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What Is SMART Recovery?

Learn more about SMART recovery, SMART vs Alcoholics Anonymous, and how to seek Self-Management and Recovery Training at San Diego Detox.

SMART Recovery Meaning

Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) is a mental health support program that focuses on improving human behavior, attitudes, and feelings. The SMART addiction recovery program is built to assist people with substance use disorders to abstain from substance use and create healthy lifestyle patterns.1 The SMART addiction recovery approach embraces a more scientific method. It employs cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), and non-confrontational motivating strategies in treatment. In SMART addiction recovery, the individual’s ability to use the various tools and methods offered within the program to heal and change via self-empowerment is the sole source of power.

SMART Recovery Statistics

Numerous studies have demonstrated that the SMART Recovery program’s emphasis on self-empowerment leads to more long-lasting and sustainable recovery. The SMART Recovery method focuses on the individual’s strengths to effect the positive changes desired.

SMART Recovery Success Rates

There have been numerous success stories about the SMART Recovery method’s effectiveness. Scientific evidence supporting SMART’s efficacy in coping with alcohol dependence issues is the most recent. In July 2013, the Journal of Medical Internet Research released the results of a randomized clinical trial on the effectiveness of SMART Recovery, which was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Researchers selected one hundred and eighty-nine heavy drinkers for the study. The study put them through a three-month recovery program. The results revealed a significant rise in their percent days abstinent (PDA) and a decrease in their alcohol-related difficulties and drinks per drinking day (DDD). Demonstrating that SMART Recovery is highly effective in helping people recover from alcohol addiction.2

SMART Recovery 4 Points Program

The SMART Recovery approach consists of four steps. This implies that treatment and recovery phases are divided into four easy parts by the program’s principles and practices. These parts are not meant to be completed in any order. Instead, they will be equally successful regardless of which is attempted first. The SMART Recovery 4 points include:

Building and Maintaining Motivation

This approach emphasizes the importance of sobriety to increase the willingness to stay sober. This is commonly achieved by highlighting the benefits of sober living while showing the disadvantages of backsliding.

Coping with Urges

Participants are aided in building effective coping methods that lower the chances of relapsing. In addition, they are further equipped with proven techniques to help them resist these urges if they come up in the future.

Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

Unfounded ideologies that can lead to relapse are addressed here from the ground up. This approach is based on knowing that recognizing distorted thinking about substance abuse is the first step in overcoming it.

Living a Balanced Life

The main goal of this fourth point is to ensure that participants enjoy a more meaningful and long-term existence, even when the program is completed. The SMART Recovery program teaches participants how to create realistic objectives and plan for the future.3

12 Steps of AA vs. SMART’s Stages of Change

Alcoholics Anonymous uses the 12-step program, while SMART Recovery programs are based on “the six stages of change.”

12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

The 12 steps of AA are generally summed below.


Honesty includes admitting powerlessness over alcohol.


Hope consists of believing in a higher power to restore sanity.


Surrendering equates to deciding to turn over one’s will and life to God.


Courage means making a fearless moral search for oneself.


Integrity brings forth the process of admitting the exact nature of one’s wrongs.


With willingness, the individual shifts towards being entirely ready for God to remove all character defects.


Humility means humbly asking God to remove one’s shortcomings.


Love is making a list of people one has harmed and being ready to make amends.


Responsibility creates individuals reaching out to people one has harmed in the past, except in circumstances when doing so would cause more harm.


Discipline is a mindset wherein one is continually assessing one’s improvement and admitting when wrong.


Awareness means consciously maintaining contact with God.


Responsibility creates individuals reaching out to people one has harmed in the past, except in circumstances when doing so would cause more harm.


To practice service, one will show others the light through principles that are practiced.

SMART Recovery Stages of Change

Since people tend to be in one or more stages of change, the SMART Recovery program is predicated on the notion that taking a different strategy at each step of the recovery process is the most effective method. Thus, the SMART Recovery goals aim to make these stages progressive.4 These stages include the following.


At this stage, the individual is unaware of the risks inherent with behavior and a refusal to change.


Here, the individual becomes aware of behavioral issues and explores the possibility of change.


In this process, one accepts responsibility for changing behavior and creates a strategy.


Here, the individual participates in self-directed behavioral change and attempts to learn new things and build new skills.


