The Difference Between SMART Recovery and 12-step Programs

Exactly What is the Difference Between SMART Recovery and 12-step Programs?

If you’ve been looking for a way to end addiction to a drug, you’ve probably heard of a few different alternatives. Two of those – 12-step programs and SMART recovery programs tend to attract much attention. If you’re considering these programs as options, you need to know how exactly they differ. The difference between SMART recovery and 12-step programs can be important because they are meaningful alternatives to each other.

Differences in the area of spiritual approach

12-step programs are controversial for the way in which they rely on the spiritual approach to helping people get better. When a participant begins with a 12-step program, one of the first things that they are called upon to do is to pray, to unburden to God, and to own up to their helplessness in the face of God’s power. While different kinds of programs exist for those who follow different religions, God is an inescapable part of it all. These programs can be very challenging for those who are atheist, agnostic or simply not very religious.

The SMART recovery approach, on the other hand, does not work with spirituality, at all. Instead, it offers a scientific, evidence-based approach that includes motivational therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and general psychological therapy, to help patients build a healthier mental life.

Differences in program length

While 12-step programs require participants to undertake to go through 12 steps on their way to recovery, the SMART recovery plan requires between 6 and 7 steps. Twelve-step programs, however, actually do encourage commitment that lasts for life. SMART recovery programs stress regular attendance far less. The stress tends to be on recovery and a return to a regular life.

Differences in rigidity

The 12-step program began with Alcoholics Anonymous, an organization that got its start 75 years ago, in the year 1939. The principles of addiction treatment set out all those years ago are applied in exactly the way they were originally thought up. SMART recovery, on the other hand, is not a rigid system. The principles used tend to keep up with the great strides made in addiction science. For this reason, the SMART approach today uses rational emotive behavioral therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and other evidence-based approaches. Treatment will continue to evolve in the future, as well.

Differences in outlook

The 12-step approach employs different programs for different addictions — there are different meetings for Cocaine Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, for example. While this might seem sophisticated, it comes from the basic idea that addiction of any kind is a form of personal weakness, one that is overcome with strength and belief in God. The SMART recovery approach, on the other hand, views any type of addiction as a mental disorder and applies different kinds of specialized treatment approach in each one.

SMART recovery meetings

Twelve-step programs are considered more an area of personal choice than a scientifically valid treatment approach. If it’s medically valid treatment that you look for, you need to turn to SMART recovery. What are SMART recovery meetings like, however? What can you expect when you attend such program?

Meetings are about an hour in length. Meeting facilitators welcome participants give each a printed explanation of the aim of the program and encourage the freewheeling conversation to help everyone understand the different SMART tools placed their disposal. Tools with names like Destructive Irrational Self-talk Awareness & Refusal Method, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Stages of Change, Change Plan Worksheet, and ABCs of REBT for Urge Coping and Emotional Upsets, are all commonly used.

While there are no specific, large-scale studies that go into identifying a success rate for SMART recovery, it does stand every opportunity of succeeding, simply because it goes with medical science. Whether you’re looking to inquire about the difference between SMART recovery and 12-step programs, it would be an idea to talk to the experts at WhiteSands Treatment. Call (877) 855-3470 now to learn more.

If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.