SMART Recovery – An Alternative To AA
Battling an addiction to alcohol is one of the most difficult things you can do. Many people can feel helpless, scared, depressed, or even hopeless of ever recovering. However, recovery is always attainable, even for the most severe cases.
Different types of resources and programs exist for alcohol addiction such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART), and both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation treatments. A program like AA has been around for more than eighty years, while programs like the SMART recovery program have grown in popularity in more recent years.
Finding which one is right for you or an addicted loved one depends mainly on the unique story and experience of the individual considering treatment. This guide is designed to help guide you through the basics of the SMART recovery program and its differences from the classic AA program.
What Is SMART Recovery?
SMART is a free, self-empowering, scientific-based recovery group that works similarly to AA/NA.
There are four main focus points to this type of training, which include:
- The ability to build and maintain motivation for recovery.
- Learning to cope with triggers and urges.
- Stabilizing, managing, and building positive thoughts and behavior.
- Learning to live a balanced life.
SMART recovery works as a cognitive-based therapy that uses science as the basis for methodology. However, spirituality is still an integral part of recovery through the SMART program. With science, spirituality, and a sense of community, many people suffering from addiction have found success through this program.
SMART recovery is designed for any type of addiction from mild to severe cases, and from all types of substances, such as heroin and opiates, methamphetamine, cocaine, and alcohol. Oftentimes, people with codependencies and dual diagnoses are encouraged to participate in the SMART recovery program.
When entering a recovery program, whether it be an inpatient rehabilitation program or a once-a-week group meeting like AA or SMART, one can count on having many people around who are excited to help. The philosophy behind SMART recovery, while similar in many ways to AA, is actually quite different than most traditional programs. This is because SMART recovery doesn’t use faith or spirituality as its main focus for recovery, though it is an important part.
SMART Recovery Versus AA – What’s the Difference?
Most people know something about or have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous as it has been around for a long time. SMART recovery, however, has only been around since about 1995, but it has been gaining in popularity in the last ten years or so. One of the biggest questions people have when researching these two programs is about the differences in 12-Step programs like AA/NA, and other self-help alternatives such as SMART.
12-Step and AA
The 12-Step program is the philosophy that AA was created around, collectively, at the same time. The premise of AA group therapy is surrounded by the idea that putting faith into a higher power, along with support from other people in recovery who know exactly what one is going through, is the key to overcoming addiction. The 12-Step approach claims that through a combination of group therapy sessions, examining of one’s self and their errors, admitting to themselves that a higher power gives one a higher sense of reason, and using experiences to help others struggling with the same issues gives a person everything they need to beat addiction for life.
After recovering through the 12-Step program, one is encouraged to become a part of AA to help others as part of the staff, or as leaders. This creates a solid environment where almost everyone involved has gone through addiction themselves and is either also seeking treatment or has already found success through the program. This gives members a huge sense of community and support to build on.
SMART recovery does not follow the tried-and-true 12-Step program, instead focusing on the science behind addiction and how to overcome it. SMART incorporates behavioral therapy, building motivation, acquiring tools, and empowerment to provide a wealth of knowledge that keeps people from continuing their addiction.
SMART uses a type of psychotherapy known as REBT, which stands for Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. REBT is designed to teach common-sense coping skills to manage thoughts and emotions to help abstain from drug or alcohol use. It teaches that your feelings are controlled by your thoughts, which lead to your actions. Being able to control and stabilize your thoughts and emotions will then lead to better behavior and self-control.
With tools and knowledge on these four important areas of focus, members find that they have more control over their own lives. This is extremely helpful in treating addiction, as many of those suffering feel as though their substance of choice has control over them.
SMART Recovery Online
Many people are unable to attend local, in-person meetings for whatever reason, so SMART decided to bring their program online. Many have found great success and support through SMART’s online network and have overcome their addiction without ever having physically attended a meeting.
SROL (SMART recovery online) gives online members access to live meetings, which usually last around ninety minutes and offer a variety of topics and focus points. Users can interact with each other with online support-group chat rooms as well as twenty-four-hour online access to professional advice. SROL is completely free and available to anyone who may need it.
What to Expect From a SMART Recovery Meeting
After this discussion of how SMART works and its differences from AA and other traditional 12-Step programs, here’s what you can expect from a SMART recovery meeting:
- First of all, you’ll need to find either a local meet-up location near you or a suitable online meeting time. Once you’ve arrived or logged on, you will begin with introductions of other attendees.
- As a newcomer, you’ll likely be given some written material to help you better understand SMART and what to expect as you embark on your journey.
- You can expect kindness and compassion from those around you, and you can rely on not being addressed or regarded as an addict, alcoholic, or other negative titles.
- Meetings can last anywhere from sixty to ninety minutes, and topics range from meeting to meeting.
- After you’ve arrived and introduced yourself to the group, the facilitator will begin check-ins, a time where you and others have the opportunity to address successes or challenges from the previous week, goals reached, or anything that may show progress.
- After check-in, the group will collectively determine the agenda of the meeting based on ideas brought up during check-in
- During meetings, you will be given tools to help you better understand the science behind the addiction and what kinds of things you need to do to resist urges and facilitate positive behavior.
- You will learn about self-control and empowerment, how to deal with urges, how to minimize stress in your life, and how to build a support team.
- You can attend meetings as often as you’d like, for as long as you need them.
It can be pretty scary jumping into a program that you’ve never been a part of before, especially when it is focused around a sensitive issue like addiction. That’s why knowing what to expect ahead of time can help push you toward success.
Where Can I Find SMART Recovery Meetings?
If you’re looking for a local SMART meeting, there are several different resources you can use to find one close to you. For example, your local human-services department could probably point you in the right direction. However, the easiest and probably most effective way to find meetings is online through SMART’s nonprofit website. SMART’s website is also where you will find their online community as well as SROL meetings. This means that even if you aren’t close enough to any local meetings, you can still receive nearly all of the benefits of this program as you would in person.
Creating a New You
The SMART recovery program is a highly effective form of training for anyone suffering from some sort of addiction, be it behavioral or substantial. Regardless, if you are suffering severely or moderately from addiction, anyone can benefit from the behavioral tools and techniques that make this program so successful.
Taking that first step toward recovering from addiction, while extremely difficult, is a pinnacle moment of one’s life. Everyone has the ability to change and overcome—it just takes the right tools and the right effort applied in the right direction. Take that first step and get the help you need today.