SMART Recovery

The SMART Recovery Program is a self-empowering addiction recovery module system which is based on a Four-Point Program.



Here are the facts about SMART Recovery and how this system can pertain to your clients or loved ones:

  • This system works with ALL types of addiction from Drug and Alcohol Abuse to Gambling and Eating Disorders.
  • The system teaches self-empowerment and self-reliance to addicts that have trouble coping and dealing with everyday issues.
  • Provides supportive groups and discussions with counselors and instructors. NOT a 12-Step Program 
  • Encourages individuals struggling with an addiction to recover and live satisfying lives by Self-Directed Change.
  • Individuals learn how to put the past behind them and accept uncertainty.
  • SMART is an abstinence-based recovery program
  • Supports Statistical Data on what drives individuals to become or maintain addictions and how they can achieve a drug-free lifestyle.
  • SMART views reason and scientific knowledge as the final authority.
  • SMART evolves as scientific knowledge evolves


  • SMART Recovery works by looking at one’s behaviors and problems by letting the individual decide what needs to be changed in one’s life to stay substance-free.



SMART Recovery focuses on how to cope with emotions or feelings and the rational thinking process. Individuals usually learn that how they feel is normal and that an unrealistic belief that no person’s life should be free from discomfort with their feelings is very incorrect.


  • To be able to Understand addictive behaviors is one strategy to helping an individual start to learn how to cope with their feelings on reflect on why it is that they decide to use drugs or alcohol.



The Problem of Immediate Gratification method uses events in an addict’s behavior to help them understand how those events cause them to use. This is a reoccurring cycle that happens in all addictive behaviors. This tool can help an addict become more aware of why they decide to use drugs or alcohol.


Please refer to the chart below for a sample of how the cycle operates:





Defeat addictive behaviors!



  • Learning how to DEFEAT addictive behavior is another step in the process of understanding an addiction.


SMART Recovery can help an individual defeat addictive behavior by teaching how to:

  • Identify and understand triggers that lead to one’s cravings and urges, and that they don’t have to act out on those urges
  • Recognize and understand unhealthy patterns in life. Such as hanging out with the wrong people or stealing from the store to get high
  • Cope with these urges, change how one thinks about the events in one’s life, and make better decisions



SMART Recovery will not only help an individual though The Stages of Change, but the program is set up to understand the long-term effects of an addictive behavior, along with the pros and cons of becoming substance-free.


There are 6 Stages of Change: Pre-Contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Action, Maintenance, and Exit.



Reviewing Cost and Benefit of Change and how to jump over hurdles to get to the next point towards sobriety is also discussed. In addition, discussing with individuals that relapse is a normal process of becoming substance-free is also added.




Keeping a journal:



With SMART Recovery, it is important to keep a journal throughout the entire process. With this, the individual can keep track of how they feel and the way their daily emotions may affect their personal change process. Another benefit to journal keeping is that it helps individuals set short-term goals that will benefit them along this journey along with plan specific activities for success.




These are the 4 POINTS to learning the SMART Recovery System:



  • Building and Maintaining Motivation 
  • Coping with Urges 
  • Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors 
  • Living A Balanced Life



Following are examples of each point and how they operate:



Point 1:
Building and Maintaining Motivation-


Maintaining motivation tends to be one of the biggest challenges people will face in recovery. The strategy of “Wishing” is not a reliable strategy by any means. SMART Recovery will help an individual learn how to maintain motivation by setting goals, helping one realize the cost and benefit to living sober and prioritizing life values.


Hierarchy of Values:

We all have values that usually motivate us in life. The first step to being motivated to change is to teach an individual about how to prioritize their values and take notice that there are more important things in life than one’s addiction. Some of a person’s values may be their children, spouse, or finances. SMART Recovery notes that during this activity, addicts normally do not list ‘their addiction’ as one of the top 5 priorities in life.


Setting goals motivates individuals to take steps forward to change as well. Sometimes it is hard to see what you are actually doing and what you could do differently to achieve such goals. SMART uses three questions to bring perspectives into focus so that one can identify the differences between them:


  • What Do I want for my future?
  • What am I currently doing to achieve that?
  • How do I feel about what I am doing currently?



The next step is creating a plan that will be helpful in achieving those goals. A Change-Plan Worksheet is effective by being able to break down one goal into smaller areas. Asking questions like ‘The most important reason I want to make these changes are’ or ‘I will know my plan is working when…’ are great strategies.



