Wayne Ergle
September 15, 2023

SMART Recovery: Addiction Recovery Program – A Comprehensive Overview

There’s a saying that goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” For many of us, that step is the hardest. I know this all too well, especially when the path is riddled with the thorns of addiction. For over 20 years, alcohol was my constant companion. It was my crutch, solace, and, ironically, my poison. Two bottles of vodka or its equivalent in beer or wine was a daily ritual. The idea of parting ways? Overwhelming, to say the least.

But here’s the thing: it’s not impossible. If you’re reading this, perhaps you’re looking for a way out, a method, a guide. Or maybe you’re just curious about what SMART Recovery is all about. Either way, you’re in the right place.

In this guide, we’ll dive deep into the heart of SMART Recovery, exploring its tools, techniques, and philosophy that sets it apart. But more than that, we’ll weave in personal and shared stories to illuminate the path of recovery. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not just about knowledge; it’s about connection, understanding, and the shared human experience.

So, whether you’re taking your first tentative steps or well on your journey, let’s embark on this exploration together. Let’s demystify, analyze, and, most importantly, find hope in the transformative power of SMART Recovery’s addiction treatment program.

TL;DR: Key Takeaways from the SMART Recovery Guide

  1. What is SMART Recovery?
    • SMART Recovery stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. It’s a science-based program emphasizing self-empowerment and the power of choice in overcoming addiction.
  2. Core Philosophy:
    • Unlike traditional 12-step programs, SMART Recovery is grounded in evidence-based practices, focusing on self-empowerment and the belief that people struggling with addiction can overcome addiction through knowledge and skills.
  3. Tools and Techniques:
    • SMART provides addiction help with a range of practical tools based on its 4-point program.  Tools include Hierarchy of Values, Cost Benefit Analysis, Disputing Irrational Beliefs, Unconditional Self-Acceptance, and many others. 
  4. Meetings and Community:
    • In-person and online meetings are available, providing a supportive environment for sharing, learning, and mutual growth. The Nashville Monday SMART meeting I have hosted since October 2019 is a testament to the program’s community-driven approach.
  5. Success Stories:
  6. Getting Started:
    • To embark on the SMART Recovery program journey, familiarize yourself with its philosophy, explore available resources, attend meetings, engage with the community, and consistently apply the variety of tools and techniques.
  7. Resources:
    • A wealth of meetings and resources, including blogs, podcasts, and a YouTube channel, are available to support and guide individuals on their recovery journey.

What is SMART Recovery?

At its core, SMART Recovery stands for Self-Management and Recovery Training. It’s not just another name among the myriad of addiction recovery programs; it’s a beacon for many navigating the challenges of the addiction epidemic. But what makes it so unique? Why are countless people seeking recovery turning to it, seeking recovery and a life beyond addiction?

A close up of a lit light bulb against a shallow depth of field background. Symbolizes what you can learn from SMART Recovery.

A Science-Based Approach

SMART Recovery is grounded in evidence and research, making it a science-based program. Unlike traditional 12-step programs, SMART Recovery emphasizes the power of choice and self-empowerment. It’s not about labeling oneself as an addict for life but about harnessing the self-empowering program to overcome addictive behaviors and substances.

The 4-Point Program

The 4-point program is the backbone of SMART Recovery. It offers practical tools and strategies to navigate the tumultuous waters of addiction. The program is comprehensive and holistic, from building motivation to managing urges, understanding the hierarchy of values, and living a balanced life.

Meetings: In-Person and Online

SMART Recovery meetings, both in-person and online, play a pivotal role. These mutual support meetings offer a safe space for individuals to share, connect, and grow. And if you’re wondering where to find a SMART Recovery meeting in your area, a vast online and in-person network is ready to welcome you.

Emphasis on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Another unique aspect? The emphasis is on cognitive behavioral therapy. This approach helps individuals understand the connection between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, offering a roadmap to change and transformation.

Digital Resources and Platforms

In the age of the digital, SMART Recovery online platforms, including forums, podcasts, and daily online meetings, offer invaluable resources. Whether you’re looking for the latest blogs on addiction or seeking to discover the power of choice through interactive sessions, there’s a wealth of information at your fingertips.

