A “SMART” Alternative to 12-Step Programs

A “SMART” Alternative to 12-Step Programs

The Benefits of a SMART Recovery

Why Would Anybody Want an Alternative to a 12-Step Program?

Twelve-step programs have helped millions of people struggling with addiction. But the road to recovery is complex, and different people have different needs. What works for many people might not work for others. That’s why many addiction treatment centers now offer alternatives to 12-step programs.

The SMART Recovery® 4-Point Program is one such alternative to a 12-step program. It provides evidence-based training for people struggling with addiction. SMART is an acronym that stands for:






Like 12-step recovery programs, it holds the same goal of long-term sobriety, but there are some key differences. These differences can make it effective for someone who hasn’t found success with groups like AA or NA (Alcoholics Anonymous® or Narcotics Anonymous®), or who hold beliefs that contrast with them. If you’re looking for an alternative to AA or NA, it is worth checking out SMART Recovery.

What Is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery members meet in a group setting with an educational format. You work to understand the purposes your addiction serves in your life. Then you learn skills to find and use healthier alternatives to the substances you’ve been abusing. SMART Recovery teaches “common sense” addiction recovery approaches that are empowering, positive and forward-focused.

The program uses therapeutic principles. It’s derived from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT teaches the interactions between thoughts, emotions and behavior. It’s used frequently in mental health therapy as well. SMART Recovery also uses REBT, or rational emotive behavior therapy, an offshoot of CBT. REBT teaches you to recognize the thoughts and feelings that have led to substance abuse in the past. It then works on teaching you how to alter your thinking in the moment, so you can choose a healthier response than substance abuse.

What Makes SMART Recovery Unique?

SMART Recovery is different from other addiction support groups in several key areas. They include:

  • Trained facilitators: All facilitators go through training, and many are professional therapists, rather than peers.
  • A cognitive-behavioral-therapy approach: CBT is an evidence-based model that has been proven to work by scientific studies. SMART Recovery relies more on behavioral health clinical tools and techniques than personal anecdotes and advice.
  • A hope-oriented approach: SMART Recovery emphasizes the present and future rather than the past. It also focuses on positives and your strengths. Individuals who feel Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous focus too much on the past and one’s failings may be more comfortable with SMART Recovery’s approach.
  • Positive language around addiction: SMART Recovery stays away from labels like “addict,” “diseased” and “powerless.” This is part of its hope-oriented approach.
  • No belief in “once an addict, always an addict:” SMART Recovery participants can “graduate” when they feel their addiction recovery process is no longer an active part of their life.
  • A non-religious approach: Unlike AA and NA, there are no spiritual components built into SMART Recovery, like seeking help from a higher power or emphasis on prayer. While secular versions of 12-step programs exist, many feel SMART recovery is a strong secular alternative.

SMART Recovery and 12-step groups aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s possible to do both at the same time and take advantage of the unique offerings of both.

What Are the Disadvantages of SMART Recovery?

Many people choose 12-step programs like AA over SMART Recovery. They see a few drawbacks to the program, like:

  • The therapies that SMART Recovery uses are evidence-based, but there’s limited evidence for using them in a group setting. On the other hand, traditional 12-step groups have ample research showing their effectiveness.
  • SMART Recovery is gaining steam, but it’s not as widespread as traditional 12-step groups. Finding a local meeting convenient for you may be more difficult. However, the SMART Recovery Online Community does offer daily online meetings.
  • Many feel strongly that drug addiction is a lifelong disease. Many recovering addicts feel the belief that you’ve fully “recovered” is the most dangerous trap you can fall into. It’s true that having had a substance abuse problem in the past is a risk factor for having one in the future. Repeated relapses or other personal experiences may affirm the “lifelong addict” perspective. This can make it hard to buy into the principles of SMART Recovery.
  • The lack of a spiritual aspect can make it hard for some who are religious to fully embrace the program.

What Are the SMART Recovery 4-Points?

The tools and techniques used by SMART Recovery® comprise four steps:

Point 1: Enhancing Motivation

This first point focuses on helping group members develop and sustain motivation to maintain a sober life. Group members may compare the pros and cons of being sober to those of abusing drugs.

Point 2: Refusing to Act on Urges to Use

This point acknowledges the likelihood of temptation and inevitable relapse urges. It teaches you about triggers and cravings. It then begins to teach strategies to avoid or cope with urges. Distraction techniques are taught, including mindfulness and self-soothing. Learning how to handle addiction urges empowers you to maintain your abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

Point 3: Managing Life’s Problems in a Sensible and Effective Way Without Substances

The main technique taught in SMART Recovery is the ABC method of problem-solving. It’s an exercise to help you control your feelings and behaviors by changing your thoughts. By taking control of your thoughts, you have better control over your emotions. Then you can choose to act in a different way than you have in the past. By using this technique in situations that have triggered you to use before, you can lessen the relapse urges. Reduced cravings allow you to choose to cope in a healthy way instead.

Point 4: Developing a Positive, Balanced and Healthy Lifestyle

Living a balanced lifestyle is the route to lifelong sobriety. Participants learn self-care skills and focus on developing protective factors. Protective factors may include establishing healthy hobbies and a strong support system.

How Clarity Way and SMART Recovery Work Together

Clarity Way is committed to providing a progressive and community-oriented approach to sobriety. We understand that although a 12-step program might work for many people, it doesn’t work for every person. That’s why we offer SMART Recovery as an alternative to 12-step programs. If you enter our alcohol and drug addiction rehab, we want to make sure you receive the best treatment options to achieve lasting sobriety. That might mean a 12-step program, or it may mean an alternative to a 12-step program, such as SMART Recovery. The wide array of treatments we provide lets us tailor your treatment to you.

Clarity Way’s addiction center provides evidence-based treatment programs for substance use disorders. If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction, explore how Clarity Way can help you get a fresh start today.


Posted on September 12th, 2013 in Blog

Editorial Staff

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Editorial Staff

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