Point 1: (Cont.)
Building and Maintaining Motivation-

Cost Benefit Analysis:

One thing that is beneficial is having an addict ask themselves “What does this addiction do for me?” It is the beginning of the Cost-Benefit Strategy. By having an individual categorize Benefits and Costs of one’s addiction visually, one can start seeing the changes necessary to become sober.


An Individual’s chart may look something like this:

The next step in the Cost-Benefit Analysis is labeling the effects of these pros and cons.

  • Are they short-term or long-term effects?
  • If I lose my home can I get it back tomorrow?
  • Does an arrest record stay with me forever?
  • Will the hangover go away tomorrow?


The basis of this step is to PLAN the journey to sobriety and having a good outlook on things to come and to get MOTIVATED to change.


Point 2:
Coping with Urges-


This section is focused on learning how to cope with urges and change the behavior of an individual. Learning to cope is different from abstaining or using drugs or alcohol.


Some people claim to have no urges after they make the choice to stop while others claim that they may have urges later on that were not there before. Either way, it is important to become aware of the necessary urges so that the individual’s feelings and emotions can come into play when making decisions about using drugs or alcohol.


Holding certain beliefs about urges that are unrealistic or untrue can actually make them worse. When beliefs about urges are accurate and true, it is possible to ease them and prevent them.

An example of this is as follows:


Unrealistic: My Urges are Unbearable

Realistic: Urges are uncomfortable, but you can bear them. If you keep telling yourself that you can’t bear them, you are setting yourself up for failure. Urges won’t kill you or make you go crazy; they’ll just make you uncomfortable.



Urges always go away and the reason why is because your nervous system eventually stops noticing stimuli. If you didn’t, you couldn’t wear clothing because it would be too uncomfortable. If you fast, hunger eventually fades away. You teach yourself to ride out urges. It does get easier over time.


Point 2: (Cont.)
Coping with Urges-


Identifying Triggers:

Triggers are what lead to cravings in which lead to urges, and then lead to using drugs or alcohol. They may be a person’s emotions, something they’ve done, seeing an object, or as simple as a time of day or year. These triggers are not excuses and are not unpredictable.
Example of triggers: I use Heroin when…I see a needle; I drink vodka when…I see a TV commercial for vodka.
Once an individual can identify their triggers, they can understand how these triggers can spark an urge to use drugs or alcohol. SMART Recovery Handbook notes that using a journal to keep track of these triggers or urges can help you identify them in the future and become aware of when these urges might appear.
Distracting Yourself:

The more frequently that a person refuses the urge to use drugs or alcohol, the less frequently they occur. Finding other activities to keep you distracted is strategies that can help an individual not think about their urges or drugs.

Example of Distraction: Go to a movie; Find a museum; Cooking Classes; Go back to College


Also consider a weekly planner to document interest and hobbies so that you don’t have time for these urges.

Point 2: (Cont.)
Coping with Urges-


  • Coping with Urges:

There are many ways for an individual to be able to cope with urges. Sometimes, distractions are not enough to keep one’s mind off of the thought of using drugs or alcohol. SMART Recovery Handbook lists over 30 ways to help an individual with different ideas of coping.


Here are a few examples of ways to cope with urges:


  1. Avoid and Escape – If you are ever in a situation that is beginning to trigger an urge, walk away from the situation. For example: At a friend’s house and Tim shows up with drugs for everyone.
  2. Picture your future – Picture yourself in 3 years with a great job and a nice home and living the life you’ve always wanted to live, especially drug free.
  3. Reach out for social support – Call your closest friend or mentor and express to them your urge or start a conversation about an activity you want to do together to take your mind off of the urge to go back to old habits.




SMART Recovery Handbook contains 14 more strategies that may be helpful for individuals in coping with urges. These strategies use the basic criteria listed above.






Point 3:
Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors-


The next point in the program mainly focuses on techniques that will help an individual change their automatic thinking patterns. One key in overcoming emotional problems and avoiding certain feelings is to adapt unconditional acceptance. This can also be considered a valid life skill that can help a person long after addictive behavior is behind them.


