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The Role of SMART Recovery Meetings in Addiction Recovery

If you want to address an addiction or any harmful habit, SMART Recovery can help. Major changes can be overwhelming: SMART’s practical tools and social supports can effectively sustain successful long-term life changes.

Harmful habits include substance addictions (to alcohol and other drugs), as well as behavioural addictions (to behaviours like sex, relationships, spending, gambling, eating, exercise, and self-injury). Regardless of your harmful habit, SMART can help you change it. It is not just any mutual-support program – its science-based approach emphasizes self-empowerment and self-reliance.

There’s no lifetime commitment; you decide when the time is right to move on. You choose how to personalize your own plan for successful change. SMART can be used both as a stand-alone program or in combination with other recovery paths. This method recognizes that the only one who can become a true expert on your recovery is you.

What is SMART Recovery?

SMART Recovery has been an asset in the addiction recovery community for many years. In recent years, it has gained popularity as a valid resource for those seeking an alternative or a supplement to the 12-step model. SMART’s model is inclusive, involving community and peer resources in the recovery process.

A sober support system is critical for long-term recovery. Many addiction treatment centers recommend that patients seek outside community support, yet traditional 12-step programs are not a fit for everyone. Some say that the opposite of addiction is connection, and the goal is for you to develop your own sober support community as you transition to lower levels of care in treatment. SMART meetings are one of many supplemental programs you can use in your recovery journey.

SMART Recovery began in 1994 as an alternative to the 12 Steps and other spiritually based programs. The 12 Steps are centered on the participant’s surrender to a higher power that serves as an unwavering support throughout the steps to recovery. Some people don’t relate to the concept of a higher power, which can deter them from 12-step groups. SMART Recovery offers an alternative that, instead of focusing on a higher power, follows a scientific approach based on behavioural change.

SMART Recovery programs are available around the world for people struggling with addiction, eating disorders, gambling addiction, sex addiction, and other compulsive behaviours. It can help with cross addictions as well. A cross addiction is when you replace one destructive behaviour for another. For example, you stop using drugs or alcohol, but you begin gambling compulsively.

Today there are over 2,000 SMART Recovery meetings worldwide and this number is growing daily. SMART Recovery offers support through local community meetings, therapeutic programs, and online meetings, chat rooms, and message boards. Their website includes resources like suggestions for a “recovery toolbox” and recommended books.

smart recovery

The SMART Recovery Meetings – A 4 Point System

SMART is based on a four-point system:

  • Building and maintaining motivation
  • Coping with urges
  • Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviours
  • Living a balanced life

The SMART Recovery addiction treatment meeting provides materials that correspond to each of these four points. These meetings will help you learn how to manage addictive behaviours and live a more balanced lifestyle. In addition to the four-point system, SMART integrates behaviour-centred therapies, including:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT)
  • Adventure therapy
  • Rational emotive behavioural therapy (REBT)

All these therapies are rooted in the theory that, by challenging the way you think in the present, you can stop destructive behaviours before they start. These are evidence-based practices that have been shown to be effective in the treatment of addiction, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

A SMART treatment meeting also integrates tools such as:

  • Cost/benefit analysis
  • The Change Plan Worksheet
  • Hierarchy of values
  • ABCs of rational emotive behaviour therapy (for both coping with urges and emotional upsets)
  • DISARM (Destructive imagery and self-talk awareness and refusal method)
  • Brainstorming
  • Role-playing/rehearsing

All these tools assist you in putting your addictive behaviours into perspective at the meeting. Once you understand that your problematic behaviour is causing destruction and negative outcomes, you can reduce or discontinue the behaviour.  This is facilitated at the meeting.

cognitive behavioural therapy

Foundation of SMART Recovery Meetings

The SMART Recovery process can be broken down into five stages. These are the foundation for the meetings. People don’t necessarily move through these stages in one smooth progression. You might move up or down many times along the path to recovery. But, in general, this describes a common relationship dynamic with the recovery process:

  1. Precontemplation Stage – If you’re in this stage, you may feel pressured by others in your life to seek help for your substance use. You may blame others for your problems, including people, society, your environment, or your genes. You may feel hopeless about the future.
  2. Contemplation Stage – This is the first step toward change. When you’re in this stage, you’re beginning to desire a different outcome. You may still feel stuck, but you acknowledge that you have a problem and can imagine solving it. You might have indefinite plans to address the problem “soon”.
  3. Preparation Stage – If you’re in this stage, you have an action plan, though you’re not yet 100% committed to it. It’s common to hold onto feelings of ambivalence at this stage and possibly need encouragement from others.
  4. Action Stage – This is where you make real change. You modify behaviours and make use of the tools you’re offered along your recovery journey.
  5. Maintenance Stage – It takes work to maintain change. In maintenance, many people relapse to earlier stages (which is normal) and then learn just how much energy maintaining change requires over time.

It is the role of the meeting to facilitate these changes.

What to Expect at a SMART Recovery Meeting?

SMART is an abstinence-based program, which means you’ll be expected to stop taking drugs or drinking altogether. Meetings have an open format, during which SMART Recovery facilitators encourage people to share their personal experiences and any tools they have found helpful. Meetings often include open discussions, which is different than the highly structured format of the 12-Step program.

Discover the Power of Choice at a SMART Recovery Meeting

SMART Recovery is based on the concept that every person has the Power of Choice. Through tools that teach self-management and behavioural changes, the meetings empower you with the choice to abstain from addictive substances or activities. The goal of SMART Recovery is to help you gain independence from your addiction, be it drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, and so on. The SMART Recovery program can be a great addition to an addiction recovery plan. It can be used together with a 12-step approach (like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous) or on its own. SMART Recovery can also be combined with a meditation or mindfulness practice, yoga, martial arts, or any other method or tool that brings balance and harmony into your life.


Getting Started

SMART Recovery tools can be utilized in both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment settings. SMART meetings support the use of medically assisted withdrawal when appropriate and can be integrated into every stage of your recovery. Once you’ve reached enough stability to live independently, SMART can continue to help you during the outpatient recovery stage and even during a relapse. You can build meetings into your aftercare plan.

At Addiction Rehab Toronto, we create customized addiction treatment programs for our clients. The SMART Recovery approach is often incorporated into these programs. Many former clients credit this approach for helping them maintain long-term sobriety. Contact us for more information.