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Smart Recovery

Before he had even gotten out of high school, Kevin had already fully immersed himself in the alcohol-focused mindset of college life. That ritual went on for more than half his life as Kevin battled addiction. He had tried a 12-step program to chase his demons away, but he believed the one-size-fits-all approach wasn’t tailored for him.

Then, by happenstance, Kevin stumbled upon a substance abuse treatment program based on scientific strategies and self-empowerment techniques and, suddenly, he was hooked. Kevin has been in recovery now for more than four years. He said the SMART Recovery® program, which encourages reliance on self rather than a higher power, has changed his life.

That’s good for Kevin and thousands of others because the need for recovery has never been greater.

More than 10 percent of the population in the United States above the age of 12 will abuse a chemical substance at some time during the year.

That’s almost 50 million Americans. Just as alarming, abusive drinking leads to more than 85,000 deaths each year in the United States.

Most of the people who look for help are typically directed to a substance abuse treatment facility. Whether they begin recovery on an inpatient or outpatient basis, these same people will more than likely be encouraged to continue treatment by attending a 12-step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA).

In some facilities, participation in these programs is a requirement of clinical treatment.

Numbers back that claim including one survey, which found that nearly 80 percent of clinicians surveyed had referred their clients to 12-step groups. Participation in AA and NA is also usually mandated by the courts system as well.

But, for all the success stories written at AA or NA, for some reason or another, 12-step groups have not been the answer for a good number of people. Rather than surrender to hopelessness, thousands have turned instead toward an alternative path to sobriety. It’s called SMART Recovery®.


Self-Management and Recovery Training – SMART – is a global nonprofit organization that has been around for 25 years. An alternative to 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, SMART Recovery® employs a free science-based approach to tackle addiction, and it is rooted in four points:

  • Building and maintaining motivation to abstain
  • Coping with urges
  • Managing thoughts, feelings and behaviors
  • Living a balanced life

SMART Recovery® preaches 10 tools and techniques as a pathway to freedom from addiction and addictive behaviors. Under the four-point program, they include:

  • Stages of Change
  • Change Plan Worksheet
  • Cost/Benefit Analysis (Decision-making worksheet)
  • ABCs of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) for Urge Coping
  • ABCs of REBT for Emotional Upsets
  • DISARM (Destructive Imagery and Self-Talk Awareness & Refusal Method)
  • Brainstorming
  • Role-playing and Rehearsing
  • USA (Unconditional Self-Acceptance)
  • HOV (Hierarchy of Values)

Compared to 12-step programs, a National Institute on Drug Abuse study reported that SMART Recovery® was “effective in improving health employment status.” However, the study found that “improvements in alcohol use and life satisfaction occurred in both approaches.”


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For some, the biggest sticking point with AA or NA is the spiritual component of the programs. As a treatment option to consider, SMART Recovery® is based on a scientific foundation, not a spiritual one.

People who attend SMART meetings are directed to increase their self-reliance, rather than accept powerlessness over their addictions. A belief in God and a view that addiction is a disease are not promoted, either. Another difference from 12-step programs is that SMART Recovery® participants do not obtain sponsors. In AA or NA, sponsors serve as mentors – often outside of meetings – to guide new people through recovery. In SMART Recovery®:

  • Meetings, led by a volunteer facilitator, involve discussions in which individuals talk with one another rather than to one another, using one of the 10 tools to work through addiction issues.
  • Attendance at meetings is suggested for months to years, but probably not a lifetime.
  • When they cannot attend a SMART Recovery® meeting, participants are encouraged to attend another type of support group.
  • Sponsorship is not encouraged.
  • Labels, such as “alcoholic” or “addict,” are not used to identify participants.


Regardless of which support group is preferred, people who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol share a common bond: continued abuse despite adverse consequences. That’s because addiction holds a long and powerful grip on the brain. Doctors refer to this type of influence as a “substance-related and addictive disorder.”

Besides alcohol and drugs, individuals can get addicted to anything from sex and gambling to shopping and the internet. A common denominator with any addiction is when the behavior becomes overwhelming to the point where life becomes unmanageable. Yet, the behavior continues, even when the consequences are life-threatening.

Some of the danger signs of addictive behavior include:

  • Spending too much time engaging in the behavior, thinking about or arranging to engage in the behavior, or recovering from the effects
  • Dependency on the behavior to help cope with emotions and to “feel normal”
  • Continuing the behavior despite physical and/or mental harm
  • Difficulty limiting the behavior despite a desire to stop
  • Neglecting work, school, or family to engage in the behavior more often
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when attempting to stop
  • Minimizing or hiding the extent of the problem

Signs and symptoms of drug or alcohol addiction may vary depending on the individual and the substance abused, family history, and personal circumstances.


Withdrawal occurs in individuals who have developed physiological and physical dependence on drugs or alcohol and who eliminate or reduce their use of the substance.


Withdrawal symptoms begin to surface when an individual reduces the intake of a substance below levels that the body had become accustomed to metabolizing. This can impact a range of bodily functions and systems. Typical withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and drugs include:

  • Cravings
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Trembling
  • Seizures
  • Sweats
  • Irrational behavior


Alcoholism and drug addiction do not have to lead to a dead end. The important thing is to ask for help. Each person in recovery from substance abuse can determine which path to recovery works best for them. A good starting point to consider is detoxification.

This type of treatment that rids the body of all addictive chemicals can be found at either a hospital or professionally managed residential substance abuse treatment facility.

Here, doctors can prescribe medications to alleviate pain and discomfort associated with alcohol and drug withdrawal and licensed staff can monitor progress and prevent any health complications in a safe and quiet environment.


Addiction can be beaten. Your decision to detox is an indication that you want to regain control of your life. And those desires no longer include alcohol and drugs. However, there is more to achieving sustained sobriety than you may have thought.

If you are serious and believe you have the resolve to commit to recovery, a residential substance abuse treatment facility is highly recommended after detox. Under the supervision of certified health and substance abuse professionals, addiction is combated through individualized treatment programs that include one-on-one counseling, group therapy, and educational workshops that can increase the chances of recovery.

Start Your Journey to Recovery Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, then you know all too well the dire effects drugs and alcohol can have on families and friends. The problem is that most people don’t acknowledge a problem. Hang in there. You have just taken the first step toward recovery.

If you are willing to give sobriety a shot but recognize you need specialized help to change your life around, you can find assistance at The Palm Beach Institute. Beginning with detox and on through our post-treatment alumni program, our highly trained medical professionals and substance abuse counselors are ready to help. Call now to speak with one of our addiction specialists for more information.


National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from from from

SMART Recovery. Retrieved from from from

Scientific American. Retrieved from from from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from from from

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