Addiction recovery, like addiction itself, is personal, so everyone’s experience will not be the same. A traditional drug rehabilitation setting is just one option available to people who are putting their lives back together after a battle with substance abuse. SMART Recovery® (Self-Management And Recovery Training) invites people to “discover the power of choice” as they consider the best path to take in overcoming their addiction. Its goal is to help people become independent from using addictive substances or practicing addictive habits by doing what’s fit.

The nonprofit organization, founded in 1994, aims to empower people with the tools they need to abstain from addictive behaviors. It teaches participants how to improve their lives by changing self-defeating thinking, emotions, and actions, among other things, and uses evidence-based principles and practices to achieve this goal.

Several organizations have recognized SMART Recovery® as a resource for substance abuse and addiction recovery, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Its network of mutual support groups is growing, according to its website, and thousands of people meet weekly offline at 2,500 meetings in 21 countries; about 1,400 meetings are held in the U.S. in 49 states and the District of Columbia. People all over the globe can meet online in 28 meetings.

If you are thinking about joining SMART Recovery®, the following guide can offer some insight into whether the program is right for you.

What Is SMART Recovery® Mission And Approach To Overcoming Addiction?

SMART Recovery® mission is to offer participants “no-fee, self-empowering, science-based, face-to-face, and online support groups for abstaining from any substance or activity addiction.”

On its website, it describes its approach as one that:

  • Teaches self-empowerment and self-reliance
  • Encourages individuals to recover and live satisfying lives
  • Teaches tools and techniques for self-directed change
  • Provides educational meetings and includes open discussions that others can join
  • Advocates the proper use of prescribed medications and psychological treatments
  • Evolves as scientific knowledge of addiction recovery evolves

What Evidence-Based Practices Does SMART Use?

Proven, evidence-based addiction treatment methods include therapies that treat the behaviors that often accompany substance abuse and addiction. Among those are approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET), and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT).

Does SMART Recovery® Help People Recover From Drug And Alcohol Addiction?

Yes. SMART’s 4-Point Program® addresses various addictions and addictive behaviors that people may have a hard time overcoming on their own. Among these are:

  • Alcohol addiction
  • Drug addiction
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Illicit and prescription drug abuse,
  • Drug abuse
  • Addiction to other substances
  • Addictive activities, such as gambling

“We assume that there are degrees of addictive behavior, and that all individuals to some degree experience it,” SMART writes on its website. “For some individuals, the negative consequences of addictive behavior (which can involve several substances or activities) become so great that change becomes highly desirable.”

How Does SMART Recovery® Help People In Recovery?

The organization aims to help people completely abstain from addictive behaviors that keep them from living their best lives. It discourages the use of “alcoholic,” “addict,” and other labels that can stigmatize and undermine addiction recovery efforts. It sponsors face-to-face meetings from around the globe as well as daily online meetings. It also offers a free online message board and a 24-hour chat room that’s available seven days a week to help the public learn about SMART Recovery® and receive addiction recovery support. Registration is required before people can join the online meetings.

What Is SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program®?

Point 1 – Building And Maintaining Motivation

Staying motivated is important as people in recovery strive to achieve and maintain sobriety. Taking stock of what’s important can be as strong motivator to work toward what supports the end goal, which is to abstain from addictive substances.

Point 2 – Coping With Urges

Recovering substance users can expect to have cravings for drugs and alcohol during the recovery process. This can even happen years down the line after someone has stopped their substance use. One way to get a handle on cravings is understanding what triggers them and learning to set boundaries so you can keep those at bay. Triggers can include certain people, places, things, or situations that can lead to using. Users may employ techniques that can help distract them from cravings and they can also identify any distorted thinking that prompt them to use.

Point 3 – Managing Thoughts, Feelings, And Behaviors

Before users take addictive substances, they likely will experience thoughts or feelings that lead them to use and abuse them. Typically, negative thought patterns accompany addiction, so SMART helps users change their mindset to promote positive thinking. Gaining control over your thoughts and emotions can lead to responsible, healthy behaviors that support recovery and help you avoid relapse. This will take practice and time, but the result is worth it.

