All About SMART Recovery Programs

Exploring 12-step Alternatives

Addiction is a complex disease that requires a variety of approaches to help individuals find lasting sobriety. In order to ensure that each person gets the care they need, treatment centers offer a wide variety of programs, and they tailor them to meet the unique needs of clients. One approach that is used in some facilities is SMART Recovery Programs. In this article, we’ll explain exactly what this is, how it works, and why it is suitable for some individuals.

What is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery is an approach to addiction recovery that was founded in 1994. It’s an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training. SMART is designed to help individuals develop a willingness to change and move away from addictive substances and negative behaviors.

Many people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol feel they have no power over their lives. Even though they don’t like their behavioral patterns, they can’t see a way out. SMART helps them to acquire and develop the skills they need to beat their addictions and change their lives for the better.

SMART empowers individuals by giving them practical ways to effect long-term change. It can be effective for both individuals who choose recovery and those who have been mandated to enroll in a recovery program.

The SMART Program is continuously updated as researchers discover more effective strategies. This program has been recognized as an effective tool by organizations such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The Importance of Peer Support

By enrolling in a SMART Recovery program, people gain access to a community of peers and professionals who can guide them in living positive lives. Meetings are an important part of the program.

Where do SMART meetings happen? Participants meet either online or in-person for mutual support and assistance. They are encouraged to share their stories openly and support their peers who are facing similar struggles.

SMART is designed to provide the support that individuals need in the early stages of recovery. Many people find the first year to be the most difficult and the chances of relapse are high. This is especially the case when they don’t have relatives or friends to support them.

Even well-meaning loved ones often don’t fully understand substance abuse. That’s why people in recovery need to have access to both professionals and other people in recovery.

Key Elements of SMART Programs

Smart Recovery Programs
Participants in SMART programs are encouraged to examine their behaviors and identify the main issues that require attention. With the help of trained volunteers, they learn how to control their addictive behaviors. This is done via various techniques including cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement.

Participants follow a four-point program that includes:

  • Developing and maintaining motivation. Individuals need to be very willing to stay sober in order to achieve long-term sobriety. Weighing the costs and benefits of substance use versus sobriety can be helpful.
  • Managing urges. People in SMART programs identify the things that trigger cravings. They learn techniques to help them suppress these cravings and also identify and fight any irrational beliefs they hold about the urge to drink or use drugs.
  • Examining and managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. SMART teaches individuals to avoid relapse by analyzing what led to their drug use in the first place. Participants learn how to accept and manage difficult emotions.
  • Learning how to live a sober life. Making the decision to be sober usually requires people to make drastic changes to their lifestyles. Participants in SMART Recovery programs take an inventory of what’s important to them and they learn how to set realistic goals and plan for the future.

These points don’t have to be attempted in any particular order. Therefore, participants can start with the one which is the most important to them.

Stages of SMART Recovery

Individuals who enter a SMART Recovery Program are often in different stages of the recovery journey and this means they need varying types of help. There are seven stages of SMART recovery. These are:

  1. Precontemplation  – This is when the individual may be unaware that they have a problem with substance abuse.
  2. Contemplation – This is when the person creates a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of addiction
  3. Determination/Preparation – Participants make the decision to make personal changes and they may fill out a Change Plan Worksheet.
  4. Action – The participant looks for new ways to manage their behavior such as support groups, self-help, and professional guidance.
  5. Maintenance – After individuals change their behavior following a few months of treatment, they focus on maintaining what they have achieved so far.
  6. Graduation/Exit – Participants can graduate from the SMART Recovery Program when they have sustained the changes for an extended period.
  7. Side event: Relapse – Not everyone relapses but it is a normal part of the recovery process. If a relapse is managed well, it can serve as a valuable learning experience.

How SMART Recovery Differs from 12-Step Programs

SMART has some things in common with traditional 12-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Both interventions require people in recovery to work through a series of tasks. Also, both protect the privacy of participants. Furthermore, people have overcome addiction by participating in both programs.

However, there are a number of key differences, starting with how each program defines addiction. SMART doesn’t see addiction as a disease and it doesn’t refer to individuals as addicts.

These labels are seen as unhelpful and discouraging. Also, unlike 12-step programs, SMART isn’t a lifelong initiative. As we noted in the sixth stage above, participants aim to graduate from SMART and start a new life.

Another area of variance is the idea that individuals are powerless in the face of addiction and they need to submit to a higher power. While this is a key aspect of 12-step programs, it’s not a feature of SMART. People who take part in SMART believe they have the power to take charge of their own lives.

Both SMART and 12-step programs can be helpful so individuals need to decide which program is right for them. Talking to addiction treatment professionals can help to make the choice easier.

Other Alternatives to Twelve-Step Programs

Even though 12-step programs are popular, they aren’t right for everyone struggling with addiction. There are multiple reasons why you may want to find an alternative. For example, you may prefer a treatment program that doesn’t have a spiritual or religious element.

Alternatively, you may believe that your addiction is well within your control. People who have unsuccessfully tried 12-step programs in the past are often eager to find alternatives as well.

There are several alternatives to programs such as AA and NA. Typically, they encourage individuals to draw on their internal resources to achieve sobriety. These programs tend to evolve over time and they can be more flexible than 12-step groups. Let’s look at some of the options.

LifeRing Secular Recovery

LifeRing is based on the view that each individual has the ability to control their addiction. It helps individuals to weaken their “Addict Self” by strengthening their “Sober Self”. LifeRing programs aren’t step-based and participants don’t rely on sponsors or a higher power. Instead, they draw on their own strength and self-control to find their own path to recovery.

