framework are valuable individual preferences. If you’re curious as to how SMART Recovery differs from 12-Step programs and how all of these approaches benefit you, let’s take a closer look.

The Differences Between SMART Recovery and the 12-Steps

This breakout isn’t to say one method is better than another. It’s to provide you with an overview so you can seek out a meeting near you and learn more. We’ll use AA/NA as the primary references for 12-Step programs in general.

Philosophical Approach

  • SMART: Based on REBT, the approach focuses on empowering individuals to manage their own recovery by teaching practical skills and strategies.
  • AA/NA: These programs are often rooted in a 12-step philosophy that involves surrendering to a higher power and acknowledging powerlessness over addiction. The spiritual component is often a central aspect of these programs.

Individual Responsibility

  • SMART: Encourages individuals to take personal responsibility for their recovery and provides tools to manage thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.
  • AA/NA: In addition to the higher power deference, participants are encouraged to rely on group support for recovery.

Higher Power Concept

  • SMART: The program is secular and emphasizes self-empowerment and individual responsibility.
  • AA/NA: Incorporates the concept of a higher power as a central element in the recovery process. People are inspired to use this for guidance and support.

Abstinence vs. Moderation

  • SMART: Acknowledges that abstinence may be the goal for some individuals, but also recognizes the option of moderation for those who seek it. The focus is on making informed and responsible choices.
  • AA/NA: The 12-Step philosophy views addiction as an all-or-nothing proposition, so the primary goal emphasis is on complete abstinence. 

Language and Terminology

  • SMART: Due to the incorporation of REBT, it utilizes a more clinical and cognitive-behavioral language. 
  • AA/NA: Involves a specific language and terminology associated with the 12-Step program from the “Big Book,” including phrases such as “Higher Power,” “Sponsor,” and “Making Amends.”

Meetings and Structure

  • SMART: Meetings may have a more structured and educational format. Participants discuss tools and techniques for managing cravings, emotions, and behaviors.
  • AA/NA: Meetings often follow a less structured format, involving sharing personal stories, discussing the various action steps, and providing mutual support.

Facilitator Role

  • SMART: Usually conducted by professionals or trained volunteers who guide the discussion and introduce tools. The focus is on education and skill-building.
  • AA/NA: Often led by individuals who have experienced addiction and are further along in their recovery (sponsors). Sponsorship is a central aspect of this model.

The effectiveness of any peer support program varies based on personal autonomy. Some individuals may find success in programs like SMART Recovery, while others resonate more with 12-Step principles—and it’s totally fine to incorporate aspects of both, if that’s your choice. Ultimately, you simply want to use techniques that align with your goals, help you feel strongly supported, and allow you to build a purposeful life in recovery. 

Find the Right Solutions for You at Willingway

Willingway’s treatment philosophy is based on the belief that substance and alcohol misuse is a primary illness that affects mind, body, and soul. At our Georgia and Florida addiction rehabilitation locations, we customize evidence-based treatment plans to meet individuals where they are at the moment, and provide therapeutic solutions to help determine where they intend to go. Ask us how by calling today.