Point 4 – Living A Balanced Life

The decision to live in sobriety will not come easy to people who abuse addictive substances. This process involves realistic expectations of what a balanced life that promotes sobriety looks like as well as sound decision-making about plans for what’s ahead. A balanced life includes practicing healthy habits, such as eating healthy foods, exercising, and taking care of the mental, emotional, and spiritual self. Sobriety becomes an attainable goal when recovering users align all parts of their lives with their goal to live a life without drugs, alcohol, or other addictive substance or habit.

Do I Have To Follow Each Point In Order?

No. The points do not have to be followed in the order they are listed in, but participants are encouraged to pause and study a specific point that addresses their current needs. Take an honest assessment of where you are right now in your life. If you need more time to complete a specific step, take it. Each one helps you move closer to your sobriety goals.

How Do People Participate In SMART Recovery’s 4-Point Program®?

SMART-trained facilitators lead interactive meetings in which participants share their challenges and successes and receive support from others in the group. “Meetings are action-oriented, positive, and focus on the present and future,” the organization says.

Free digital tools and techniques that guide participation in the program can be downloaded from the organization’s website. People are encouraged to learn how the tools work and practice them as they go through the four-point program.

The primary recovery tools include a “change plan” that requires participants to think ahead and change their behavior in small steps, a decision-making worksheet, and SMART interactive tools that help people take a closer look at their addiction or addictive behaviors, including one that helps them assess what addiction is personally costing them. The main question to consider is, “Are the benefits of your addictive behavior worth the costs?”

The ABC Or ABCDE Methods

This exercise is from the rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). Users can also follow it to think through their relapse triggers.

A = Activating experiences (the event that happened). This is the situation that is triggering or it could be the trigger itself. Examples of this include seeing people enjoying themselves while having drinking or seeing an alcohol ad. It is important to identify the trigger that is upsetting you.

B = Beliefs. This is your thoughts about the experience or the event and your interpretation about what happened. The thoughts response could be rational or irrational.

C = Consequence. This can be an emotional or behavioral consequence, not of A, but of B.

There’s also the ABCDE method. Follow the outline above for the ABC portion and then add “D” and “E,” which are explained below.

D = Disputing. This portion of the ABC’s requires you to examine harmful believes by reviewing them mindfully and questioning and challenging them. According to, the disputing process involves asking questions such as:

  1. Does this belief fit with reality?
  2. Does this belief support the achievement of reasonable/constructive interests and goals?
  3. Does this belief help foster positive/healthy relationships?
  4. Does this belief contradict parasitic thinking?
  5. Does this belief seem reasonable and logical given the context in which it occurred?
  6. Is this belief generally detrimental or generally helpful?

E = Effects (or effective new thinking). This is the stage where you identify and clarify beliefs that are based on emotions and begin to ask questions and answers that lead to creating an alternative thinking process that is based on more reasonable beliefs.

Is SMART Recovery® A 12-Step Program?

No. SMART Recovery® differs from 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, as well other secular self-empowering groups in two main ways.

First, it bases its approach on the latest scientific knowledge of addiction recovery, not spiritual faith, and it changes its approach as science evolves. In that regard, it is considered to be more flexible where core beliefs are concerned.

Second, it moves away from the “one size fits all” approach to addiction recovery and encourages individuals to take their personal needs and preferences into account as they create their addiction recovery program.

Other differences include that SMART does not subscribe to labels for people who follow the program, such as “addicts.” It also doesn’t refer to addiction as a “disease.” Recovery is also not viewed as a process that is ongoing until the end of one’s life. One can “graduate” from the SMART Recovery® program as well and continue on with life using the tools learned during the program.

Despite the differences, individuals who want to follow a 12-step program are not discouraged from doing so. SMART is about helping people find a unique path to recovery that they understand and can commit to, so participants can attend a 12-step meeting when they cannot attend a SMART one.

I’m Interested In Joining SMART Recovery®. When Should I Start?

SMART Recovery® participants may enter the program at whatever stage they are in. Different exercises are available at different stages of the program. The stages of change, as the organization calls them, are:


People who are in the precontemplation phase are typically in rehab, therapy, or employment improvement program because of pressure from other people like spouses, employers, parents, and the legal system. They lay the brunt of their problems and challenges on outside factors, which means they may not either realize or be ready to accept that they have a problem. That could be their genetic makeup, family, society, their past, a perceived lack of something, such as money or education, or something else. SMART says people in this stage may feel their situation is hopeless.


