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What is SMART Recovery?

SMART stands for Self Management and Recovery Training. It’s a non-profit organization started in 1994 that offers free meetings around the country. The organization is funded by donations and sales of publications.

SMART Recovery aims to use evidence-based methods to help people fight addiction. These methods are borrowed mostly from Motivational Enhancement Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, all of which have scientific backing and are commonly used by addiction therapists. SMART continuously updates its methods, as new research becomes available.

SMART Recovery uses a 4-Point Program that includes building motivation, coping with urges, problem solving, and lifestyle balance. There is a SMART Toolkit that comprises a variety of techniques to help with each of these. For example, in building motivation, you would make a list of the costs and benefits of using vs. sobriety.

There are two main differences between SMART and AA. The first is that AA believes addiction is a disease and the first thing you have to do in the 12 Steps is admit you are powerless over alcohol. SMART, in contrast, sees addiction as a destructive habit that you can learn to control. In psychological parlance, AA sees the locus of control as external while SMART sees the locus of control as internal. Of course, in reality, both are true–as in the Serenity Prayer–but each leads to a different approach to recovery.

The other main difference is that AA attendance is indefinite, while SMART attendance is not meant to be, although it may go on for years. There are six stages to SMART recovery that include precontemplation, contemplation, determination/preparation, action, maintenance, and graduation. Different tools and exercises are useful at each of these stages.

Many concepts in SMART are borrowed from Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, or REBT. Like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, REBT works by identifying cognitive distortions that lead to suffering. This is important for several aspects of recovery. For example, SMART teaches you do deal with cravings by examining your distorted thinking related to cravings such as “I have to use” or “I will go crazy” or “These cravings will never end.” In reality, none of those are true, and believing them only makes the cravings worse.

REBT also emphasizes radical acceptance of self and others. This means people are not inherently good or bad, but sometimes do good or bad things. This is especially important for dealing with feelings of shame or other setbacks in recovery. It’s much easier to fix problems related to the belief you did a bad thing than the belief that you are a bad person. If you did a bad thing, you can fix it or try to do better tomorrow.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.