Self Management and Recovery Training or SMART Recovery (SR), is a self-help approach to recovery from alcohol and chemical dependence. The active ingredient in SR is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), developed in 1955 by Dr. Albert Ellis. REBT has spawned the variety of cognitive-behavior therapies now so popular among psychotherapists.

SMART recovery appeals to those individuals who prefer a rational approach to life's problems. According to SR's radical message, no one is powerless over their drug/alcohol abuse.

SR asserts that unrealistic thinking is the essential cause of addiction, and that such thinking takes the form of "must's," "awful's," and "can't-stand-it's." By changing the thinking process, the addictive behavior can be overcome.

"I MUST get high! It's AWFUL to be deprived! I CAN'T STAND discomfort!" is the refrain of those addicted. Such "musty" notions leads you to escape into drugs. The antidote consists of fully accepting frustration as an inevitable aspect of life: "I PREFER to have another drink or to get high, but no earthly reason exists why I MUST. I don't LIKE the momentary deprivation, but it's hardly AWFUL. I definitely CAN STAND what I don't like--even extreme discomfort. Although my drug would feel good for the moment, it will do me no good in the long run. Therefore, I had better not give in to the temptation of immediate pleasure."

SR helps you successfully complete the two-stage process for long-term relief, by targeting your addiction-creating "musts." Stage One consists of recognizing that your "musts"--but not your "preferences"--are false; that although it would be "preferable" to avoid discomfort, it's never a "must." You don't always "have to" feel entirely comfortable and you usually won't.

Stage Two consists of thoroughly convincing yourself of the truth of these insights. Accomplish this by vigorously and persistently confronting, disputing, and replacing, with preferences, your unrealistic "musts." Continue to do this until you give them all up. Further, push yourself to avoid drugs and alcohol. With these actions you reaffirm the following: great discomfort is never horrible or awful--instead, it diminishes as you consistently face, rather than avoid, life's hassles.

SR, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is led by volunteers, is open to the public, and has no admission charge. It's designed to aid people recovering from alcohol and chemical dependence. It differs from AA in a number of respects:

  1. SR is based on a scientifically derived, coherent theory of psychotherapy (REBT), supported by hundreds of studies published in the psychological literature, whereas AA has its roots in the theology of the evangelical Oxford Group Movement.

  2. While AA encourages each member to have a sponsor, SR emphasizes techniques that foster self-reliance. It stresses autonomy and self-help at the individual level.

  3. SR encourages "crosstalk," especially in the form of questions, confrontation, and advice, whereas AA forbids it.

  4. We advocate homework assignments. This involves specific suggestions for combating unrealistic thinking and compulsive substance abuse. We encourage members to write these down immediately, so that they'll not be quickly forgotten. We also make an effort to check up on assignments at the next meeting, to lend support and encouragement, and make further suggestions.

  5. In stark contrast with AA, one of SR's major goals is to help participants avoid addiction to recovery meetings--that is, to quickly learn and practice empowering outlooks and strategies on their own. They don't have to attend SR groups forever.

  6. While AA considers its members first, last, and always as "Alcoholics," SR doesn't view its participants as "Addicts," but rather as individuals in their own right, possessing innumerable traits--positive, neutral, and negative (their addiction existing as only one cluster of these traits). Consequently, SR concludes that no human being can be defined, in toto, by any single set of traits. Someone who is compulsively drinking, for example, is a person with an alcohol problem, rather than "An Alcoholic." Or to put it differently: you are not your mistake; your personhood consists of much more than select aspects of your behavior.

  7. As mentioned above, SR doesn't view addicted individuals as helpless or powerless in the face of their addiction. Unless they're physically tied down and then intoxicated by force, it's precisely their power, more specifically the power of their beliefs, ideas, and commands to themselves, which starts them using, gets them addicted, and maintains their habit.

  8. SR clearly makes the point, ad nauseam, that the root of our drug problem lies not in our dysfunctional families, nor in our addicted parents, nor in our "codependent" partners. Rather, the cause consists of our unreasonable belief systems which we--all by our lonesome selves--invent, reinforce, and maintain. Then, we get extra "assistance" from our nutty families, unreasonable parents, and irrational partners.

  9. SR focuses, therefore, on attacking dysfunctional thinking and rationalizations. SR encourages participants to confront, question, and challenge their destructive notions again and again and again.

These points illustrate fundamental differences between SR and AA. Primary among them is that the individual is powerful, not powerless, over addiction and recovery.

Please don't take our word for it that SR is an effective approach to recovery--attend a meeting and judge for yourself. For information about local meetings contact Dr. Edelstein at (415) 673-2848 or at DrEdelstein@ThreeMinuteTherapy.com.To contact SMART Recovery's national headquarters call (440) 951-5357.