We’ve all heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Nicotine Anonymous, but have you heard of Smart Recovery?
SMART stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training and it’s an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous.
SMART is also a program that supports people with addictions and co-occurring mental health disorders. The main difference between SMART recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous is that SMART is science-based not spiritually based. SMART recovery does not treat alcoholism as a disease, but rather as a bad habit.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse and American Academy of Family Physicians recognize SMART recovery as an effective tool in helping people to stay strong in their recovery.
This program is also free of charge. The SMART program is designed to be used as part of a holistic recovery program. For instance, you can use SMART training alongside other therapies including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, and sports activities.
SMART is used to support people in a variety of ways:
- Family and friends
- Stigma-free support to people recovering from an opioid use disorder
- Patients undergoing medication-assisted treatment
- Teens and young adults in college campuses
- Psychiatric hospitals
- Military veterans with substance use disorders
- Military veterans with PTSD
Who Started SMART Recovery?
SMART recovery started off as Rational Recovery, but when the founder decided to make Rational Recovery a paid service the board of directors broke away and founded SMART.
The organization started in 1992 as the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Self-Help Network (ADASHN) and then became SMART in 1994. SMART is governed by a board of directors, but volunteers run local support groups.
How SMART Works
SMART is considered to be a self-empowering tool. AA, by contrast, encourages a person to acknowledge their powerlessness. SMART training works differently to AA in that participants work with volunteers to examine behaviors to work out which ones require the most attention.
When a person is aware of what behaviors they need to work on, they learn to control their behaviors with techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapies.
SMART follows a program that has 4 main points.
The 4-Point Program
The SMART program consists of 4 points, but it’s vital to understand that these are not steps that have to be approached chronologically.
Although the SMART program is free, the 4-point program is trademarked. The program provides online and face to face meetings around the world for people struggling with addictions to:
- Behavioral addictions
The organization also provides a 24-hour chatroom and message board, so people who use the service will always have somewhere to reach out to.
The 4-point program aims to empower individuals to be independent in their recovery through:
- Point 1: Cultivating and maintaining motivation
- Point 2: Managing cravings
- Point 3: Dealing with feelings, thoughts, and behaviors
- Point 4: Achieving life balance
The SMART recovery program teaches these 4 main points through scientific and evidence-based techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
The SMART Recovery Toolbox
The SMART program uses a variety of useful worksheets, exercises, and methods to assist a person to stay strong in their recovery.
As participants move through the points, they learn to use each tool and practice using them. These tools include:
- ABCs of REBT (Rational Emotional Behavior Therapy) for Urge Coping
- ABCs of REBT for emotional upsets
- Hierarchy of values
- Stages of Change
- DISARM (Destructive Images and Self Talk Awareness & Refusal Method)
- Role-playing and rehearsing
- Unconditional Self-Acceptance (USA)
ABCs of REBT For Urge Coping
Rational emotive behavior therapy is a type of psychotherapy for short-term situations. This type of therapy enables a person to identify unhelpful feelings and thoughts as they arise. This technique also encourages a person to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with healthier ways of thinking.
REBT can help you to stay in the present motion and deal with destructive emotions and behaviors such as anger, depression, guilt, and anxiety.
Finding the ABCs is a way of breaking down negative thoughts and emotions to understand them better. This exercise is an effective way to stop being a victim of your own negative and irrational thoughts.
You can break a negative thought down into A, B, and C.
- A is the activating situation.
- B is the irrational belief you have about the situation
- C is the consequence or consequences of the thoughts you have about the situation
By identifying the negative impacts of your thinking, you can then work to change your thoughts from “must” to “prefer.” For example, “That person makes me angry when they talk too much, they must stop.” You can then change your thoughts to “I would prefer it if that person would stop talking too much.”
This type of therapy can be used to manage cravings. For instance, an unhelpful thought would be, “This craving is unbearable,” or “This feeling makes me want to use drugs.”
ABCs of REBT For Emotional Upsets
Rational emotive behavior therapy is a means of reducing emotional upsets to prevent them from sabotaging your happiness and abstinence.
When something happens in our lives and upsets us, it can lead to a relapse. REBT teaches us to approach stressful and upsetting situations in a calm and rational way. By remaining calm in times of frustration, we are less likely to let the situation escalate to relapse.
We can apply the ABCs to emotional upsets, along with disputing irrational beliefs to ensure that we remain calm and in control of our emotions.
- A represents the upsetting situation
- B represents our core beliefs about ourselves, others, and the situation
- C represents the consequences of these beliefs about the situation
Unpleasant emotions are a part of life, so we need to ensure they don’t escalate to create difficult situations worse than they need to be. By applying the ABCs and internally debating our inner dialogue we can make sure that this doesn’t happen.
So when we are disputing our irrational beliefs we question the Bs from the ABC exercises. Rather than see thoughts in terms of black and white, disputing allows us to reject the thoughts that are negative, unhelpful, and not necessarily true. We can then replace those thoughts with healthier more balanced thoughts.
It’s about confronting reality and distinguishing between what is your perception and what is reality. Sometimes the two can be different and lead us to react in unhealthy ways.
For example, if the way another person behaves makes you angry, we can apply A. The person is doing something that is making you angry. When we apply B, we realize that we are angry because we feel that the person must stop the behavior. The consequences of this belief are that we suffer, struggle, and become angrier and accept.
