SMART Recovery Program for Addiction

Peer-support and self-help programs are a vital part of addiction recovery for many people. However, because treatment and recovery is a highly individualized process, some people may benefit from an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12-step programs.

This page will provide an overview of SMART Recovery and how it works.

What is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery is a mutual support group considered by some to be a more science-based and self-empowered alternative to 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.1

SMART stands for Self-Management for Addiction Recovery Training; the program hosts thousands of meetings throughout the U.S. and several in other countries to help those in recovery from any type of addictive behavior.1

Although much smaller than AA, as of early 2020, the SMART website lists more than 1,600 meetings available across the United States and Canada.1

How SMART Recovery Works

SMART utilizes a science-based 4-Point Program to help people modify their addictive behaviors. These four points are followed by participants to help them:2

  1. Build and maintain the motivation to change, such as by refraining from problematic substances and behaviors.
  2. Cope with urges to use substances or otherwise indulge in problematic behaviors.
  3. To better manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without engaging in addictive activities.
  4. To live a positive, balanced, positive, and healthy life.

SMART Recovery was founded by Dr. Joe Gerstein and several treatment professional colleagues in 1994.2 The abstinence-oriented, nonprofit organization has continued to serve as a secular alternative to the 12-step programs. Although SMART uses terms like addiction, meetings discourage those attending to refer to themselves as addicts or alcoholics.3

Also unlike many 12-step programs, participants aren’t primed to embrace the concept of spending the rest of their lives in recovery. SMART encourages people to attend meetings as long as they need them—months to years, in most cases—but not for a lifetime.3

SMART is designed to help people struggling with the negative consequences of all kinds of addictive behavior, and not just alcohol and drug use. SMART meetings also work for people who struggle with addictive behaviors such as gambling or shopping, as well as people who have compulsive eating or exercise problems.4,5

As SMART has grown over the years, the program has branched out into online support communities, which offer additional support outside of face-to-face meetings, as well as support programs for teenagers struggling with addiction and family members of people struggling with addiction.4,5

SMART Recovery Therapy Approaches

The program has a scientific, rather than a spiritual foundation, and stresses increased self-reliance instead of powerlessness in helping people change their compulsive behaviors. The program draws heavily from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), and other addiction therapies to help people resolve their emotional and behavioral issues.6

Central to the REBT approach is the idea that our emotions and behaviors—how we feel and act—are influenced by how we think. REBT practitioners may reference the ABC sequence that people may focus on as they work through to change their patterns of thinking. These include:6

  • A—The activating event: Activating events can range from minor annoyances to major personal losses (deaths, illnesses, job loss). Depending on the nature of the occurrence, activating events may either help or hinder your goals.
  • B—Beliefs, thoughts, and attitudes surrounding A: Beliefs may be rational, reality-based, and self-helping; or, they may be irrational, based on wishful thinking, and self-defeating.
  • C—Consequences of A and B: These are the potential behaviors and emotions to arise as a result of activating events and their associated beliefs. Such consequences can include several emotions, including mad, sad, scared, and glad.
  • D—Disputes: finding arguments against irrational beliefs, developing different, rational methods of handling B.
  • E—Effects of the disputes: new emotions and behaviors to arise from replacing irrational with rational beliefs.

SMART meetings may focus on one or two of these items to better examine problems the group participants have noticed in the past week. Then, the group comes up with a plan to focus on better habits and rational ways of thinking for the next week.

Though it’s only sometimes possible to change A (activating events), it is always possible to change the B (beliefs) associated with these events. By focusing on the ABCs, people may be able to change how they feel and what they do (emotional and behavioral consequences, respectively) by changing their beliefs.6

SMART meetings are free and, using techniques such as these, help members develop tools to change patterns in their lives that lead to or support an ongoing addiction. Using these psychological tools, the program aims to ultimately help members lead more constructive and satisfying lives.

SMART Recovery Stages of Change

The SMART Recovery program characterizes change as occurring in 5 stages. These include:7

  1. People in the pre-contemplation stage may not yet see they have a problem. Often, people in this stage have only started treatment because they face pressure from family, friends, or legal issues. They may place blame on things that are outside of their control and therefore feel their situation is hopeless.
  2. During this stage, people admit they have a problem and express a desire to solve it; however, they have trouble understanding their issues and make indefinite plans and goals to address them soon.
  3. In the preparation stage, people may actively make plans to address their substance use but have not quite overcome their ambivalence toward executing change.
  4. The action stage requires the most effort. This is when someone makes a change to their behavior and their environment.
  5. Once someone has made the necessary changes to address their problems with substance use, they must remain committed. Failure to do so may result in relapse and needing to go through some or all the stages again.

Who Can Benefit From SMART?

The SMART Recovery website mentions that, while from a scientific perspective, the relative effectiveness of different types of support groups on addictive behaviors is unproven, but urges people to attend several different types to see which works best for them.3

However, it makes sense that some people may derive more benefit from SMART’s brand of support than others. Such people may include:

  • Those who do not wish to have religion, spirituality, or similar philosophies involved in their recovery. People who want to work in an evidence-based way with a group will benefit from participation in this program, whether through the in-person and online options for support. SMART recognizes that each individual has a different personal history and different preferences for their treatment, which might allow members to derive more benefit from meetings than other types of support groups.
  • People who do not want to label themselves as addicts or alcoholics, and instead prefer to focus on proactive change based on understanding oneself, may prefer SMART. SMART meetings actively discourage this kind of labeling and instead focus on what each individual experienced in the past week and wants to change in the next week. This can include relapse, and there is no judgment—only a focus on getting healthy.
  • SMART also allows for appropriately prescribed and monitored prescription medications, including maintenance therapies like buprenorphine or psychiatric medications. People on pharmacotherapies such as these might find SMART meetings to be supportive of such recovery tools.

People for whom SMART therapy might be less of a fit include:

  • People looking for religious or spiritual guidance as a primary means of support during recovery.
  • Those whose locus of control is external (a higher power like God).
  • People who need to be accountable to others outside of themselves or have specific goals for their future set, as in the 12-step model of counting abstinent days.
  • Those who cannot emotionally handle direct criticism or interruptions of their personal narratives (SMART encourages discussion during meetings, while AA and 12-step meetings give space for each person to speak when they feel moved to do so.)

SMART Recovery and Treatment in Texas

SMART is a style of recovery that is growing in popularity, and more and more people are receiving the benefit of a type of supportive group therapy that offers different methods, terminology, and goals from some of the more widely known mutual support group programs.

Providing alternatives like SMART may help more people begin to recover or maintain their recovery progress. Regardless of the type of support group a person chooses, finding regular meetings after going through a medical detox program and/or rehabilitation can help the person stay on track in recovery.

At Greenhouse Treatment Center, American Addiction Centers’ Dallas rehab clinic, support groups like SMART are regularly available. Whether a person is attending inpatient addiction treatment or outpatient rehab, daily support group meetings offer a way to build a strong recovery community and help prevent relapse.

To learn more about all that Greenhouse offers, call . A caring admissions navigator can answer your questions about rehab, paying for addiction treatment, and walk you through the treatment admissions process.

If you’d like to verify your insurance coverage for rehab, simply complete our confidential .

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
Greenhouse is located in Grand Prairie, Texas, which is easily accessible from Dallas and Fort Worth.
Take your next step toward recovery:
✔ learn more about our addiction treatment programs.
✔ see how popular insurance providers such as Aetna or Humana offer coverage for rehab.
view photos of our facility.