Making the decision to get clean and sober is not easy for anyone, but it is one of the most courageous decisions a person can make. With the right tools and resources, drug and alcohol addiction recovery is entirely possible. Fortunately, getting ahold of those resources is easier than ever before.

There is a wide variety of addiction recovery programs available today, one of which is known as SMART Recovery. Focusing on self-empowerment, SMART Recovery is a science-based program created to help users along their recovery journey. With a SMART Recovery plan, you can get the help you need to achieve a better life and avoid relapse.

What Is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery stands for “Self-Management And Recovery Training.” As a program, SMART can help its members overcome any type of substance use and help them on the road to recovery. The key element of a SMART program is self-empowerment.

The SMART program boasts an active and direct approach to change that is centered on the power of choice. The goal of SMART is to help its members become self-reliant and improve their wellbeing in the long term. Upon completing a SMART program, you’ll find yourself feeling more confident and capable, and able to make better decisions for your health and lifestyle.

Unlike other recovery programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery is completely secular and science based. Whether you are religious or not, you will be able to use the SMART program to the fullest extent. SMART Recovery can also be combined with other programs to ensure the greatest chance of success.

SMART Recovery continues to evolve with science and has proven extremely effective thanks to its incorporation of proven techniques. For instance, this program supports the use of medications, cognitive behavioral therapy (also known as CBT), and non-confrontational motivational methods.

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The History of SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery was founded in 1994 as a non-profit organization operated by volunteers. SMART Recovery has remained a nonprofit for almost thirty years now, supported by both professional and nonprofessional volunteers. Both the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Academy of Family Physicians have recognized SMART Recovery as an effective tool for overcoming addiction.

SMART’s mission is to support life beyond addiction. In alignment with that, you will never pay a fee to join SMART Recovery and you’ll never have to pay to remain part of the program. SMART is open and accessible to everyone who wants to be part of it. The funding for SMART Recovery primarily comes from donations and selling publications.

How is SMART Recovery different from AA?

Instead of focusing on a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery only focuses on four points. Beliefs in a higher power to guide your recovery are not part of the SMART program because this recovery pathway is a completely secular and non-religious plan.

The AA Approach: Managing Compulsive Use by Submitting to External Control

Alcoholics Anonymous takes the stance that addiction is the result of physical compulsion and mental obsession, and that it’s stronger and bigger than oneself. This is one of the main differences between SMART and AA.

While AA has a strong opinion on who is control of addiction, SMART Recovery does not encourage their participants to admit powerless over their compulsions. Instead, SMART Recovery empowers individuals to take control back in their lives through a growth framework that teaches members the fundamentals necessary to achieve motivation, self-management and balance.

The SMART Approach: Self-Management and Recovery Training Substance Abuse

In the SMART Recovery program, no one uses the label “addict,” which they consider discouraging. Also, SMART volunteers do not take a stance on whether addiction is a disease. Rather than trying to force definitions, SMART focuses on the actual recovery that members want and need to take place while staying rooted in science.

Lastly, in the SMART program, an individual is able to “graduate” from the process to begin their new healthy life with their new tools. This means the journey to recovery is not a lifelong process. Instead, SMART’s whole mission is summed up in the words, “Life after addiction.”

If you would rather approach recovery with the mindset that you have the power to take control instead of deeming yourself powerless, SMART Recovery is the program for you. With that said, there’s no right or wrong choice—it’s just a matter of finding the program that speaks to you. Cardinal Recovery can help. Contact us today to explore your options and get help in finding the right treatment pathway.

How Does SMART Recovery Work?

SMART is a self-empowering approach available to those struggling with addiction. Through cognitive-behavioral and motivational enhancement therapies, participants are taught how to control their addictive behaviors. These skills are taught through the “four-point program,” which outlines SMART’s approach to addiction and recovery. Each point is guided by science.

With each point, there are tools and techniques for the member to conquer in their recovery from addiction. However, it is important to note the difference between “four points” and “four steps.” The reason SMART refers to its program as four points is that the points can be addressed in any order, while steps imply that one step must be conquered before the member can move onward to the next.

The four points in the SMART Recovery program center around motivation, urges, self-management and balance. Here’s a more detailed overview of these points and how the program supports members as they conquer the goals associated with each one.

Point 1: Building and Maintaining Motivation

The willingness to stay sober is an important part of recovery. So, point one lays out a few tasks that the member needs to complete— weighing out the costs and benefits of being sober. Upon completion of point one, a member will be motivated to keep moving forward in recovery and better equipped to maintain that motivation, even as they face challenges.