  • Managing Thoughts:

Something we are already familiar with is unconditional acceptance but for it to become a personal belief, we have to learn how to recognize actions or unhelpful beliefs that happen when something goes wrong in our lives. It all starts with reminding oneself that we are all human. Everyone makes mistakes. Taking negative thoughts and turning them into positive thinking strategies can help manage beliefs and strive towards unconditional acceptance with ourselves and others around us. It is in a way a phase of accepting those things we cannot change and controlling those we can.


Unconditional acceptance is the idea that you have worth, just as you are. The word ‘you’ includes the areas of character, traits, personality, strengths and weaknesses.


  • If you cannot accept yourself do you really expect other to? 
  • Even if they do, would you believe them?



You may have caused someone grief or pain from something you may have done, but you can forgive yourself for that and begin to move on. This rule of unconditional acceptance also applies to how you view other people as well; Treating others the way you would like to be treated or viewed.

Point 3: (Cont.)

Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors-


Rational and Irrational Beliefs:

First look at the difference between rational and irrational beliefs:


  • Rational – These statements are True, Make sense, and are Helpful. They are                logical decisions
  • Irrational – Not True, Doesn’t Make Sense, or Harmful. These are not logical                  decisions



  • The common types of irrational beliefs are usually associated with negative feelings that fuel such addictive behavior.



Examples of irrational behavior: I ALWAYS fail! Do I always fail? I have done some useful things in the past so I don’t always fail. Nothing good ever happened to me! Does nothing good ever happen to me? The love and support from my friends and family are both good things.




Teaching individuals struggling with addiction how to turn their negative feelings into positive feelings can help manage destructive behavior and cope with feelings. Changing not only the way one thinks, but the way they speak or use vocabulary is a great strategy as well. Changing the word ‘Can’ ‘ to ‘Choose Not’ or by changing I am a ‘failure’ to ‘I made a mistake’ can create a lower negative effect on one’s thinking.




Point 3: (Cont.)

Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors-


Solving Life’s Problems:


When one takes an addictive behavior out of one’s life, they still encounter difficulties or problems along the way. Learning problem solving strategies and how to cope with stressful situations can help ease the frustration while recovering.


Here are the 5 Steps of Problem Solving:



  1. Define the Problem – You can’t solve a problem you haven’t defined. Some problems are so large they cannot be solved until they are broken down into little pieces for analysis.
  2. Brainstorm – Come up with ideas on how to solve the problem. The rule is not to judge or analyze any ideas, just be able to freely think of ways to solve the immediate issue.
  3. Evaluate – Use a scale 1 to 10 and rate each brainstorm idea on How Realistic it is, How likely is it to Work, or Does the Solution have any Rewards?
  4. Select – Select an idea and try it.
  5. Create and write a Plan – You will most likely get better results if you write down how you will implement your ideas.






Point 4:

Living a Balanced Life-


The most important part of SMART Recovery is to help an individual regain health and help create a lifestyle that brings that being long-term satisfaction and a life of sobriety. Balance in one’s life comes from finding and perusing other interests besides the addiction and also achieving goals along the way.


Creating Balance:


Eating right, getting enough sleep, relaxing, and meditating will help one restore balance to one’s life. These are the necessary steps that will help you create balance in your life:


  1. Take Inventory: Determine and Evaluate areas in your life to focus and take time on
  2. Be Honest: Be honest with yourself on your own feelings and emotions
  3. Go with your Gut: Don’t feel obligated to change something in your life for someone else. Do it for you!
  4. Plan and Prepare: Create a life plan that you can stick to including your long and short-term goals.
  5. Get Support: Get support from friends and family that can help you through life changes and provide assistance when needed
  6. Balance: All areas in your life should be done with moderation. Don’t take too much time on one thing.
  7. Have Fun: This should be a fun experience and something that you are willing to do. If it becomes too stressful, back off for a bit and try another route.






Point 4: (Cont.)

Living a Balanced Life-


To maintain a healthy lifestyle, nutrition is vital and important. Making sure that and individual eats at a regular meal time and that an individual considers vitamins as well.


Learning to understand and respect each area and value of your life is important to maintain a healthy balanced life. You must be able to accept yourself before making important decisions that affect your future and current situations. Not being able to make rational decisions can create additional triggers that can lead to relapse and further the issues that you are trying to cope with. Being able to find interest in healthy things and take responsibility for the actions you have caused amongst yourself will bring you back into a full cycle where you can maintain and achieve happiness