Get the Lowdown on SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery

What is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is the leading evidence-based, non-12 Step support group that offers a rational self-help approach to recovery from alcohol and chemical dependence. It offers a clear alternative to the traditional 12-step approaches of AA and NA. Unlike the Anonymous approaches, SMART Recovery (SR) takes an approach of self-empowerment rather than accepting the addict as powerless over drugs and alcohol. SR believes that the addict has the power to change their own thinking and behavior. Psychologists describe this as “locus of control.” With an externallocus of control, you expect the future is about what happens to you. With an internal locus of control, as SR suggests, you expect that the future is going to be what you make it.

Another difference with the Anonymous traditions is SR doesn’t accept the premise that addiction is a lifelong, incurable disease. In their literature they state: “We’re not trying to cure an imaginary disease. We’re concerned with changing human behavior.” It is an approach that identifies the problems, such as craving and motivation, and whatever personal issues and offers practical tools, techniques, and strategies for overcoming them.

SR also uses a system developed in 1955 by Dr. Albert Ellis called the “ABC.” The ABC process is a key component of an empirically based psychotherapy system called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). “A” stands for an activating event – the thing that happened; “B” is for beliefs – the need to challenge irrational beliefs; “C” is for consequence – an emotional response to the belief. Through this system addicts are able to analyze negative emotions and self-defeating behaviors. According to online surveys, many participants remarked how various SR tools and techniques were vital to their ability to abstain from drugs and alcohol. These surveys suggest a high degree of satisfaction with users of the program.

A Decisional Balance

SR also departs significantly from the Anonymous programs in other ways: It requires no belief in a higher power, there’s no need to self-identify as an addict, and it demands no lifelong commitment to attending meetings. SR doesn’t base its work on any spiritual component. SR encourages members to consider the benefits and costs of the drug use and fill out a “decisional balance” – the user makes a list representing the pros and cons-cost/benefit analysis of different choices regarding drug use.

A decisional balance allows the user to create a visual map of the role addictive behaviors play, builds motivation for change, and points out potential relapse triggers.

How SMART Recovery Views Addiction

According to their own literature “addictive behavior is over-involvement with substance use, e.g., alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, food, etc., or activities, e.g., gambling, sexual behavior, spending, etc. We assume there are degrees of addictive behavior and that all individuals to some degree experience it. For some individuals the negative consequences of addictive behavior become so great that change becomes highly desirable.”

SR does not take a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment: Unlike Anonymous’ all-or-nothing approach, SR takes no position on moderation or abstinence. Members can work with a harm reduction or moderation management approach in which they learn to moderate their drinking. Studies have shown that around half of the people who have had a diagnosis of alcohol dependence end up moderating successfully. The goal is to help people make sensible decisions and have them act on them – to solve the problem and move on.

The self-empowerment approach to recovery while very much in the shadow of the dominant AA in the United States, it is much more prominent in the rest of the world where it makes up 50% of the marketplace. There are over 1,000 SR groups worldwide and in any given month between 20,000 and 30,000 people attend meetings. While SR is still very much dwarfed by the traditional Anonymous approaches, their numbers are growing steadily.

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