SMART Recovery

Smart Recovery

By Jim Braastad
Smart Recovery Distance Training Coordinator

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to represent SMART Recovery® in a panel discussion “Alternative Recovery Models” at the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies in Center City, Minnesota. Each panelist responded to five questions.

What follows is my response to those questions and amounts to a concise outline of the SMART Recovery option for those suffering from alcoholism and/or other forms of addiction.

What do you think is the most important things to know about the SMART Recovery® program?

The “SMART” in SMART Recovery® is an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training. We help people gain independence from any type of addictive behaviors, whether they are substance or activity addictions. We  believe  individuals  seeking recovery  should  be  fully  informed  about  the  range  of  recovery  options  available and  free  to  choose among  them. SMART Recovery® promotes the idea of self-empowerment and self-management, encouraging our participants to take full responsibility for their recovery.

SMART Recovery Four Point ProgramSMART’s basic premise is that by focusing on your thoughts, feelings and behavior, one can make their life more manageable. Our meetings focus, educate and support one’s capacity and ability to regulate their own behavior. Based on scientific knowledge, our methods evolve as scientific knowledge evolves. Our 4-Point Program® offers specific tools and techniques for each of our program points, being:

  • Enhancing and Maintaining Motivation
  • Coping with Urges
  • Managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors
  • Living a balanced life

How do you see SMART Recovery® working for people?

Who might benefit from our approach? That’s an easy one… ANYONE! That is, anyone who has a desire to change and is willing to do the necessary work to make the change.

Due to the secular and science-based aspects of our program, one might assume that we’re targeted to a specific group or type of individuals, but that isn’t the case. Very often, the term “secular” is perceived to mean “anti” or “non-religious”… this isn’t the case either.

While it is not a requirement to believe in a religion or spirituality in our program, we recognize that spiritual beliefs are very important to many and we help our members to identify and live consistently with their individual values and beliefs. However, we believe the power to change addictive behaviors resides within each individual and does not depend upon adherence to any particular spiritual viewpoint. As such, we view the use of religious or spiritual beliefs and practices in recovery as entirely a personal choice, but it is not a part of our program.

I’d find it very difficult (if not impossible) to define a specific “type” of person who might benefit from our program. In the course of my various volunteer roles with the SMART Recovery® organization, I’ve come across a wide array of people with different backgrounds, education, etc… covering the full spectrum of various “types” of people. Again, it’s all about whatever works for each individual. There is no single approach that “works” for everyone; there are many paths to recovery, many ways that one can get to where they want to go. The SMART Recovery® program is only one such path. It turned out to be the right path for me.

Is there any empirical evidence that supports the SMART Recovery® approach?

There are many models about addictive behavior, each containing certain implications for what to do to prevent and treat addictive behaviors. SMART Recovery® does not endorse or adopt any particular model. Instead, we’ve drawn upon what has been scientifically shown to work, and placed them into a broad framework for a rational approach to change. Most of what has been proven effective so far has come from the conditioning, social learning and cognitive models. It is important to note, though, that this is not saying that the other models do not also have something to offer.

There is now one study that supports SMART’s effectiveness (published by Reid Hester and colleagues in 2013), and one that found a SMART Recovery approach comparably effective to a 12-step approach in a day treatment setting (published by Patt Penn and colleagues in 2000). The SMART Recovery program is based on treatments that have strong scientific support, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), Prochaska and DiClimente’s Stages of Change, and Miller and Rollnick’s Motivational Interviewing. We also use components of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), by Albert Ellis, because they are easy to understand and convey CBT principles easily. Because of the evidence and scientific research behind these various methods which the SMART Recovery program have drawn upon, we are confident that our approach works very well for many people.

Is SMART Recovery® compatible with the 12-steps, or would it be used instead of the 12 steps?

As stated previously, SMART Recovery® believes that each individual finds their own path to recovery, finding what “works” for them. I’m aware of many instances of our participants using both SMART Recovery and 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). While our approach differs from 12-step programs, it does not exclude them – or any other recovery program. Some of our participants choose to attend AA, NA or other meetings when they cannot attend a SMART Recovery® meeting, finding what they hear at those meetings to be helpful to them on their own path to recovery.

