SMART Recovery: Our Proven Methods
Currently, several models exist for recovery group program outlines to promote sobriety and mental wellness. If you, or someone close to you, has ever had an issue with a substance abuse disorder, the chances are high that you’re familiar, at least in some fashion, with at least one type of recovery program. In recent years, SMART Recovery has emerged as new form of peer support and group recovery resource, but how does it differ from other such programs?
The most commonly known of all of these recovery group meetings is probably Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Both of these popular options include navigating sobriety (normally after inpatient or outpatient rehab) using a set of 12-steps promoting healing, humility, accountability, and other strong emotions during the aftercare portion of the recovery.
Recent history includes these types of programs dominating the group recovery industry. However, in 1994, a new type of recovery group would make its debut, using an entirely different model for assisting users.
Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is a behavioral-based approach to a substance abuse disorder that emphasizes science than faith. The following section better explains SMART recovery and the specifics of this program.
What Is SMART Recovery?
SMART Recovery is the most sizable alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous and the disease-based model of substance abuse disorder. SMART Recovery was co-founded by Tom Horvath, Ph.D., as a self-strengthening substitute for the 12-step method. The primary difference between SMART and AA is the focus of control. That is, whether an individual’s recovery must be guided from within or by an external or higher power.
Like AA, Smart is a support program for people with substance abuse and behavioral disorders to engage with one another. It teaches participants how to reign in (and ultimately have better control over) their damaging behavior by focusing on underlying thoughts and feelings. Participants in SMART learn about management tools to control their cravings for the long term.
SMART continuously refreshes its strategies based on new scientific data in substance abuse disorder recovery. Updates are intended to provide more efficient strategies based on extensive research.
Although the overall focus of SMART is completely different from all 12-step models, the environmental dynamic and camaraderie are elements the two share.
Mutual Support and Assistance
What makes SMART so cutting edge is the fact that it takes solid, evidence-backed behavioral strategies and formulates them into a comprehensive, followable plan of action with mutual support and assistance from peers.
Essentially, you could consider SMART a program with an inpatient treatment program’s curriculum and recovery plan with an entire body of comrades cheering your success. Participants are able to engage one another on strategies and participate in activities and learning sessions to promote progress.
This is a portion of what made 12-step recovery programs such a breakthrough success decades ago. Being surrounded by individuals rallying for the same win provides an atmosphere of accountability that promotes successful and long-term recovery.
Stages of SMART Recovery
In Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, participants follow the “steps of recovery.” The entire program is outlined by 12-steps that lead users into recovery by putting their faith in the hands of a higher power.
However, SMART uses a model where users follow what is known as the stages of change. These stages outline specific periods in the addiction and recovery process that are backed by scientific data that describes certain feelings and trains of thought regarding substance abuse.
The following are SMART’s Stages of Change:
- Precontemplation: During this stage, most individuals are not aware of the presence of a problem with substance abuse.
- Contemplation: Participants evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of substance abuse by filling out a cost/benefit analysis sheet.
- Determination/Preparation: Participants pursue avenues for personal change and complete a Change Plan Worksheet.
- Action: Participants seek new ways to handle their behavior regarding substance abuse. This includes self-help and the support of help groups.
- Maintenance: After a few months, the participant’s behavior changes, and they seek to maintain their gains.
- Graduation/Exit: Once a participant has achieved a long period of change, along with sustainable improvement in the situation that led them to seek assistance, they may choose to move on and graduate from SMART Recovery.
The way meetings are crafted is similar to other group recovery programs, emphasizing digital resources and remote options.
SMART meetings are free of charge for all participants and are crafted to be educational and supportive. Over 1,500 group meetings are held weekly and led by volunteers held worldwide.
Online resources and support are provided to volunteers and participants in the group meetings. Additionally, multiple daily online meetings are available to individuals looking to participate remotely or extend the scope of their learning.
Individuals looking to gain perspective on their recovery experience may be interested in additional alternatives to 12-step programs. The section below outlines options beyond the normal AA or NA meetings.
Other Alternatives to 12-Step Programs
The following programs are suitable alternatives to 12-step recovery programs.
Women for Sobriety
This self-help program provides support solely for women with alcohol abuse disorders. Women for Sobriety (WFS) began in 1976 as a non-profit organization. The curriculum is based on 13 acceptance statements that focus on positivity, accountability, and emotional growth that help women change negative thought and behavior patterns to establish a happier recovery. Doctrine at WFS promotes the idea that a person’s actions immediately follow their thoughts. By changing their thoughts for the better, behavior patterns will follow suit. WFS also takes advantage of meditation, clean eating strategies, and other holistic approaches to recovery.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety
A secular addiction recovery support organization is non-profit and has no ties to outside sources or third parties. The main selling point for SOS is the fact that they’re completely separate from 12-step or religious programs. This organization is constantly evolving and doesn’t highlight any theory, strategy, or recovery. Individuals are simply encouraged to use rational thought and accountability to assist in sobriety. Discussion and group interactions are the focus of these meetings, as fellowship and camaraderie are the two primary highlights of SOS.
