SMART Recovery Program for Addiction

Group therapy session
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As with 12 step groups, the SMART Recovery program can be an excellent resource for many people who are working to overcome addictions. The SMART Recovery Program shares with AA the foundation principles of accessibility, confidentiality, and mutual support, which links you to a worldwide network of help, as often and when you need it. However, the SMART Recovery Program is not as widespread or well-known.

More rigorous in approach than 12 step groups, the SMART Recovery program may provide more safety for participants in its facilitated and standardized approach to overcoming addiction

SMART Recovery's 4-Point Process

  1. Building and maintaining the motivation to change
  2. Coping with urges to use
  3. Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in an effective way without addictive behaviors
  4. Living a balanced, positive, healthy life

The meetings follow a standard structure that includes both teaching and participant input. The SMART Recovery Program differs from 12 step groups, but many people choose to be involved in both groups.

SMART Recovery Program Overview

The SMART Recovery program is a community-based self-help program, which can be an alternative to, or complement to, 12 step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), and Cocaine Anonymous (CA).

Although not as widespread or well-known as 12-step groups, there is a large network of over 500 in-person meetings (available in many countries) as well as online meetings.

Potential Benefits

Online meetings can be a boon to people with addictions who require ongoing support: No matter where you go, you can often find a meeting if you want to attend one.

SMART Recovery meetings are facilitated, and the meetings themselves follow a standardized format.

Smart Recovery
  • Six stages of change

  • No sponsors

  • Psychological model of alcoholism

  • Run by facilitators

12-Step Programs
  • 12 steps

  • Sponsors

  • Spiritual approach

  • Run by volunteers

Another advantage is that SMART Recovery is based on psychological, evidence-based approaches. Some members also appreciate the fact that SMART Recovery makes no demands of participants to engage in spiritual practices.

Potential Disadvantages

While the SMART Recovery approach has some potential advantages, there are some downsides to consider. For example, some research suggests that people who chose SMART Recovery were significantly less likely to be sober than those who chose AA.

SMART Recovery also does not require the leaders of groups to be currently sober. It is possible that this can have an impact on the recovery success of group members since leaders are not necessarily successful in recovery.

Further research focused on participant outcomes may help establish the efficacy of SMART Recovery and determine how it compares to other treatment modalities.

Typically, SMART Recovery does not adhere to a disease model of alcoholism. Instead, it takes a psychological approach that views addiction as the result of bad thinking or poor habits. 

This is distinct from AA as well as the general scientific consensus that understands alcoholism is a disease that is genetically and biologically based. Because of the psychological approach, it often leads to a discounting of medications for treatment.

This psychological approach also does not help people who experience guilt because they continue to drink. Understanding that alcoholism is a disease can help people not feel overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy if they are unable to stop drinking.

A Word From Verywell

If you believe you have a problem with alcohol, talk to your doctor about your treatment options. SMART Recovery is one approach that people may find helpful, but there are also other options that you may want to consider. Your doctor can also prescribe medications that can help you safely manage symptoms of withdrawal, reduce cravings, and deter alcohol use such as Revia, Vivitrol (naltrexone), and Campral (acamprosate).

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Zemore SE, Lui C, Mericle A, Hemberg J, Kaskutas LA. A longitudinal study of the comparative efficacy of Women for Sobriety, LifeRing, SMART Recovery, and 12-step groups for those with AUDJ Subst Abuse Treat. 2018;88:18-26. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2018.02.004

  2. Beck AK, Forbes E, Baker AL, Kelly PJ, Deane FP, Shakeshaft A, Hunt D, Kelly JF. Systematic review of SMART Recovery: Outcomes, process variables, and implications for research. Psychol Addict Behav. 2017 Feb;31(1):1-20. doi:10.1037/adb0000237

By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.