Regardless of any differences in our approaches, I believe we are all in this together, that we share the same worthy goal – helping people overcome their addiction. Regardless of the program or approach, I’m sure everyone would agree that successful recovery requires making good choices. The right method and approach for making those “good choices” are as varied and different as the individuals who are making them. Research shows that people who are allowed to choose their recovery method are more successful than those who are required to use a particular recovery method, no matter which it might be.  SMART Recovery® fully supports choice in recovery, as is reflected in our slogan, “Discover the Power of Choice”.

Where is the best place to get more information about your approach?


SMART Recovery®
7304 Mentor Ave, Suite F
Mentor, OH  44060
Phone: 866.951.5357


19 Responses

  1. pat N. says:

    Thanks for this article, since I haven’t read a lot about S.R. I especially liked his statement:”We’re all in this together”. I endorse ANYTHING HEALTHY that helps an alkie stop drinking. For me, that was the fellowship of AA (not Bill’s Steps), but it glaringly doesn’t fit everyone, especially the religious stuff. My personal favorite nonAA approach is LifeRing. We tried to start an LR meeting without success, and now are running an AA meeting using LR’s “how was your week”, crosstalk approach. Works fine for some, wouldn’t work for others, and that’s OK. The goal is to stay sober and help others stay sober, isn’t it?

  2. Christopher G says:

    I like the freedom of choice concept and the educational tone to this approach, as well as the inclusivity and self-directed participation required to implement these ideas. When the “desire to stop” and stay stopped is the driving force, attraction to what works, or not, is in the hands of the sufferer where it should be. Then and only then can “attraction, not promotion” really work. Thank you for this informing essay.

  3. Sher says:

    Jim, I very much appreciate your article. You help explain the program, what it does and doesn’t employ and believe. “…we believe the power to change addictive behaviors resides within each individual” most certainly offers a clear alternative to what we too often hear in the rooms of AA, that without a belief in a Higher Power we will return to our addiction. Good information, very helpful!

    (Roger, thank you for making AA Agnostica a resource for exploring all avenues to recovery.)

  4. life-j says:

    I’ve browsed smart recovery a number of times, and the glimpses I get indicate that this may be a real good program. but honestly, I can’t get myself to read any further than to where I have come across two or three “Smart Recovery®” before contempt prior to investigation takes over…..

    • Indi says:

      the glimpses I get indicate that this may be a real good program. but honestly, I can’t get myself to read any further than to where I have come across two or three “Smart Recovery®” before contempt prior to investigation takes over…

      life-j, this seems like a quite a paradox: promising on the one hand, but inspiring contempt on the other hand. Do you mean that the “®” mark is a turn off for you, for some reason? Just curious, really, why that would be? I actually didn’t even notice it until you mentioned it!

      • Jaye says:

        I was curious too, Indi.

        I went to a SMART meeting in Ottawa and quite enjoyed it. We looked at our reactions and any negative thoughts to something that had happened during the week. We used the ABC method to work on it. The method could be used here.

        Activating Event – the actual event and your immediate interpretations of the event

        Beliefs about the event – this evaluation can be rational or irrational

        Consequences – how you feel (healthy/unhealthy negative emotion) and what changes you can make to go down a different path next time.

      • life-j says:

        the (R), but most of all the “Smart”. The thought of being Smart ranks up there with being a christian, or a republican, or being on facebook. Couldn’t they have come up with another name?

    • Michael says:

      As an anti-AA friend of mine liked to point out, the AA Big Book is copyrighted. Bill W and Dr Bob received royalties. Bill W’s heirs may still receive royalties. Not sure if that’s a fact.

  5. Denis K says:

    Thank you for this piece.
    What is the cost of attending a meeting in case anyone I meet is interested?