Lifering Secular Recovery
The belief of Lifering Secular Recovery is that each individual has the ability to control their substance abuse disorder within them and that each individual engaged in the battle or recovery is made up of two entities – the “Sober Self” and the “Addict Self.” The primary goal of these support groups is to strengthen the sober self by weakening the addict self. Lifering doesn’t rely on the belief in a higher power or any outlined set of steps to achieve or maintain recovery. Instead, emphasis is placed on individuals finding strength and self-control within themselves. Participants have the option of attending face-to-face meetings or groups contained within their robust online community. A confidential email platform is also available called ePals, where participants may engage one another anonymously.
The number one rule of most recovery support groups is 100% abstinence. However, Moderation Management is different. Their mission statement is based on the statistic that 70% of individuals over the age of 18 drank alcohol, while only 7% of the population suffered from alcohol abuse disorder. Because of this statistic, the belief is that the majority of individuals can drink without engaging in challenging behavior or slipping into the depths of abuse or addiction. The primary goal of MM is to target early occurrences of problem drinking and invite individuals that feel as if alcohol is starting to become a problem. Focus is placed on eliminating dangerous drinking habits and replacing them by promoting a healthy lifestyle and responsible decision making – but not through complete abstinence. Doctrine at MM states that alcohol abuse is a decided action that may be changed with intervention strategies. Nine steps are highlighted that are focused on accountability, recognition, and taking action. Rules include drinking limits, no daily drinking, and having healthy hobbies that don’t include alcohol.
Peer Support Groups and Your Recovery
Each of these groups approaches recovery in a unique way. Because of the varied demographics dividing individuals with substance abuse disorder, having multiple forms of group recovery meetings for aftercare becomes critical.
What speaks to one group of potential attendees may not be as well-received among other segments of the population. Groups have different goals, values, and approaches to recovery depending on social factors and other important lifestyle elements.
The most important portion of each of these groups is the fact that rational recovery is used as a means of ending addiction. What is rational recovery, and how does it fit within the subject matter regarding group recovery and successful abstinence from drugs and alcohol?
Rational Recovery and Ending Addiction
Many individuals are probably asking themselves at this point, “which of these recovery groups are the most effective?” However, the more relevant question is, “Which of these recovery groups are the most effective FOR ME?”
The answer to the former question is all of these recovery groups are effective. However, you must choose the one that speaks to your situation.
When it comes to substance abuse disorders, individuals abuse drugs and alcohol for a number of reasons. This means it takes a number of different approaches spread out among various segments to accommodate the mental needs each one has for aftercare and long-term recovery.
For example, individuals that are more religious or gravitate toward faith-based dynamics stand to gain more from 12-step programs. Alternatively, fact-based individuals seeking more scientifically-driven solutions would see better results from SMART.
The most important element is identifying which of these groups you identify with and taking the right course of action. By doing this, not only do you increase your odds of recovery by obtaining information that resonates with you, but you also locate new peers that often think in the same manner as you.
What are some of the benefits surrounding SMART group recovery meetings, specifically? How can these benefits be used to achieve rational recovery and long-term success?
Benefits of SMART Attendance
The following section highlights some of the primary benefits of attending SMART group recovery meetings.
- Having research-based, scientific approaches to recovery and behavioral improvement
- Participants benefit from higher levels of self-awareness
- Increased chances of preventing relapse
- Participants also have resources for rebuilding old life skills while simultaneously acquiring new ones.
However, there is the chance of drawbacks with any educational element or treatment resources.
Drawbacks of SMART
The following are potential drawbacks of SMART:
- May not be inspiring for religious or faith-based individuals
- Participants graduate, so extended participation isn’t normally a benefit. Individuals may want to seek options for post-graduation.
Despite the challenges associated with the length of the program, chances for long-term recovery are still very high.
Long-term Recovery Using SMART
SMART group meetings provide the type of information that individuals may take with them for a lifetime. Gaining an understanding of toxic behavior traits and why these traits cause you to engage in substance abuse promote long-term recovery, assuming participants continuously remain self-aware.
Additionally, SMART gives you the opportunity to forge relationships you can cultivate for a lifetime. This is one of the most significant of all group recovery programs, regardless of the curriculum. Understanding you are not alone in your battle is sometimes all the motivation individuals need to remain proactive in recovery!