The 4-Point Program of SMART Recovery

The 4-point program is the essence of SMART Recovery, offering a structured approach to addiction recovery. Each point addresses a critical aspect of the recovery journey, providing individuals with actionable strategies and insights to overcome their addictions.

Building and Maintaining Motivation

Motivation is the driving force behind any significant change. In the context of addiction recovery, it’s the spark that ignites the journey. The first point of the 4-point program emphasizes understanding one’s reasons for change and harnessing that motivation to fuel the recovery journey.

Coping with Urges

Urges and cravings are inevitable challenges in the recovery process. Recognizing triggers, understanding the underlying emotions, and employing strategies to manage these urges are crucial. This point delves into practical techniques, from delaying responses to disputing irrational beliefs, ensuring individuals are equipped to face and overcome these challenges.

Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors

Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected. Negative thought patterns can lead to destructive behaviors, especially in the context of addiction. This point emphasizes recognizing and challenging these patterns and using tools like cognitive behavioral therapy to foster positive change.

Living a Balanced Life

Recovery isn’t just about abstaining from addictive substances or behaviors; it’s about building a fulfilling, balanced life. This point focuses on the broader picture, encouraging individuals to find balance in various aspects of life, from relationships to personal passions, ensuring a holistic approach to recovery.

SMART Recovery Tools and Techniques in SMART Recovery

Understanding the philosophy and structure of SMART Recovery is essential, but the practical tools and techniques empower individuals on their recovery journey. These tools, rooted in evidence-based practices, offer actionable strategies to navigate challenges and foster lasting change.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is the Basis

At the heart of many SMART Recovery tools is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This evidence-based approach emphasizes the connection between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Individuals can foster positive behavioral changes by understanding and challenging negative thought patterns, making it a cornerstone in the addiction recovery process.

Black and white close up of a hammer, pair pillars, and a screw driver on a work bench symbolizing smart recovery tools and techniques.

Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA)

Making informed decisions is crucial in recovery. The Cost-Benefit Analysis tool encourages individuals to weigh the pros and cons of their behaviors, providing clarity and aiding in decision-making. One can make choices aligned with their recovery goals by visualizing the short- and long-term consequences.

Hierarchy of Values (HOV)

Understanding one’s core values can be a guiding light in recovery. The Hierarchy of Values tool helps individuals identify and prioritize what truly matters to them, ensuring their actions align with their values and long-term aspirations.

DEADS – Defeat Urges

Urges can be powerful, but they aren’t insurmountable. The DEADS acronym is Delaying, Escaping, Accepting, Disputing, and Substituting. Each strategy offers a unique approach to managing and overcoming urges, ensuring individuals have a toolkit of techniques at their disposal.

ABCs of Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) for Urge Coping

Events in our lives can trigger emotional responses, but our beliefs about these events shape our reactions. The ABCs tool, rooted in REBT, breaks down the Activating event, Beliefs, and Consequences, helping individuals understand and manage their emotional responses more effectively.

DIBs: Disputing Irrational Beliefs

Our minds can sometimes harbor beliefs not rooted in reality, harming our recovery. DIBs is a tool that helps individuals identify and challenge these irrational beliefs. By disputing them, one can replace negative thought patterns with more rational, positive ones, paving the way for healthier behaviors.

DISARM: Destructive Images and Self Talk Awareness and Refusal Method

Negative self-talk and destructive imagery can be powerful triggers in the recovery journey. DISARM provides a method to recognize these harmful patterns and actively refuse to engage with them. Individuals can prevent potential relapses and strengthen their recovery by being aware and challenging these thoughts.


Recovery is a journey; like any journey, it requires a clear destination. Goal-setting is a fundamental tool in SMART Recovery, helping individuals define their aspirations and chart a course towards them. One can maintain focus and motivation throughout recovery by setting clear, achievable goals.