  6. Thomas B. says:

    Yes, Jim, thanks for a most informative article that makes lots of sense. I’m also incredibly impressed that you gave this presentation at the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies in Center City, MN. I had the privilege of providing aftercare for a number of years to clients returning to New York City, following inpatient treatment. As well I was instrumental in establishing seven Hazelden-model Intensive Outpatient treatment programs in the NYC Metropolitan Area. Since 1949, the Hazelden model of treatment has been perhaps the premier treatment methodology in the U.S., primarily based on total abstinence and utilizing the 12-steps. It pleases me that Hazelden, a major player in the field of recovery treatment and publishing, is following the hope of Bill Wilson that AA cooperate and include all approaches of potential help for the alcoholic — “We realize we know but a little.” (BB, p. 164)

    I have to admit that being an old foggie in my 42nd year of recovery from a virulent addiction to Colt .45 by the case lot, I’ve had “contempt prior to investigation” regarding SMART for many years, rejecting it out of hand without even clicking on the website as at least life-j did. I see from the list of meetings that there are many meetings in Portland. I shall definitely check them out (after I check out the Karma Kontrol meeting, Roger, at the Alano club on Tuesday evening…). 😉

  7. Neil F says:

    I have attended an Edmonton Smart Recovery meeting a number of times and find that their recovery program has a lot to offer. The Smart Recovery Handbook provides a number of tools that I think can be helpful for members of any recovery program, including AA. In addition, they offer a lot of material online, host online meetings and 24 hour per day chat lines. While I remain an active member of AA, I find that Smart Recovery, LifeRing and Men/Women for Sobriety are all viable alternatives or supplements to AA.

  8. Larry says:

    I`m very impressed with the Smart Recovery program & the online meetings, which are so popular that you have to “learn” how to get into them because they fill up so quickly!

  9. Holley S. says:

    Good article, thanks. Love the all-inclusive aspect. I have wanted to attend a SMART Recovery meeting for a while now. I plan to attend the Alexandria, VA meeting this Tuesday.

  10. Svukic says:

    I attend weekly SMART meetings and I feel much more at ease with my spiritual beliefs (secular humanist) than I usually do in an AA setting, simply because it’s not an issue that is up for question – it is treated as the personal choice that it is. However the much smaller number of SMART meetings compared to those of the 12 Step variety means that the oft-needed extra support (especially in the intense post-detox period) needs to be sought for in meetings that are already prolific, such as AA.
    SMART’s weakness is AAs strength, otherwise I wouldn’t even be here.

    • Annie says:


      SMART meetings are not currently as widely available as 12-step meetings but this is a period of growth for SMART and new meetings are starting every week in the US (and around the world).

      You make a good point about the need for ‘extra support’ at times. SMART does have an online chat room (open 24/7) and daily online meetings (as Larry mentioned) for those who are looking for additional support beyond local community meetings.

      Anyone who is interested can learn more about starting a SMART meeting in their community by visiting the SMART Recovery website.

  11. Michael says:

    I’m glad that Smart Recovery is an option, I respect the approach. I think it’s vital to have an alternative to AA for court ordered attendance. Court ordered attendance of AA has been ruled unconstitutional and it should not happen. It has nothing to do with AA and I don’t think it’s good for AA, I think it’s a cheap option for a society that doesn’t want to spend tax dollars on forced treatment.

    I read a Smart Recovery book in early recovery and attended some meetings that a good friend facilitated. I was a little disturbed by the approval of controlled drinking. I have no issue with controlled drinking as a personal choice but I tried it for a year before getting sober. I was able to control my drinking very well but I was never able to see my addiction clearly until I gave up drinking completely. I think the AA recommendation of stopping for 90 days and attending meetings to answer this question for oneself is critical advice for an alcoholic or anyone questioning if they’re alcoholic. As only a recommendation of course.

    • Roger says:

      There is a wonderful article here about the unconstitutionality of forcing AA attendance: The Courts, AA and Religion.Lady Justice

      • Michael says:

        Thanks, I’ve read that. I agree that people should not be court ordered, forced to participate in a spiritual program with a lot of god talk, but I don’t believe it’s proof that AA is a religion. I’m not saying you’re asserting that here but it’s a common sentiment I’ve come across. Part of AA’s success is the ‘attraction rather than promotion’ principle. As far as I know, AA has not promoted court ordered attendance and does not defend the practice.

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