An Alternative to the 12 Step Program

SMART Recovery offers science-backed approaches to help a person break free of substance use disorders. A combination of peer support and behavioral therapies can help them stop patterns that are self-destructive and replace them with healthier coping mechanisms.

SMART Recovery stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. Their goal is to help people rehabilitate from many kinds of addictions, including drugs, alcohol, gambling, food, and more. They, like 12 steps, offer peer support, but unlike 12 steps, they take a more secular slant to recovery.

Because some people find that 12-step programs aren’t a good fit for them, many rehab centers also offer SMART Recovery’s science-rooted approach as part of their addiction treatment program.

What is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery is a not-for-profit organization whose goal is abstinence-oriented. Their meetings are free to attend (in person and online), but they also accept donations.

They focus on shifting behaviors, helping the individual move away from self-destructive activities and adopt more constructive ones. It’s a self-empowering approach, as they work with the individual to address underlying emotions as they work on finding ways to control their substance use disorder.

How Does SMART Recovery Work?

SMART Recovery uses science-backed methods to help a person change their lifestyle.

They view addictive behaviors as short-term coping mechanisms with long-term consequences. Their goal is to work on developing coping skills to help a person through both short- and long-term challenges.

The past is viewed as a learning opportunity, to work through and move forward. The focus is more on the present and what drives ongoing self-destructive behaviors. SMART Recovery aims on helping people shift their thinking. A negative thought pattern that dwells on failure isn’t considered healthy. Rather, group members are encouraged to direct their attention toward identifying and examining those problematic patterns and modifying them.

The goal is to build a foundation for positive and lasting change. SMART Recovery also pushes for more self-acceptance rather than negative feelings.

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SMART’s Four Points

SMART Recovery has a trademarked four-point program. It’s not the same as the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which focuses on taking personal inventory while working on self-acceptance and humility.

SMART Recovery’s quartet of points consists of having its members:

  1. Build and hold onto the desire to change
  2. Cope with urges to use and focus on recovery
  3. Learn ways to manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
  4. Seek balance with healthier and more satisfying actions

SMART’s focus is on science, not spirituality. Their focus is on self-reliance rather than powerlessness. Where a 12-step, especially one rooted in faith, emphasizes giving oneself over to a higher power and making amends, SMART Recovery takes a more hands-on, self-starter approach. Once a person recovers, SMART encourages them to remain involved, in part to strengthen the foundation of their sobriety, but also to share what they’ve learned.

There are no sponsors. SMART discourages people from using terms like addict or alcoholic.

SMART Toolbox

On SMART’s website, they have a toolbox that has worksheets, methods, and exercises to help a person through their recovery and day-to-day challenges. The tools are built on the foundations of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). For example, a person may feel angry about something, and SMART’s toolbox will help the individual examine the situation bit by bit, ultimately coming to a less stressful and more rational resolution. They have an easy-to-remember ABCDE process:

  • A – Activating situation: Someone making noise outside.
  • B – irrational Belief about A. They should be quiet.
  • C – Consequences of those feelings about A: Anger, frustration.
  • D – Dispute the irrational Beliefs in B. This can be done by asking questions and answering them. Why shouldn’t they make noise? It’s a summer evening and they’re allowed to barbecue and enjoy some music.
  • E – Effective new thinking. Here, something rational replaces the emotion-charged point B. Sometimes people gather on a summer night. It’s normal. It’s still early, and it’s really not that loud. Maybe I’ll play some music or take a walk.

Over time these methods help a person shift their thinking, from dwelling on things they can’t control, to controlling how they respond to various situations.

Other Non-12-Steps

There are other non-12-step options, too, if someone wishes to look into other approaches to peer support in recovery. Some of the better-known ones include:

  • Women for Sobriety. This program was formed by a woman, for women recovering from addiction. It is centered around 13 affirmations that focus on changing self-image and worldview.
  • LifeRing Secular Recovery focuses on abstinence through a three-pronged philosophy of sobriety, secularity, and self-help.
  • Moderation Management. This secular nonprofit is run by peers; their focus is on helping members cut back on drinking.

Finding the Right Fit

SMART Recovery is far from the only peer support group to help a person work on abstinence. Twelve steps like Alcoholics Anonymous focus on acceptance, and sometimes faith, as part of the journey. Or instead of a higher power, they’ll suggest finding something bigger or greater than the individual. It can be anything from the sky to the sea, or anything in between, real or conceptualized.

Other groups have a specific focus, perhaps on women’s needs or simply on self-help without the spiritual bent. Many of these groups have some successful track records. One way is not better than the other. Each person struggling with addiction has a story that’s unique to them, be it mental disorders, trauma, genetics, or something else entirely.

For that reason what works for one person may not work so well for another. Finding the right support, with that right chemistry, can make a huge difference in advancing a person’s recovery.

Medical disclaimer:

Lincoln Recovery strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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