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SMART Recovery: Life Beyond Addiction is the Highest Goal

SMART is an acronym for Self Management and Recovery Training.

SMART Recovery is a nonprofit organization that offers support to anyone who desires to abstain from addictive behaviors, whether that be substances or activities; it offers this support primarily through online and/or in-person meetings.

“We refrain from using stigmatizing language’” says Josh Warren, a SMART Recovery meeting facilitator. “Recognizing that not everybody here is an addict or an alcoholic opens it up to all sorts of behavior that people are trying to change,” he continues. “We get a diverse group of people who are trying to change their unhealthy behaviors into healthier behaviors. We really talk more about the behavior than the label that is often implied or assigned to it.”

At its foundation, SMART Recovery relies upon cognitive behavioral techniques. The goal of all cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is to illuminate the influence of thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes on the resulting emotions and actions.

SMART Recovery is founded on a 4-point program:

  1. Building and Maintaining Motivation: Helps individuals identify and keep up their motivation to abstain from addictive behaviors, recognizing the benefits of change and the costs of addictive behaviors.
  2. Coping with Urges: Teaches strategies for dealing with urges and cravings, such as understanding the triggers and developing methods to resist or manage these urges.
  3. Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors: Focuses on understanding and changing the thoughts and feelings that influence behaviors. This includes learning problem-solving tools and techniques derived from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
  4. Leading a Balanced Life: Aims to help individuals create a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle, which can reduce the appeal of addictive behaviors. This involves setting goals and taking steps to build a life where addiction has less of a place.

Various tools for addressing each of the four points are shared in the meetings, as well as in worksheets which can be downloaded at no charge from smartrecovery.org. But Josh emphasizes the benefits of attending meetings.

“Consistent engagement, building relationships, sticking to routine and building structure…those are some key elements that make SMART Recovery work,” he says. “If I didn’t have some sort of structure coming to these groups every week, if it was just up to me to work out of my workbook and practice the tools on my own, I think I would struggle,” he adds. “Especially when it comes to things as challenging as cravings, urges, or addictive tendencies.”

In a SMART group meeting, a facilitator will kick things off, but the group discussion is the heart of the program. “The great thing about SMART is the conversation,” says Michael Mihailos, the regional coordinator for Maine and a meeting facilitator for five years. “If somebody relapsed that week,” he continues, “the conversation would be about trying to figure out why. What was going on last week with work, or family? Trying to understand, so it doesn’t happen again. Trying to get people to think.”

As a facilitator, Josh says, “Ideally, there’s a lot of benefit from having the members themselves interact with each other and open up the discussion. I think the least involved the facilitator can be, the better.”

“I usually go in with some kind of plan,” he adds, “but for example after the Lewiston shootings, I said, ‘This is a safe place to share how something like this can impact your recovery, or how you manage thoughts, feelings, and emotions when something like this happens.’”

Before becoming involved with SMART Recovery, Josh, like many others, was unsure of how to get started.

“One of the things discussed in those early SMART meetings was managing thoughts, cravings, and emotions, and that really spoke to me,” he says. Having used drugs since he was 12 or 13, he needed help to think clearly about how to make his recovery stick. It was like OK, I’ve stopped using, now how do I stay stopped? How do I prevent myself from sliding back into that thinking where I think a drug or a drink is a good idea?”

His involvement with SMART Recovery helped him change his own narrative. “If we can change the way we think, we can manage the way we feel, and then make healthier choices with that new insight,” Josh says.

Of his own path to recovery, Michael says, “I wasn’t from Maine, and I didn’t know where to go. I went to the Portland Recovery Community Center where Nancy Cormier, who is now a very dear friend, suggested I go to a SMART Recovery Meeting. I went into that meeting and I never left. Jim Horowitz, who was running them at the time, became my mentor. It all just clicked with me.”

He points to SMART Recovery as helping him stay the course.

“It’s not easy to stay off a substance. People who can do it for a month, a year, five years, 10 years — that’s powerful. That’s a story to tell.”

For more information, visit smartrecovery.org.

Purposes and Methods Statement

  1. We help individuals gain independence from addictive behavior.
  2. We teach how to enhance and maintain motivation; cope with urges; manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; and live a balanced life.
  3. Our efforts are based on scientific knowledge and evolve as scientific knowledge evolves.
  4. Individuals who have gained independence from addictive behavior are invited to stay involved with us, to enhance their gains and help others.

Principles and Positions

Mission Statement: To empower people to achieve independence from addiction problems with our science-based 4-Point Program.®

Recovery Through Self-Empowerment: Our mission is to help participants gain independence from any problematic addictive behavior. We believe that individuals seeking change should be fully informed about the range of options available and free to choose among them. We encourage participants to take responsibility for their own change. Our meetings support their capacity to regulate their own behavior.

Mutual Help: As participants progress, their focus can shift to enjoying the activities of a healthy, fulfilling, and productive life, including the satisfaction of assisting new participants in SMART Recovery.

Volunteer Management: SMART Recovery is operated almost entirely by volunteers, including the Board of Directors and meeting facilitators. Facilitators may have had addictive problems, or individuals without addictive problems who learned to lead SMART meetings as a service to their communities.

Acceptance: SMART Recovery participants are welcome to discuss addictive behavior with any substance or activity. SMART Recovery encourages participation by persons of any race, color, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. We do not tolerate harassment of any kind in our meetings.

Participant Support: Our meetings and online services are offered free of charge. Donations are requested. We are funded primarily through training fees, literature sales, and personal contributions. We accept funding from other sources provided that receiving such funds does not interfere with our purpose and mission.

Evidence-Based Practice: SMART Recovery uses evidence-based methods, including cognitive behavioral, non-confrontational motivational enhancement, and other methods. Our meetings focus on the application of these methods, as guided by our 4-Point Program®: 1) Building and Maintaining Motivation, 2) Coping with Urges, 3) Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors; and 4) Living a Balanced Life. The methods used in SMART Recovery evolve as scientific knowledge evolves.

Collaboration: Some participants may choose to augment their SMART Recovery experience with professional therapy, medications, or other mutual help groups. Treatment professionals may volunteer to facilitate meetings in their community or at their facility. When doing so, they switch from “therapist” to “facilitator.” Professionals are encouraged to incorporate SMART Recovery principles and tools into their work.

International Presence: SMART Recovery is an international organization. We support local volunteers so that our meetings can be available in every country. We support national health services and professionals so that SMART Recovery International oversees our global operations.

Kim Wilson is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Bath. She enjoys volunteering, renovating her World War I-era home and exploring the Midcoast.

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