Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in the 1930s by two Americans who realised there was an astonishing lack of support for those struggling with alcohol issues. Their support group approach spawned the well-known 12-step programme that is the pillar of addiction recovery today. Yet one of the most important things we have learned since the 1930s is that recovery is a very individual process. No single treatment method works for everyone. Thus the introduction of the SMART Recovery alternative in the mid-1990s.
SMART is an acronym that stands for ‘self-management and recovery training’. It is an approach to alcohol recovery that has proved successful enough to result in more than 1,000 worldwide support groups serving between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals per month. Moreover, while SMART Recovery is still far behind Alcoholics Anonymous in terms of the number of people it serves, the popularity of the approach is growing.
The SMART philosophy differs from the traditional 12-step model in a number of important ways:
- Classification – The SMART model does not treat substance abuse and addiction as a lifelong disease requiring a cure. Rather, they see it as an individual problem that can be analysed, solved, and left behind. Their approach is one of finding a solution and then moving on with life.
- Spirituality – Where Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step problems acknowledge responsibility to a higher power, the SMART philosophy does not. In SMART Recovery, each individual is responsible only to him or herself. Whether he or she succeeds or fails is entirely up to them.
- Objective Analysis – To be effective, the SMART approach to resolving alcohol abuse issues relies on objective analysis. Each participant is challenged to look at alcohol use from the standpoint of benefits. In other words, what are the benefits of continued drinking compared to the benefits of stopping?
- Meetings – There is a noticeable difference between SMART meetings and those conducted under the traditional 12-step model. The average SMART meeting encourages cross talk and individual analysis, even if participants disagree from time to time. The point of the meeting is to find solutions as quickly as possible so that participants can overcome and move on. There is little room for self-pity.
SMART Recovery is certainly not for everyone. From our observation, it seems to be a philosophy that is tailored to those who are very analytical and objective. These kinds of people are able to step outside the emotional realm to look at alcohol abuse on a more factual basis. When presented with clear evidence and measurable data, they are better able to come up with solutions that work for them.
SMART Recovery is not as widely used as the founders of the group would like. Nonetheless, it is a strategy that is proving itself worthy of consideration within the modern alcohol and drug addiction recovery paradigm. The simplest way to approach it is with an attitude of ‘whatever works’.
If some people can achieve permanent recovery using the SMART method, more power to them. If others need the traditional 12-step approach in order to maintain permanent sobriety, then so be it. We have long since passed the point of arguing about which treatment method is best. Methodologies and philosophies are less important than actual success.
At Addiction Helper, your success is our number one focus. We want nothing more than to help you get the treatment you need to overcome drug and alcohol addiction. We urge you to call our 24-hour helpline and speak with one of our counsellors today. You really can get well.