Lifestyle Balance Pie

A balanced life is a cornerstone of lasting recovery. The Lifestyle Balance Pie is a visual tool that helps individuals assess various aspects of their lives, from work to relationships to personal passions. One can cultivate a fulfilling life supporting recovery by ensuring a balanced distribution.

Role-Playing Rehearsal

Preparation is critical, especially when faced with challenging situations. Role-playing rehearsal allows individuals to simulate potential scenarios, practicing their responses and strategies. This tool equips them with the confidence and skills to navigate real-life challenges effectively.

Urge Log

Recognizing and understanding urges is crucial. The Urge Log is a tool that encourages individuals to document their urges, noting down triggers, intensity, and responses. Over time, this log provides valuable insights, helping individuals identify patterns and develop effective coping strategies.

VACI: Vital Absorbing Creative Interest

Passion can be a powerful antidote to addiction. VACI emphasizes the importance of finding and immersing oneself in captivating and constructive activities. Whether art, music, writing, or any other pursuit, these interests can provide a positive distraction, reducing the pull of addictive behaviors and offering a fulfilling alternative.

USA: Unconditional Self-Acceptance

Recovery is as much about self-love as it is about abstaining from addictive behaviors. USA, or Unconditional Self-Acceptance, is a tool that promotes the idea that every individual is worthy of love and acceptance, regardless of their past actions or mistakes. By embracing oneself wholly, flaws and all, individuals can build a strong foundation of self-worth, which is crucial for a successful recovery journey.

SMART Recovery Meetings and Community in SMART Recovery

Recovery isn’t a solitary journey. While the internal battles and victories are deeply personal, the external support, understanding, mutual help, and shared experiences from a community can be invaluable. SMART Recovery recognizes this and significantly emphasizes meetings and community involvement.

A close up of several pairs of hands on a log symbolizing support gained in SMART Recovery meetings.

In-Person Meetings: A Space for Connection

Sitting in a room with others who understand your journey is profoundly impactful. In-person SMART Recovery meetings offer this safe space. They provide an environment where stories are shared, strategies are discussed, and mutual support is fostered. And for those in the Nashville area, the Monday SMART meeting I’ve hosted since October 2019 is a testament to the power of face-to-face connection.

Online Meetings: Accessibility and Flexibility

Not everyone can attend in-person meetings, and that’s where online meetings come into play. They offer the same level of support and community but with the added benefit of accessibility. Whether traveling, living in a remote area, or prefer the digital format, online meetings ensure you’re always connected to the SMART Recovery community.

Mutual Support: The Power of Shared Experience

One of the core tenets of SMART Recovery is mutual support. It’s not just about receiving help; it’s about giving it too. Participants in meetings, both in-person and online, share their insights, challenges, and victories, creating a dynamic environment where everyone learns and grows together.

Find a SMART Recovery Meeting: Your First Step to Community Connection

If you’re wondering how to find a SMART Recovery meeting near you, there’s a vast network waiting to welcome you. Whether you prefer face-to-face interactions or the convenience of online sessions, there’s a meeting tailored to your needs. And remember, each meeting is a step closer to a supportive community that understands and helps each other overcome the life challenges caused by addiction.

SMART Recovery vs. Traditional 12-Step Programs

A run down liquor store seen through a chain link fence.

Many individuals come across both SMART Recovery and traditional 12-step programs when seeking recovery options. While both aim to assist individuals on their path to sobriety, they have distinct philosophies, approaches, and tools. Let’s break down the key differences.

Philosophical Differences

SMART Recovery is grounded in science-based methods and emphasizes self-empowerment and the power of choice. It operates on the belief that individuals have the inner capacity to overcome addiction through knowledge and skills.

On the other hand, traditional 12-step programs often emphasize surrendering to a higher power and the idea that addiction is a lifelong disease. The focus is on spiritual growth and seeking external support.

Approach to Meetings

In SMART Recovery meetings, the emphasis is on mutual support and open discussion. SMART participants are encouraged to share their experiences, challenges, and strategies. The in-person and online meetings are structured yet flexible, adapting to the needs of the participants.

Traditional 12-step meetings often follow a more rigid structure, with participants sharing their personal stories and emphasizing their powerlessness over addiction.

