SMART Recovery: Support Groups for Addiction Help

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Who Answers?

SMART Recovery meetings are organized by a nationwide nonprofit organization that offers free support groups to individuals who desire independence from any type of addictive behavior.1 SMART recovery online meetings are available, as well as in-person meetings around the world. The acronym stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training, which utilizes a four-point program and offers a secular alternative to the traditionally faith-based programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

What is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery is a program you can participate in for any addictive behavior. Addiction can be defined as a behavior that is habitual, compulsive, and continued despite problematic cognitive, behavioral, and/or physiological consequences.2 The SMART Recovery program incorporates two different techniques to promote positive change for addictive behaviors: motivational interviewing and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).3

Motivational Interviewing

When you join a SMART recovery group, it will be led by a facilitator that utilizes motivational interviewing. This means the facilitator will use questions and guide conversations in the group toward the identification, examination, and resolution about obstacles to change.4

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

The facilitator will also use CBT principles to help guide the group towards positive change. Some of the CBT approaches are:3

  • Identifying the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
  • Challenging unhelpful thoughts and beliefs
  • Using positive behavioral strategies
  • Undertaking homework activities between sessions commonly referred to as “seven-day action plans” in SMART Recovery

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What is the 4-Point Program?

The SMART Recovery 4-Point Program is centered around teaching participants how to:1

  • Build and maintain the motivation to change
  • Cope with urges to use
  • Manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors effectively without addictive behaviors
  • Live a balanced, positive, and healthy life

The 4-Point Program uses a myriad of techniques and strategies to help people recover from substance addiction or other addictive behaviors. Members have access to these tools, which they can practice as they progress through this program. These tools include worksheets, instructions, role-playing, and more.

What Do SMART Recovery Meetings Entail?

If you attend a SMART Recovery online meeting or in-person, you can expect the group to be led by a facilitator who has been trained in the program. They will utilize the program principles to help you change your behavior and refrain from using drugs or alcohol.1 Some facilitators have struggled with addiction, and others have not.

The meetings are serious but often fun, and they focus on the present and future rather than discussing past circumstances.1 The meeting discussions focus on how you can apply SMART’s tools for change so that you can go on to lead a more productive and connected life.1 Near the end of the meeting, a “hat” is passed for donations, which are encouraged but not required.

How to Find SMART Recovery Meetings

SMART Recovery meetings are held all over the world. Currently, over 3,000 in-person meetings are available and over 50 online meetings.1 Their website has a search function where you can look up locations for in-person meetings as well as online groups.

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Online SMART Recovery Meetings Increase Access

You may find it difficult to attend an in-person meeting for a variety of reasons. You might live in a rural area, or you may not have transportation to drive to in-person meetings. If you are a parent, it can be difficult to find childcare in order to leave the house. Or you may have an inflexible schedule and can’t find a meeting that suits your schedule needs.

The virtual option offers more accessibility for you to attend a SMART online meeting regularly. You can visit the same SMART Recovery site mentioned above to find meeting times. There is also an online 24/7 chat forum available. The group options offer times for your friends and family to join various meetings as well.

How is SMART Recovery Different Than 12-Step Programs?

Several 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) also offer group support for those recovering from addiction. As referenced in their group names, AA is for people recovering from alcohol addiction, specifically, while NA is for those recovering from a narcotics addiction. SMART Recovery groups offer support for a range of problematic behaviors, including alcohol misuse, substance misuse, and other addictive behaviors (i.e., gambling, pornography).2

Twelve-step programs have a foundation in spirituality, with several of the steps in recovery involving a “higher power” and connection to spirituality. SMART Recovery is different in that it claims a scientific foundation, not a spiritual one. It also teaches increasing self-reliance rather than powerlessness.1 A few other differences between these two approaches include:1

  • SMART Recovery meetings are discussion meetings in which individuals talk with one another, as opposed to many 12-step gatherings where the participants talk to one another.
  • SMART Recovery encourages attendance for months to years, but probably not a lifetime like 12-step programs.
  • There are no sponsors in SMART Recovery as there are in the 12-step approach.
  • SMART Recovery discourages the use of labels such as “alcoholic” or “addict.”

How Effective is SMART Recovery for Addiction?

Ongoing evidence is being collected that suggests SMART Recovery programs may be just as helpful in maintaining alcohol abstinence over a six-month window as a 12-step program.3 A study conducted in Australia involved interviewing participants in a SMART Recovery program. Even though the interview did not specifically include questions about mutual support, that term was brought up by participants frequently and passionately described as an essential part of their recovery.3

The study found that participants in SMART Recovery seemed to value the discussions guided by program facilitators because it enabled them to reflect on what is working in their recovery and what they still need to improve.3 These types of discussions at group meetings were described as a key tool in their efforts to reduce or abstain from problematic alcohol and other drug use.

In another study, researchers did a three-month follow-up with SMART Recovery participants that had a history of alcohol misuse. These participants showed a significant improvement in the following areas: percentage of days abstinent, standard drinks per drinking day, and alcohol-related problems.5 In this study, they were able to identify that the number of meetings that were attended by a participant was a significant predictor of improvement in each of these areas.5

SMART Recovery is an effective treatment alternative to a 12-step program. If you or someone you know struggles with a substance addiction, you can call 800-407-7195(Who Answers?) to speak to a specialist about inpatient rehabs that utilize support group meetings.

Resources

  1. SMART Recovery. (n.d.). SMART Recovery.
  2. S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. (2016). Protocol for a systematic review of evaluation research for adults who have participated in the ‘SMART recovery’ mutual support programme.
  3. Gray, R. M., Kelly, P. J., Beck, A. K., Baker, A. L., Deane, F. P., Neale, J., Treloar, C., Hides, L., Manning, V., Shakeshaft, A., Kelly, J., Argent, A., McGlaughlin, R. (2020). A qualitative exploration of SMART Recovery meetings in Australia and the role of a digital platform to support routine outcome monitoring. Addictive Behaviors, 101.
  4. University of Massachusetts Amherst. (n.d.). Definition Principles & Approach.
  5. Beck, A. K., Forbes, B., Baker, A. L., Kelly, P.J., Deane, F.P., Shakeshaft, A., Hunt, D., Kelly, J.F. (2017). Systematic Review of SMART Recovery. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 31(1), 1-20.

the Take-Away

SMART Recovery meetings are organized by a nationwide nonprofit organization that offers free support groups to individuals who desire independence from any type of addictive behavior.1 SMART recovery online meetings are available, as well as in-person meetings around the world. The acronym stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training, which utilizes a four-point program and offers …