In this stage, the person masters the ability to maintain new behavior with minimal effort.


Finally, the individual adopts a new self-image congruent with desired behavior and lifestyle and resists temptation in all situations.

SMART Recovery vs. AA

While both the AA and SMART Addiction Recovery programs are based on group meetings and emphasize the need to seek recovery in a group setting, there is some substantial difference between AA and SMART Recovery in their approaches.


Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a support group program intended to inspire and encourage sobriety in people dealing majorly with alcohol use disorder. Popularly known as the 12-step program, AA primarily focuses on using concepts such as tranquility, incapacity, and tolerance to assist a person struggling to overcome any alcohol-related dependency. In addition, through the SMART alcohol recovery initiative, SMART Recovery aims to help people seeking abstinence from alcohol, other substances, or activity dependency by equipping them to see that their sobriety is in their own hands.


While Smart Recovery has a scientific, self-empowering foundation, drawing inspiration from the litany of scientific references and clinical trials to form the program’s foundation. On the other hand, AA thrives on applying for a spiritually inclined 12 step program, commonly regarded as “the 12 steps of AA,” to reach sobriety.


AA’s primary purpose is to help people with alcohol use disorders achieve and maintain sobriety strictly by abstinence. On the other hand, SMART Recovery focuses on encouraging people to avoid damaging behaviors by utilizing individual goals, the SMART Recovery 4 points program, and motivation.


Alcoholics Anonymous uses the 12 spiritual principles of recovery in their treatment programs, including acceptance, hope, faith, courage, honesty, patience, humility, willingness, brotherly love, integrity, self-discipline, and service. SMART Recovery uses evidence-based principles combined with cognitive-behavioral methods to help participants overcome self-defeating thoughts, actions, and feelings.


The Alcoholics Anonymous program encourages sponsorship, which is when someone who has completed the AA program takes an individual trying to maintain sobriety through the AA program as a mentor. The sponsor shares his experiences regularly and personally while offering advice. The SMART Recovery program, on the other hand, does not require nor encourage a sponsor as part of its recovery program because every aspect of its meeting takes place in public.

Meeting Styles

The difference between AA and SMART Recovery is evident in their meeting styles. SMART Recovery meetings are designed to encourage interaction among attendees. Participants chat with each other about their sobriety issues and progress, as opposed to AA meetings, which are structured so that people take turns speaking to the group.

AA and SMART Recovery Near Me

There are several easy and stress-free ways to get into AA and SMART Recovery rehab programs. Technological advancements have made it simpler to access online support, discussion groups, and blogs, which are helpful alternatives and additions to in-person support groups, primarily if none exist in your area. A well-placed online search would help you find the closest AA and SMART recovery meetings around you.

AA and SMART Recovery Meetings in San Diego

There are numerous AA and SMART Recovery meetings in San Diego. San Diego Detox, for example, offers varied forms of these meetings ranging from in-person to AA and SMART Recovery online meetings to accommodate individual preferences. There are also options of AA or SMART Recovery for families to combat the issues with substance use. This is primarily because loved ones are also affected by the impacts of substance use. All these services are available to people who live in and around San Diego at the San Diego Detox center.

Find Help For Addiction Recovery At San Diego Detox

Group therapy is a powerful therapeutic strategy for treating substance abuse disorders because of the natural propensity of humans to gather and solve problems. At San Diego Detox, we are aware of these advantages, and our treatment options emphasize group support. Especially for treating problems that commonly accompany substance abuse, such as depression, isolation, and shame. Since individual needs and circumstances vary, we offer a variety of programs. In addition, we have discovered that many patients benefit from a combination of these treatments over time. Our services include:


Detoxification involves the cleansing and removing substances of abuse, their waste products, and toxins due to excessive, long-term substance dependence. Our treatment setting is frequently supported by medical supervision and counseling to help mitigate withdrawal symptoms.

Residential care

Residential care involves coming into our state-of-the-art residential facility to receive care, support, and expert help. Our residential facilities are comfortable, tailored to individual needs, and designed to help our residents thrive long after completing our program.

Support Groups

During rehabilitation at San Diego Detox, there will be opportunities to connect other people experiencing similar situations and struggles. The goal is to ensure that like-minded people who will provide the needed encouragement to stay sober surround attendees. For more information on SMART recovery, please give us a call at San Diego Detox today.