Tools and Techniques

While both programs offer tools and techniques for recovery, their nature differs. SMART Recovery tools, such as the 4-point program, Hierarchy of Values, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are rooted in evidence-based practices. They provide practical, actionable strategies for individuals to navigate their recovery journey.

12-step programs, in contrast, focus on the spiritual journey, emphasizing prayer, meditation, and moral inventories.

Duration and Commitment

SMART Recovery views recovery as a phase, believing individuals can graduate from the program once they’ve acquired the necessary skills and confidence. The emphasis is on living a balanced life beyond addiction.

12-step programs often promote lifelong attendance and the idea that one remains in recovery indefinitely.

Both SMART Recovery and traditional 12-step programs have helped countless individuals recover. The choice between them depends on personal beliefs, preferences, and what resonates most with the individual. It’s essential to research, attend meetings, and understand each program’s core philosophies before deciding.

Inclusivity in Addressing Addictions

One of the standout features of SMART Recovery is its holistic approach to addiction. Unlike traditional 12-step programs, which often have separate groups tailored to specific addictions, SMART Recovery welcomes everyone, irrespective of the nature of their addiction.

Whether it’s drug addiction, alcohol, gambling, or any other form of addictive behavior, SMART Recovery believes that its tools and techniques are universally applicable. This inclusive approach fosters a diverse and supportive community and underscores the belief that the core principles of self-management and empowerment can help individuals overcome addiction.

Success Stories: My Personal Journey with SMART Recovery

Every successful long-term recovery journey is unique, and mine is a testament to the transformative power of SMART Recovery. Here’s a glimpse into my treatment and recovery story and how SMART Recovery played a pivotal role in my sobriety.

A color butterfly on a dirty, white converse shoe symbolizing hope and rebirth in addiction recovery.

Two Decades in the Grip of Addiction

For over 20 years, alcohol was more than just a drink to me; it was a relentless shadow. But 2018 marked a significant turning point. That year, I embraced sobriety, a commitment I’ve honored for five years now.

The SMART Difference in My Life

If you ask me the secret behind my continued sobriety, the answer is clear: SMART Recovery. It’s been my guiding light, the foundation of my recovery journey.

Leading and Learning: My Role in the Nashville SMART Meetings

Since October 2019, I’ve had the privilege of hosting the Nashville Monday SMART meeting. That’s approximately 200 meetings and countless hours of shared experiences, insights, and mutual support. My commitment to SMART doesn’t stop there. I’m also a regular at the Nashville Thursday SMART meeting, further deepening my connection with the program and its community.

Continuous Growth, One Meeting at a Time

Every meeting is an opportunity for growth. Whether it’s a new perspective, a practical sobriety tip, or a shared experience, I always walk away with something valuable. It’s a testament to the collective wisdom and support of the SMART community.

Beyond My Success: The Wider Impact of SMART

While my journey with SMART Recovery has been transformative, what truly stands out is its broader impact. As a host and participant, I’ve witnessed firsthand the profound effect SMART has on others. It’s become the cornerstone of many individuals’ sobriety journeys, just as it has for mine.

My story is just one of many that highlight the transformative potential of SMART Recovery. It’s not merely about the tools or techniques; it’s about real people, challenges, and victories. And at its core is a community that believes, supports, and triumphs together.

Getting Started with SMART Recovery: Your First Steps to a New Beginning

Embarking on a recovery journey can feel overwhelming, but with the proper guidance and support, it becomes a path filled with hope and transformation. If you’re considering SMART Recovery, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you get started.

Black and white close up of a hammer, pair pillars, and a screw driver on a work bench symbolizing smart recovery tools and techniques.

1. Understand the Philosophy

Before diving in, you should familiarize yourself with the core philosophy of SMART Recovery. At its heart, SMART emphasizes self-empowerment and the power of choice. It’s grounded in science-based methods and offers practical tools to navigate the challenges of addiction.

2. Explore the Resources

SMART Recovery offers a wealth of resources, both online and offline. From informative articles to interactive forums, from podcasts to the latest blogs, a plethora of information is available. Spend some time exploring these resources to gain a deeper understanding of the program.

