What’s the Difference Between SMART Recovery and a 12-Step Program?

What's the Difference Between SMART Recovery and a 12-Step Program?

The two most popular models for addiction recovery include the SMART Recovery model and the 12-Step Program approach. Both have been around for many years, with tons of people having great success with their programs. To help people recover from addictions, they help individuals gain insight, education, and support crucial to their progress. The main difference between the two is that SMART refers to itself as a “self-empowering” program rather than an “addiction recovery program.” Ultimately, SMART Recovery and 12-step programs share similar central tenets (recovery, maintenance, giving back) but differ on crucial points. Their differences do not cause conflict; instead, they are complementary tools that recovery can use together in many cases.

A Review of the SMART Recovery Program

SMART Recovery uses evidence-based techniques to help you establish a healthy relationship with your recovery from addiction. The program utilizes motivational enhancement therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy to help identify and replace negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that can lead to substance use. SMART recovery teaches its members four points of recovery:

  • Tending to one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Increasing one’s motivation.
  • Managing one’s urges.
  • Living a balanced life.

SMART Recovery uses the SMART acronym to teach people how to change their addictive behaviors. The letters stand for the following:

  • S: Self-Management – You manage yourself rather than letting your addiction control you.
  • M: Motivational – You maintain your motivation for positive change.
  • A: Acceptance – You learn to accept your negative feelings without letting them control you.
  • R: Reflection – You reflect on your negative feelings to learn from them.
  • T: Thinking – You learn to think about your problems more positively.

SMART Recovery offers a mutual-help network for overcoming addiction. The SMART hosts 2,000 weekly meetings worldwide and offers free online participation for those unable to attend in person. Network members may participate in weekly meetings or connect online for live or prerecorded meetings. Anyone can join the network as a participant and volunteer to guide and respond to participants’ questions. Weekly meetings offer tools for recovery based on scientific research, and participants have the opportunity to become

A Review of the 12-Step Recovery Program

Twelve-step programs incorporate 12 guiding principles to help individuals overcome addiction or destructive behaviors. The foundation of these principles stresses the importance of admitting powerlessness over the addiction and recognizing one’s need for spiritual help. In the 1930s, Bill Wilson and Dr. Rob Smith found the original 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Along with the original hundred AA members, Bill Wilson penned “Alcoholics Anonymous,” commonly known as “The Big Book.” The text has sold over 30 million copies and translated into more than 50 languages. Since AA’s founding, many other organizations have adopted its principles to different addictions.

Various types of 12-step programs have adopted the AA model, including Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Gamblers Anonymous. The 12 Steps universally address:

  • Accepting responsibility for our actions and recognizing we can change them.
  • Admitting we are powerless over our addictions or compulsions.
  • Surrendering to a Power greater than themselves to recover.
  •  Identifying our wrongs and making amends for them.
  •  Taking action to improve ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually daily.
  • Spreading the message of hope and strength to the following sick and suffering fellow.

Differences Between 12-Step Programs and SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery is based on scientific research and uses the latest psychological techniques. 12-step programs, on the other hand, are rooted in spiritual principles and traditions. Furthermore, unlike AA or NA, members of SMART Recovery don’t call themselves “addicts” or “recovered addicts,” but rather “people with a drinking or drug problem.”

In SMART Recovery meetings, participants share experiences and offer advice and encouragement to others in the group. The emphasis is on optimism. Members regularly share success stories about overcoming their addiction problems since joining the program.

People who attend SMART Recovery meetings are encouraged to take responsibility for their behavior and focus on practical solutions rather than dwelling on past mistakes or giving over control of their lives to a higher power. The program emphasizes self-empowerment and self-reliance. Furthermore, SMART Recovery encourages members to set realistic goals that may include controlled alcohol or drugs rather than complete abstinence.

Participants in these 12-Step programs frequently share their experiences with newcomers and other members at meetings. Meetings may be held in person or virtually, depending on the type of program and location. Because these community groups are spread worldwide, meetings may be available at any time of day or night and in any language. Some programs may even have home meetings that allow people to work through the process concisely.

How To Choose The Right Recovery Program For You

Both SMART Recovery and 12-Step programs can work. If you’re looking to find the right program for you, here are some factors to consider:

Schedule: Both programs are offered at different times and locations. Try to find a meeting that works with your schedule. For example, even many treatment centers hold 12-Step meetings or SMART meetings.

Commitment Level Required: SMART Recovery offers a more flexible structure than 12-Step programs. This approach may favor those who don’t feel restricted or obligated by guidelines or structure. If you need more guidance or structure, consider a 12-Step program.

Your beliefs: Are you religious or spiritual? Do you have personal beliefs around your SUD? Some people will feel more comfortable with a spiritual approach, while others might prefer a more evidence-based therapeutic program.

Your Own Past Experiences: How have you responded to different programs in the past? Think about what worked for you before and adopt similar strategies moving forward.

The severity of your problem: If your substance use has progressed to chemical dependency and alcohol addiction, 12-step programs might be more appropriate.

Ultimately the biggest challenge for addicts and their families is understanding the nature of addiction. To achieve recovery, one needs to change ingrained behavioral patterns. SMART Recovery allows people to set goals, make plans, and develop essential skills to overcome addictions. The 12-step method offers support, structure, accountability, and a broad community that many people find necessary to their recovery. Having these options available to you can only help your recovery. Thus, keep an open mind about both SMART Recovery and 12-step programs as part of your path to recovery. People using the programs develop a greater understanding of their addiction, thoughts, emotions, etc. At Restoration Recovery Center, we treat the whole person, not just the addiction. And as such, we provide access and guidance through SMART Recovery and the 12-steps. Our counselors are ready to help you overcome drug or alcohol addiction. Get started today by calling us at (888) 290-0925.

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