Comparing SMART Recovery and the 12-step Model

Comparing SMART Recovery and the 12-step Model

For over 80 years, the 12-step program has helped millions of people achieve sobriety. However, there have long been questions about the efficacy of the 12-step model, as well as the deep entrenchment of spirituality within the program. One of the most promising newer models for treatment of substance use is called SMART Recovery. While obviously, any program that gets us to exchange our substance use for a life of recovery and wellness is a good thing, now that we have options, it is good to understand what those options are.

The Tried and True of 12-step Recovery

The original model of 12-step treatment for addiction was developed in 1938. At the time, it was groundbreaking and helped to not only treat people with alcohol use disorder but also helped to raise awareness of alcohol use. Over time, the stigma around alcohol use has changed, but the program has changed less. While it has been applied to treat so many more addictions besides alcohol or other substances, the principles remain largely the same. 

The name comes from the twelve steps we are asked to take to recover from addiction. One of the primary points is admitting that we are “powerless” in our “disease” of addiction. Most of the steps involve turning to God or a higher power and relying on that higher power to maintain our sobriety.

Working the Steps

The steps are 1 through 12, and we are meant to work through each step, then move onto the next. In addition to turning our lives over to a higher power, the steps include making a list of the things we did to bring harm to others while in our substance use and then making amends as best as possible to those people. 

Spirituality and Sponsorship

Prayer and meditation are encouraged, and the willingness to help, or sponsor others along their recovery journey is also part of the program. These sponsors help us, then we, in turn, help others, which is a personal one on one support during our initial recovery period. Additionally, there are weekly meetings to attend, support that lasts a lifetime. 

Some people do not like a program that is so heavily based on spirituality. Additionally, there are questions about relying on an unseen power for what is a very tangible condition. Others take issue with being asked to attend meetings for life, even if some people enjoy that level of support. There are also concepts that are less science-based, such as labeling addiction as a “disease,” or telling ourselves that we are “powerless,” when scientific evidence indicates otherwise. There are also varying statistics about the success rate of the 12-step program, many of which are shockingly low.

An Updated Model: SMART Recovery

For those who want an alternative to the 12-step program, for one reason or another, a newer model was created in 1994. Called SMART Recovery, the concept is self-reliance in recovery. There is no spiritual component to the recovery plan, rather it is founded on evidence-based practices. 

For those who are spiritual, they can still maintain their own spirituality while in recovery, but the program itself catches treatment up with standard medical practices, in that it is based on science instead of religion. While faith can be very valuable to many people in healing, this program is not exclusive to anyone.

Four Steps of Recovery

SMART Recovery is based on four steps. These include building and maintaining motivation, coping with urges, managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and living a balanced life. The program focuses on behavior modification techniques discovered in the 1950s that teach us to change from within and develop our self-reliance when it comes to our recovery.

The steps are simple and easy to understand and they empower us to take control of our lives again. There are no labels or shame or guilt, no need to rely on any other power but our own. Evidence-based practices are those with scientific evidence of their efficacy, and this gives an edge to SMART Recovery because the methods are tangible and accessible to all. 

Evidence-based Treatment

Another hallmark of the SMART Recovery program is that being science-based, the use of therapy and medications is encouraged, rather than just relying on a higher power. These components of treatment are also science-based, and very helpful to so many people in the healing process. 

Those who wish to volunteer with the program are welcome, but not required. There are meetings available for those in recovery, either face-to-face or online where other meetings are not available. They are not mandatory, and their structure is purely for support, so they can be attended as needed. Optimally, the concept is that we become self-reliant in our own recovery.

Making the Choice

Ideally, we will find a treatment center that offers multiple options for us to choose what works best for us. Some people really like having the spiritual component of recovery, as well as the structure of mandatory lifetime meetings. For others, the ability to rely on our own devices and the use of modern, evidence-based practices feels better. Ultimately, it is up to you to choose your own method of healing.

Choose the recovery model that is right for you at AToN Center by calling (888) 535-1516. We will work with you on the recovery model that feels best for you. We value the opportunity for you to make choices in your own treatment and take control of your own recovery.

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