If you wanted to sum up point one in a single word, you’d probably settle on “perseverance.” A member who has truly conquered point one will not allow any challenge to stop them in their pursuit of recovery. Even when things get harder, they will know how to inspire themselves to keep going and never be tempted to give up.

Point 2: Coping With Urges

Learning how to control cravings is another fundamental element of overcoming addiction. In point two, members are introduced to coping techniques, such as positive distraction. Positive distraction could include redirecting to another activity or calling an accountability partner. As part of the SMART program, members will be connected with resources that will help them form a strong support system, even if they don’t have friends or family to support their recovery.

Before a member can conquer point two, they’ll also learn to identity irrational beliefs about substance use. Those irrational beliefs can often fuel unhealthy behavior or become an excuse for continuing use, but point two ensures a member has no misconceptions that could hinder their recovery.

Point 3: Drug & Alcohol Self-Management and Recovery Training

Thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all extremely powerful and deeply connected to one another. For instance, a thought can lead to a feeling, which causes a behavior, so simply addressing behaviors or feelings (i.e., emotion) isn’t enough to change. That’s why the third point in the SMART program focuses on drug and alcohol self-management and recovery training.

Point three enables a member to manage their internal dialogue, emotions, and behavior together, rather than trying to tackle just one component as if it’s not connected to the others. The third point of the SMART program also works to prevent relapse by teaching members how to deal with difficult emotions, like depression and anxiety.

Since SMART supports the use of proven prescription medications in small doses, you may be offered a medication that can help address some of the emotional struggles associated with recovery, including mood instability and insomnia.

Point 4: Living a Balanced Life

Being sober means defining a new and healthy life balance, which is why the SMART program emphasizes what a healthy balance is and the ways an individual can go about achieving it. This point is very important for long-term change, helping to prevent relapse and help members fulfill SMART’s mission of leading a fulfilling life after addiction.

In point four, members will learn about goal-setting techniques and talk about how they want their lives to look in the future. The program also helps connect members to resources that can help them in making a career change, continuing education or improving their financial wellbeing.

By taking a “big picture” approach to addiction recovery, the SMART program helps members complete the four points with a well-rounded outlook and the resources they need to succeed as they continue on their path to an addiction-free lifestyle.

Getting Started With SMART

There are many ways for an individual to begin exploring the SMART framework and start learning about the proven points that can help them in recovery. It begins with reading the website, where SMART offers a wealth of information on the SMART program1 and how it works.

From there, reading the publications that SMART offers can be extremely informational, especially if you can find them at your local library. The SMART Recovery Handbook and Family & Friends Handbook are among the two most helpful publications for those seeking a recovery pathway. You can also buy a copy from SMART Recovery if you choose.

Join The Program

SMART offers its program free to anyone who needs it, so the best way to participate in SMART is to join. You can either take part in the online community2 or you can find a local program3 to help you on your path. Ideally, you’ll join a group locally where you can take part in face-to-face meetings. If there is not a group locally, you can always start your own.

If you decide to join SMART’s online community, either because there is no group in your area or because you’d prefer to interact virtually, you’ll get to take part in free online meetings through the SMART website, ensuring that you get the support you deserve. You’ll also gain access to a message board and chat assistance, which is available 24/7.

Attend Meetings

Whether you participate in meetings in person or online, you’ll find them to be truly beneficial to your recovery pathway. In the meetings, the SMART tools for recovery are taught and explored, focusing on the four points. Many participants use a combination of approaches, but you can also use SMART on its own to achieve recovery.

Since SMART uses a point system instead of a steps system, you’ll never have to worry about “moving backward” – there is no set direction. SMART believes that the four-point system makes tackling the techniques and mindset necessary for recovery a personalized process. Rather than going 1-2-3-4, you can jump between the points as often as necessary and start wherever suits you best.

Ultimately, this aligns with the fact that there are as many correct paths to recovery as there are individuals who need help. SMART gives you the flexibility to achieve life after addiction in your own way with an approach that conforms to meet your needs and challenges.

Is SMART Right for You?

As explained in the SMART Recovery handbook: “What works for one person in one situation may not work for another in the same situation.” This is to say that there are no bad options— when it come sto recovery, the key is just finding out which option is the best choice for you.

Would you like to learn more about recovery programs? We are here for you and we are here to help. Reach out to Cardinal Recovery today and our team can talk to you about the options available when it comes to treating substance use disorders and achieving a better life. Give us a call anytime or visit our website to learn more.


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