If you want to stop drinking alcohol for a month, you might try SMART Recovery®. SMART Recovery is a self-help program that gives you the tools to understand why you are drinking and helps you evaluate what changes you want to make in your life related to drinking.
Here, we hear from a school teacher who stopped drinking with the help of SMART Recovery. She tells us more about SMART Recovery, and how you can use the method at home in order to learn more about yourself as you abstain from alcohol. Please leave us your questions about not drinking at the end of the page. We can respond to your questions personally to try to help you stop drinking on your own.
What is SMART?
SMART stands for “Self Management And Recovery Training“. In simple terms, SMART Recovery is a self-help program.
The program uses principles of motivational interviewing found in Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET) and techniques taken from Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), particularly the version called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). So it’s like the “best of” psychotherapy techniques taken specifically for problem drinking. The program views alcohol abuse as a complex maladaptive behavior with physical and mental causes. SMART hosts group meetings, but its principles of staying motivated, coping with urges, and managing thought, feelings and behaviors feel more like guided psychotherapy than 12 step meetings.
ADDICTION BLOG: What attracted you to SMART? Did you try 12 step? Do you see any commonalities?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: I never tried 12 step – I am a school teacher and just could not believe that people would truly be anonymous when it came to sitting with your child’s teacher in an AA meeting. So I decided to quit without support. When I found I needed support my therapist suggested SMART Recovery On-Line. I was immediately drawn to the clear minded concepts and the idea that I can choose to take control of my actions.
ADDICTION BLOG: What tips, suggestions or advice do you have for someone wanting to address alcohol issues who is just starting SMART?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: Go open the SMART tool box and look around. Read the article, “Who Controls You”. And then the next week read it again – and after a full month read it one more time. Write out a Cost Benefit Analysis on paper. Write out a Hierarchy of Values. Take your work into a meeting and get feedback. Learn to do an effective ABC. CHOOSE to give it your all. It is not easy – but it IS worth it!
ADDICTION BLOG: How is SMART like group therapy? How is SMART not like group therapy?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: I suppose it is very much like group therapy – but there is not typically a professional therapist present. I was convinced many facilitators were therapists in my early days. Knowing and using the SMART Recovery tools surely makes you sound like a professional in the field. But truly it is peer support. We encourage others in the group to jump in and share feedback and experiences.
ADDICTION BLOG: What has been the most helpful element of SMART for you?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: The tools and kind support of others going through similar struggles. Without the tools I would be putting a bandaid on a mortal wound. Quitting drinking is not the big challenge. It is just the tip of the iceberg. Staying stopped and living life on life’s terms – now THAT is a challenge! And for that the tools are masterful.
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: Can anyone and everyone benefit from SMART? Or does SMART only work for a certain type of person?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: I would say that anyone who applies themselves and wants to be in control of their lives would find benefit from SMART Recovery. It is hard for me to understand how anyone would not want that. But I surely have met people who do not seem ready. They don’t want to take responsibility. Does that mean it won’t work for them? I don’t think I would go that far. But maybe I would say they won’t work for it.
ADDICTION BLOG: Is there a pivotal moment in the SMART Recovery process like an, “AHA!” moment where sobriety or abstinence becomes easier? In 12 step groups, people talk about a spiritual awakening. Is there an equivalent in SMART?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: I would say that I had a pivotal moment when I had been faced with the challenge of spending a week alone at home where “No one will know!” I was given the suggestion to write out a cost benefit analysis about drinking (one of our building motivation tools) followed by a Hierarchy of Values exercise, both of which you can download from the SMART website.
I was amazed when I realized that taking a drink had an impact on all of the important things in my life. At the end of the week a dear friend asked what I had learned. And I summarized my experience by saying that I learned that what I want in life are things that sober living can bring me. I CHOOSE to live a sober life. I choose the life I get when drinking is not a part of the picture. After that realization – I no longer had urges to drink. They simply disappeared.
ADDICTION BLOG: How much time does the average participant study or read or write or prepare for SMART every week?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: That is hard to say. People who attend face to face meetings once a week likely spend less time. I was an onliner with access 24/7. I spent a lot of time on the site, going to multiple meetings in a day – hanging out in the chat room – posting on the message boards. Really immersing myself in SMART Recovery. At one point, I felt like I had replaced my addiction with the computer! But if that was the case – it certainly was a much safer addiction to have.
In the meantime, I continued to learn how to more effectively deal with upsets – so that I had strategies in place to deal with upsets rather than turn to a bottle to try to escape them.
I grew up with SMART Recovery. I finally have learned to handle my upsets pretty effectively. Having said that – I do believe that some people spend a lot of time hanging out at SMART Recovery and not using the tools and consequently not being able to effectively stop their addictive behavior. So time spent is quality – not quantity.
ADDICTION BLOG: Do you HAVE to buy all of the recommended SMART books? Which ones really helped you?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: You don’t have to buy any books. The handbook is very worthwhile to purchase. Depending on what your focus is – I would recommend Horvath’s Sex, Drugs, Gambling and Chocolate, Anne Fletcher’s Sober for Good, and for those who are looking for support because a family member is struggling with addiction I would recommend Bob Meyers Get Your Loved One Sober; Alternatives to Nagging Pleading and Threatening. All 3 of these books were helpful to me at different times and in different ways.
ADDICTION BLOG: Are relationships with others who are also pursuing abstinence outside the SMART meetings encouraged or possible?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: Encouraged?? Not actively. But not frowned on either, really. But people are encouraged to use great caution with sharing information. It is Self Management. Do what works for you. Having said that – it certainly happens a lot. I have friends from all over the world. GOOD FRIENDS! We have an annual conference each year which is attended by about 75 SMARTies from around the world. It is always a very useful time – but lots of fun and getting to know each other too. I will say I know of at least 2 marriages that resulted in on-line meetings.
ADDICTION BLOG: What do you like the most about SMART?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: I love the tools. I love the people. I love all of the volunteers who came before me and kept SMART Recovery alive and well for me to find when I needed it. I love the Joe Gersteins and the Tom Horvaths who do not struggle with addictions of their own – but who have dedicated their lives to help others get their lives back. That humbles me more than anything. I love Shari Allwood and Jodi Dayton who are the glue of the organization and keep it running so smoothly – volunteering as many hours as they get paid and doing it all so professionally and so well.
ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
SMART RECOVERY PARTICIPANT: If you want to get your life back – there are plenty of ways out there to do it. Find what works for you. Maybe one – maybe 2 or 3 different programs. Tailor make your own recovery program and then immerse yourself so you can regain your strength and your inertia. Then play full out.