What Is Smart Recovery?

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The name, SMART Recovery, is a registered trademark of a non-profit corporation that bears the same name. The “SMART” stands for Self Management And Recovery Training and it is a program meant to help addicts of all stripes (including alcoholics) overcome their addictions by following a long-term, outpatient program. It was first incorporated in 1992 and has come to be seen as either a secular alternative to AA (and NA) or as a supplement. Their main site is SmartRecovery.org.

How is SMART similar to AA?

The SMART program is a kind of hybrid that lies between AA (and other 12-step programs) and formal therapy. Those who have attended AA will find many similarities and some overlap. For example, SMART uses a series of progressive steps, some of which mirror the steps in AA.

* Precontemplation -- coming to grips with having an addiction and getting to know the program.
* Contemplation -- Completing a cost/benefit analysis on the addictive behavior.
* Preparation-- Taking the step to stop the unwanted behavior.
* Action -- Stopping.
*Mainenance -- Sticking with gains made and establishing them as new habits.
*Relapse -- understanding and dealing with any relapse that may occur, using it as a tool to aid further recovery.
*Termination -- progress to the extent that further intensive treatment isn’t warranted. This is as close to a “cure” as addiction ever becomes.

Also used in a similar fashion to AA is the group therapy environment and a sense of community with members helping other members to succeed.

Of course the goal is the same as AA or NA – complete abstinence and adopting behaviors and attitudes that keep the addiction at bay.

How does SMART differ from AA?

The differences are rather fundamental. AA treats addiction as a spiritual failing and uses the authority that comes from the “higher power” idea to help addicts overcome their addiction, which, according to AA materials, they are otherwise powerless against. SMART takes another path and teaches that addicts can eliminate unwanted behaviors themselves if they are given the tools to do so.

Another critical difference is how the programs view themselves. AA is designed to be separate from the professional addiction treatment community. While it is often used as a supplement, AA doesn’t seek help or advice from the medical side. This is a direct result of seeing addiction as a spiritual disease. SMART, on the other hand, was created with the idea of leveraging the low-cost, ongoing and communal benefits of AA to bring scientific understandings of addiction to self-help groups.

Because of this, SMART uses materials and techniques derived from psychology and the mental health field. It also has training available so that “group facilitators” can use the materials appropriately. This training, and the materials used by members, are not free. The current price to become a facilitator is $75 – while AA remains free (although they do accept contributions).

Finally, SMART is not strictly a stepped program. They focus on four key areas, which although dealt with in AA are not separated out for attention:

* Enhancing motivation -- by illuminating the consequences of addiction.
* Coping with urges -- by using support and cognitive/behavioral techniques to change responses.
* Problem solving
* Lifestyle balance

This model finds use, not only in alcohol addiction, but in addiction of all types where the desire is to change an unwanted and harmful behavior.

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