Instead, we can change our attitude and perception to reflect a more balanced and realistic approach such as “I would prefer if this person stopped their behavior.” By disputing irrational thoughts and approaching the situation in a more balanced and healthier way, we become less emotionally attached to the situation.
It may take some time to work through this exercise. This is the type of exercise that is covered in SMART meetings.
Change Based Worksheet
This tool is a chart where a person can plan their goals and contingencies to succeed. This is a useful method to anticipate potential roadblocks to formulate a plan to overcome them.
A Cost/Benefit Analysis or CBA is useful for when a person experiences cravings. A CBA can help a person to realize what benefit they get from taking a certain substance or engaging in certain behavior. Looking objectively at the behavior can help to motivate a person to stay abstinent.
DISARM (Destructive Imagery and Self-talk Awareness and Refusal Method)
This tool is an effective method of revealing images and thoughts which trigger destructive behaviors. By exposing these thoughts and images, a person can see them objectively and feel less inclined to pursue the behavior.
This technique is typically used in meetings. A participant can offer a situation to the group so the group can work together to brainstorm solutions and ideas.
This is a typical group activity and helps people to anticipate relationship problems in advance. It helps a person to envisage overcoming obstacles and roadblocks to a successful recovery, so that if that situation does arise, they can deal with it effectively.
There are 1500 meetings held worldwide each week, each group facilitated by volunteers. These weekly meetings typically last for 90 minutes and are led by a facilitator. The focus of the groups is to change behavior rather than identify the disease as an addiction.
The general format of SMART meetings follows a check-in, where each attendant explores the motivation for attending SMART, areas that they want to work on, and their objectives for the week. The meeting then wraps up by each person cementing their plans and goals for the week.
SMART meetings typically start with a member reading aloud the Group Welcome. This gives a quick overview of the meeting which then quickly moves to check-ins.
During the check-ins, each member can talk about their successes and failures in sobriety over the past week. At this stage, any new members can explain why they have joined the group, but this isn’t obligatory.
After the check-ins, the facilitator along with the group decides whether to discuss any issues that arise during the check-ins.
During the discussion the members of the meeting apply the tools of SMART recovery. The facilitator may select a particular tool to focus on such as ABCs for REBT for Urge Coping and Emotional Upsets. Applying the tools to real situations effectively illustrates how using these practical tools work and how a person can apply them to life situations.
Participants often learn a lot from each other during these meetings. At the end of the meeting, a donation hat is passed around, before discussing any final thoughts and reading the closing.
People who attend SMART meetings tend to feel encouraged, hopeful, positive, and inspired.
While there is a pandemic, Smart meetings have moved online and are conducted via Zoom. Meetings are available at all times around the world, and you can search for a meeting here. There’s no need to book in beforehand, you can simply login and turn up.
Disease or Maladaptive Behavior?
SMART Recovery doesn’t see addiction as a disease. Instead, this modality sees addiction as a pattern of maladaptive behaviors or habits that can be changed.
This program would rather people didn’t label themselves as powerless. Instead SMART recovery aims to make people feel empowered by realizing that they have a choice to either continue with destructive behaviors, or use the tools available to become abstinent.
Does SMART Recovery Work?
SMART views addiction as an over-involvement with a substance or activities.
This program sees a person’s thoughts as the problem, not childhood trauma, not the disease of alcoholism, and not the person’s moral failure.
The tools that come with the program can help a person to transform the symbiotic relationship between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. This is what cognitive behavior aims to do. If you change a behavior, you can change a feeling, which can change a thought, and so on.
The SMART program is a practical and pragmatic way of approaching addiction. There is no mystical religious element, it is based purely on evidence and science. However, the SMART program does encourage people who are taking medication as part of a medication-assisted treatment program to continue with their medication.
The idea is to do the exercises and workbooks that come with the program. After a few days of working through the free resources, you experience a shift towards a more positive frame of mind. You can end up feeling more confident in your abilities and improve your self-esteem by seeing your daily situations more realistically.
Improving your self-image is one aspect of achieving the 4-point program with success.
The SMART approach is a practical way of helping people who get put off by the mention of God. This is common sense self-help that requires no faith. If you do believe in God, that’s fine but it’s not required with SMART recovery.
SMART recovery can be used in tandem with Alcoholics Anonymous. It can often benefit many people to explore the spiritual aspect of recovery with the common sense aspect.
Addiction is not completely understood and everyone is different. So it’s vital for every addicted individual to explore the various therapies and decide what works for them. Some may find that SMART is more effective than AA, and others vice versa.
The spiritual and religious aspect of AA can be detrimental to people with severe mental health disorders such as schizophrenia. People who struggle with this type of disorder may need to avoid any mention of the supernatural and otherworldly concepts.
Many people find great solace in SMART because it is science-based. There is no right or wrong way to pursue a successful recovery. This is a free service and offers a wide range of great tools to help a person to become a better version of themselves.
Whether you’re an atheist or believer is immaterial, all that is required is a desire to be free of destructive behaviors.
If you need any further guidance or assistance recovering from addiction, reach out to the friendly District Recovery Team today. You can call us right now at 844.287.8506 and we’ll help you get back on track and reclaim the life you left behind.