At this stage, people know that they have a particular challenge or problem and begin to think about how they should solve it. The end of this stage brings anticipation, activity, anxiety, and excitement, SMART writes on its site.


Ambivalence isn’t resolved by this stage, but, according to the SMART Recovery® site, most people who are at this point plan to take action and make final adjustments before they begin to change their behavior. They also may still need some convincing that they are on the right path.


This is the stage where people openly change their behavior and surroundings and make the move that they have been preparing for. This may require them to spend a great time, energy, and focus.


Action is not the last stop on this journey. After changes have been made, they must be maintained and reinforced. Without a commitment to maintenance, relapse is a possibility, SMART warns.


SMART does not subscribe to or promote the lifelong recovery model. It believes people do move on past the recovery phase to live fruitful and productive lives. People at this point may focus on closure and continue self-care.

SMART offers participants specific tools and strategies to use as they enter and work through each stage of change. You can find those here.

If you are receiving rehabilitative services for substance abuse and addiction right now, you can still benefit from SMART Recovery®. People have used it as for a maintenance tool after they have completed traditional treatment, such as a medical detox and/or a residential or inpatient setting. SMART Recovery® also can serve as additional support for people who are receiving outpatient or dual diagnosis treatment. The latter treatment approach serves clients who have co-occurring disorders, which means they have a mental health disorder, such as anxiety, depression, and Post-traumatic stress disorder, in addition to a substance use disorder.

Is SMART Recovery® Effective In Treating Addiction?

Addiction is treatable, though, in many cases, it is believed that the condition is not curable. Recognizing the signs of addiction is important to seeking help to treat it. For many people, addiction recovery is not a one-time deal. It takes a lot of work and effort to abstain from addictive substances and harmful habits.

All are welcome to give SMART Recovery® a try. It will work for some people and not for others. Each person must determine if SMART Recovery® approach works for them. It may be all you need to stop addictive behaviors from taking root in your life, or you may use some variation of it in addition to other programs. It’s up to you. SMART highlights research on its website that supports exercising choice in addiction recovery. If you are interested in joining a SMART Recovery® group, click here to find the one that is closest to you.

Remember that healing from substance abuse, dependence, and addiction is a full, lengthy process that requires daily commitment, support, and maintenance. Turn to resources that push you ahead to where you want to be and keeps you focused on your sobriety goals. Even with the best intentions, a lapse or relapse, or a return to using addictive substances, is still possible. Many medical professionals view addiction as a chronic brain disease that alters the physical shape of the brain and its functions, so relapses along the recovery journey are almost expected as a result of these changes.

A relapse of any kind is not a sign that treatment has failed. However, it is a sign that something needs to change, such as the kind of relapse prevention strategies being used or medication that may be prescribed as part of relapse treatment. It also may mean a person needs another form of treatment in order for it to be effective.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse advises that relapse rates for addiction are similar to those of other chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes, and hypertension (high blood pressure). According to its data, relapse rates tend to fall within the 40 percent to 60 percent range. Addiction Guide

It is important to know the difference between a “lapse” and a “relapse.” They are not the same. A “lapse,” which some may refer to as a “slip,” is an initial use of a drug or drink that lasts a short period. Lapses do not always lead to a relapse, but they can be the beginning of problematic substance use that can slide into substance abuse and ultimately lead to lead to addiction.

Are You Or Someone You Know Ready To Start Recovery Today?

California Highlands, a Delphi Behavioral Health Group Facility located in the rolling hills of Riverside County, California, offers personalized addiction and mental health treatment. The serene setting where we are situated allows our guests to relax, unwind, and forget about the stress and pressures of life. It also allows them to focus on their healing and have their needs met by licensed and experienced addiction treatment professionals. We will always honor you as an individual and respect your dignity.

Delphi offers personalized treatment in an intimate settings that provide a low clinician-to-client ratio, state-of-the-art treatment methods, and aftercare services centered on relapse prevention.

Each of our facilities is staffed by licensed medical and clinical professionals who are dedicated to our treatment philosophy. We call this philosophy the Delphi Difference. Our primary goal to provide each client with the opportunity to live a more balanced and healthy life. We invite you to come here and experience the difference in treatment today.

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