3. Find a Meeting and Attend

One of the best ways to truly grasp the essence of SMART Recovery is by attending a meeting. Whether you prefer in-person meetings or the convenience of online sessions, there’s a platform for everyone. These meetings provide a safe space to share, learn, and connect with others on a similar journey.

4. Engage with the Community

The SMART Recovery community is its biggest strength. Engage with fellow participants, share your experiences, ask questions, and offer support. Remember, recovery is a collective journey, and mutual support within the community can help you change and live a sober life.

5. Dive into the Tools and Techniques

As you become more involved, start exploring the various tools and techniques that SMART Recovery offers. From the 4-point program to specific strategies like DEADS and Hierarchy of Values, these tools provide actionable insights to navigate the recovery journey.

6. Stay Committed and Consistent

Recovery is a continuous journey, and consistency is key. Attend meetings regularly, engage with the community, and apply the tools and techniques daily. Celebrate your victories, no matter how small, and remember that every step forward is progress.

7. Seek Support When Needed

While self-empowerment is a core tenet of SMART Recovery, seeking support when needed is okay. Whether from meeting facilitators, fellow participants, or external professionals, never hesitate to reach out when you need guidance or a listening ear.

Starting with SMART Recovery is embracing a brighter, more empowered future. You’ll be on a transformative path toward lasting recovery with the right steps, resources, and community support.

Conclusion: Embracing the SMART Path to Recovery

Life’s journey is filled with twists and turns, challenges and triumphs. For those who’ve grappled with addiction, the path can sometimes feel insurmountable. But as I’ve discovered in my own journey, and as countless others have found, there’s a beacon of hope in the form of SMART Recovery.

Choosing SMART Recovery isn’t just about selecting a program; it’s about embracing a philosophy of self-empowerment and discovering the power of choice. It’s about recognizing that within us lies the potential to overcome addiction and lead a fulfilling, balanced life.

The tools, techniques, and community support offered by SMART Recovery are invaluable. But at its core, the program’s true strength lies in its belief in the individual. It champions the idea that with the right resources, support, and mindset, anyone can navigate the challenges of addiction and emerge stronger on the other side.

As you consider your path to recovery, remember that you’re not alone. Whether you’re taking your first tentative steps or are well on your way, there’s a community waiting to support, guide, and walk alongside you. At Be Your Own Invention, we believe in the potential that resides within every individual. And with SMART Recovery, you have a powerful ally to help you uncover and embrace that potential.

Quitting drinking is hard. Here’s to a brighter, empowered future. Here’s to a life beyond addiction.

Resources: Find a SMART Recovery Meeting, the Latest Blogs, Podcasts, and YouTube

Find a SMART Recovery Meeting

Whether you’re seeking an in-person connection or the flexibility of online meetings, SMART Recovery offers a vast network of sessions tailored to your needs. Dive into a supportive community, share your journey, and gain insights from others on a similar path.

Latest Blogs

Stay updated with the most recent insights, stories, and strategies from the world of SMART Recovery. SMART blogs offer a blend of personal experiences, expert advice, and the latest research, ensuring you’re always equipped with the knowledge to navigate your recovery journey.


Tune into engaging discussions, interviews, and stories from the SMART Recovery community. SMART podcasts provide a deeper dive into the program’s principles, tools, and real-life applications, making it a valuable resource for newcomers and long-time participants.

YouTube Channel

The SMART Recovery YouTube channel is a treasure trove of information for visual learners and those who prefer video content. From detailed explanations of tools and techniques to testimonials and success stories, the channel offers a comprehensive look into the world of SMART Recovery.

Wayne Ergle

Wayne firmly believes that each of us possesses extraordinary gifts and talents, just waiting to be unleashed upon the world. But life's hurdles often obstruct our path to greatness. That's why he birthed Be Your Own Invention – to ignite the flames of motivation in everyone's transformation journey. Wayne’s transformation story includes conquering a 20-year battle with severe alcohol addiction, emerging triumphant and sober since 2018.