Every person who seeks addiction treatment has a unique recovery journey. What they require might differ from the next person. The rigid uniformity of a traditional 12-step program might not offer a viable solution. SMART Recovery (Self-Management And Recovery Training) is for people seeking a rehabilitation program that takes their personal needs and requirements into consideration.

SMART Recovery bills itself as an alternative to traditional rehabilitation groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). The nonprofit organization, founded in 1994, emphasizes self-management and self-empowerment through the use of scientific tools.

Unlike those programs, SMART resource does not encourage participants to admit powerlessness over their addictions.

Rather, it views addiction as a dysfunctional habit that can be reversed by changing self-defeating thinking, emotions, and actions. It encourages people to work toward long-term satisfaction and the overall quality of their lives.

SMART is recognized by the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to its site, SMART offers more than 2,500 meetings in 21 countries and holds about 1,400 meetings in 49 states and the District of Columbia.

SMART invites people to “discover the power of choice” in their paths to recovery. If you are considering SMART Recovery for yourself or a loved one, this guide will help you determine whether this program is the right fit.


The seeds of SMART Recovery were planted when Rational Recovery (RR), a secular treatment program, was founded by Jack and Lois Trimpey in 1985. RR was founded as an alternative rehabilitation program that was not based on spiritual beliefs or psychology. Rather, it empowered those struggling with addiction to take charge of their own recoveries through a technique known as Addictive Voice Recognition Technique (AVRT). When the Trimpeys hosted a board meeting of professional advisors in 1991, many of those participants would go on to form what would later become SMART Recovery.

SMART would first operate under the name of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Self-Help Network (ADASHN) before adopting its current name in 1994. As a nonprofit, it has a board of directors that works on a volunteer basis.

Members can join SMART Recovery at no cost. Donations, however, are suggested. Also, its publications and literature are sold for a small cost.

What Is Smart Recovery’s Mission and Approach to Overcoming Addiction?

SMART Recovery’s mission is to offer its participants “no-fee, self-empowering, science-based, face-to-face and online support groups for abstaining from any substance or activity addiction.”

On its website, it describes its approach as one that:

  • Teaches self-empowerment and self-reliance
  • Encourages individuals to recover and live satisfying lives
  • Teaches tools and techniques for self-directed change
  • Provides educational meetings and includes open discussions that others can join
  • Advocates the proper use of prescribed medications and psychological treatments
  • Evolves as scientific knowledge of addiction recovery evolves

SMART Recovery also complies with these recovery guiding principles:

  • Recovery through Self Empowerment
  • Mutual Help
  • Volunteer Management
  • Acceptance
  • Participant Support
  • Evidence-Based Practice
  • Collaboration
  • International Presence

Does Smart Recovery Help People Recover From Drug and Alcohol Addiction?

Yes! SMART offers the 4-Point Program to address various addictions and the addictive behaviors that drive people toward dependency, especially drugs and alcohol. SMART has helped people recover from alcoholism, drug and substance abuse, alcohol abuse, gambling, and other addictions.

According to its website, SMART states that “We assume that there are degrees of addictive behavior and that all individuals to some degree experience it. For some individuals, the negative consequences of addictive behavior (which can involve several substances or activities) become so great that change becomes highly desirable.”

How Does Smart Recovery Help People in Recovery?

SMART aims to empower people to address addictive behaviors and take responsibility for their recovery. It urges them to gain independence from addictive behaviors so that those changes impact their entire lives, instead of changing in response to a specific addiction.

SMART also discourages the use of labels such as “alcoholic,” “addict,” or other designation that can stigmatize and undermine addiction recovery efforts. It also offers a free online message board and a 24-hour chat room available seven days a week to help the public learn about their program and receive recovery support. Registration is required before people can join online meetings.

What Is Smart Recovery’s 4-Point Program?

The 4-point program is a plan that participants can follow to aid them in reversing addictive behaviors. Tools and techniques are offered for each point. The 4-point program consists of:

Point 1: Building and Maintaining Motivation

Point 2: Coping with Urges

Point 3: Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

Point 4: Living a Balanced Life

The points do not have to be followed in order, but participants are encouraged to pause and study a specific point that addresses their situation.

How Do People Participate in Smart Recovery’s 4-Point Program?

People can download free digital resources and tools from the organization’s website that can guide them through the 4-Point Program. They are encouraged to discover how the tools work and practice them as they go through the program. Available tools include a cost/ benefits analysis that helps people determine the advantages and disadvantages of their addiction; a “change plan” worksheet to help participants pursue personal transformation; and SMART interactive tools that help people examine their addiction and addictive behaviors.

SMART-trained facilitators lead interactive meetings and provide participants space to share their recovery challenges and successes. Members also give each other support at these meetings.

Is Smart Recovery a 12-Step Program?

No. SMART differs from standard 12-Step rehabilitation programs because its foundation is in science rather than spiritual development. Nor does SMART require participants to take a moral inventory of themselves or admit powerlessness over their addiction. SMART teaches common sense, self-help procedures that focus on the behavior that drives addiction. SMART believes that “by managing the beliefs and emotions that lead you to drink or use, you can empower yourself to quit. Then you can work at problems you have with abstaining.”

SMART eschews a “one-size-fits-all” approach to addiction recovery in favor of participants tailoring programs based on their needs and preferences. “At SMART Recovery we believe that each individual finds his own path to recovery,” states its website.

Despite these stark differences, SMART members are not discouraged from participating in a 12-Step program.

Is Smart Recovery Effective In Treating Addiction?

A recent study concluded that SMART Recovery is just as effective as 12-Step programs in the treatment of alcohol abuse disorder (AUD). SMART Recovery may be a perfect fit for you or someone you love if:

  • You are seeking a scientific, rational approach to rehab.
  • You have not been successful with 12-step programs.
  • You are searching for a secular (non-faith-based) addiction recovery program.
  • You draw energy from an environment of mutual sharing and community building.
  • You are looking for support as the loved one or peer of someone impacted by addiction.
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