LifeRing meetings are facilitated by an individual called a convener. This person allows the conversation to flow over the course of an hour but they ensure participants stay on topic. Members offer advice and encouragement to each other and ask and answer questions.

Women for Sobriety

This is the first self-help program that’s specifically for women who are addicted to alcohol. It is centered on 14 statements concerning responsibility for self, emotional growth, and positivity. Women for Sobriety can assist people in changing negative patterns of thinking and behavior since it is based on the view that a person’s actions are a direct result of their thoughts. By changing their thoughts, they can change their behavior.

Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

SOS is a group of autonomous, non-professional local groups aimed at helping individuals to achieve and maintain sobriety. This entity doesn’t adhere to any single theory of addiction. The focus is on rational recovery and ending addiction through taking responsibility for one’s self and one’s actions.

One of the key principles is that individuals much acknowledge that they are addicts or alcoholics in order to achieve sobriety.  People who participate in Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) must reaffirm this view on a daily basis and accept that cannot drink alcohol or use drugs. They agree to take whatever steps are necessary to make sobriety a lifelong priority.

SOS also assures participants that they can achieve a good life but reminds them that they will face uncertainty. They agree not to turn to substance regardless of how they feel or whether conflicts arise. Individuals also agree to share their thoughts and feelings with each other and members hold each other accountable.

Moderation Management

Most addiction recovery groups require members to abstain from drugs and alcohol completely. However, Moderation Management is different. It is targeted at people who see alcohol use becoming a problem in their lives and it’s designed to address problematic drinking at an early stage.

Moderation Management is based on the view that many people can drink alcohol without engaging in problematic behaviors or developing an addiction. Instead of promoting complete abstinence, this program aims to change behaviors around alcohol abuse and develop healthier habits.

The first step in MM is for participants to take responsibility for their actions, recognize harmful drinking patterns, and address problematic drinking. Then, they are required to stay sober for a month. After this, they are allowed to drink responsibly and in moderation if they can do so.

If they can’t, they are advised to either remain abstinent and continue with the program or switch to an abstinence-only program. About 30 percent of members choose the latter option. MM members have to follow basic guidelines such as not drinking every day, participating in activities that don’t involve drinking, and following laws on drinking and driving.

Evidence-Based Treatments

Evidence-based programs are backed by the success of previous participants. There are numerous substance abuse therapies and treatments that are supported by science including:

Benefits of SMART Attendance

Smart Recovery Programs
SMART Recovery Programs can offer a range of benefits.

Preventing Relapse

The skills individuals learn in SMART Recovery can be applied long after they complete the program. Graduates can use their goal-setting capabilities to develop a plan to prevent relapse. Instead of hoping that they’ll be able to maintain their sobriety, they’ll know the steps they need to take to avoid slipping up. People who complete SMART develop a plan for managing triggers. Also, even when people see the clear benefits of sobriety and don’t plan to drink or use drugs again, they should still plan out what they would do if they relapsed..

Repairing Relationships

Addiction puts lots of strain on familial relationships. It may seem like the damage can’t be undone but participating in SMART family therapy can bring you and your loved ones closer together. Not only will you gain an understanding of how your relatives feel about you but you’ll learn to establish and respect boundaries, improve communication, and resolve conflict. As you work through your addiction, you’ll strengthen your relationships and this increases the likelihood that you’ll maintain your sobriety.

Developing Life Skills

SMART programs help individuals to set goals, track their progress, and make adjustments when necessary. Participants learn that things don’t always go according to plan but they can regroup and bounce back. SMART assists with the setting of realistic goals that are in keeping with one’s current abilities. Therefore, individuals learn how to tell the difference between wants and needs and develop discipline. These skills can be applied to various aspects of life.

Increasing Self-Awareness

People who participate in SMART Recovery programs learn a lot about themselves and what they want to achieve in life. They get the tools to improve their self-confidence and develop a personalized plan for the future based on their own value. This plan sets out a framework for life after their graduate.

Of course, individuals can revise the goals as they change and grow. However, developing knowledge of self makes it easier and less stressful to plan for the future

Drawbacks to SMART Meetings

While there are many benefits to the SMART Recovery approach, there are also some disadvantages. There is some evidence that suggests individuals who participated in SMART Recovery were much less likely to be abstinent than those who chose AA.

Also, leaders of SMART Recovery groups don’t need to be sober. If the people in charge of a group haven’t been successful in their recovery, this could impact the success of members.

There are also concerns over the psychological approach that proponents of SMART Recovery take towards addictions. Typically, they see addiction as a result of bad habits or negative thinking rather than a disease.

Therefore, they often discourage the use of medication in addiction treatment. This is at odds with the scientific community which agrees that addiction is largely the result of genetics and biology. This approach may also be unhelpful for people who feel guilty or inadequate because they can’t seem to stop drinking or using drugs.

Let Find Addiction Rehabs Help You to Find the Best Treatment Program

Finding the right treatment for you doesn’t have to be hard. You simply need help from experts. While some people find lasting recovery with SMART programs, others would benefit more from a different form of treatment.

If you want to find out if SMART Recovery is right for you, contact the team at Find Addiction Rehabs by calling our 24/7 hotline at 877-537-1481 or filling out the contact form on our website. We’ll get to know you and then identify the facilities and programs that would best meet your needs. Get in touch with us today and we’ll get you started on the road towards recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

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