Last Updated on March 25, 2020 by Dr. Alberto Solà

SMART Recovery is an international non-profit organization that works to help people around the world with their recovery from drugs and alcohol. Begun in 1992, this project was originally called the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Self-Help Network (ADASHN) before transitioning to its more easily remembered name in 1994.  Although similar in some ways to twelve step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, SMART is in no way directly affiliated with those groups or methods. Instead, the organization focuses on self-help and self-reliance, although it too offers face-to-face support groups to help scaffold and build up the strength of its followers.  SMART’s main doctrine is focused around a four-point program that is based on scientific research and knowledge, and has a strong online presence, allowing the group to help people in need anywhere that an internet connection is possible.

History of SMART Recovery

Twelve step programs are widely known and for many, are considered the standard and only option for a large-scale, united, worldwide recovery support program.  For many years, they truly were the only option available to people wishing to become free from drugs or alcohol, and they certainly have saved and continue to save many lives through their effective groups and methods. In the mid-1980s, however, some people felt that an alternative program – another option – was called for. A California-based clinical social worker named Jack Trimpey rose to the occasion. A recovering alcoholic himself, Trimpey began an organization known as Rational Recovery. 

This program differed in many ways from traditional twelve step programs. First of all, it was noted for not having the religious angle some feel in those programs, a factor that can sometimes drive interested potential participants away. Second, rather than recognize addiction as a disease, Rational Recovery views it as a voluntary behavior. As a result, followers of Rational Recovery’s methods believe that since substance abusers chose to begin using, they also have the ability to choose not to, and just have to make the decision and move forward from there. Furthermore, unlike NA and AA, Rational Recovery does not believe that addicts are addicts always, but rather believe that people who have completed the program and have successfully abstained for a long time actually have fully recovered from their addictions.

SMART Recovery was inspired by Rational Recovery and was born from it. A board of directors, originally chosen by Jack Trimpey and his wife Lois, began to meet and work as a team un the early 1990s. Eventually, in 1994, SMART Recovery was officially born.  This organization is led by a board of directors and continues the work begun by Rational Recovery under a different name. At the time of its transformation, there were forty-two functioning Rational Recovery groups in existence; today, there are over 2,000 SMART Recovery groups around the world.

Methods of SMART Recovery

SMART recovery’s approach is multifaceted.  First and foremost, the group teaches self-empowerment and self-reliance, with a focus on the individual as the primary force in breaking free from addiction.  The group encourages substance abusers to recover and to go on to live satisfying lives through the understanding and application of tools and techniques for self-directed change. Most importantly, the organization recognizes that science is always evolving and changing; it keeps a close eye on scientific research and evolves right along with it as new studies are released. SMART Recovery advocates and encourages current psychological treatments and therapeutic methods to help its adherents reach their goals.

SMART’s Four-Point Program is a cornerstone.  The group understands that there are different stages of addiction recovery, and that each individual is at a very different and very personal place in those stages; different techniques and support are offered based on where the person currently is on his or her journey.  However, regardless of stage, all four-program points are taught. Point One, Building and Maintaining Motivation not only helps people to become sober, but also helps to keep them motivated to stay that way.  Point Two, Coping with Urges, introduces them to tools to help them avoid triggers and relapse and to strengthen their overall resolve. The third point, Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors, adds to the ideas covered in the first two points, and builds upon them, and Point Four, Living a Balanced Life helps participants to look at the long term and the way they fit into and deal with the larger world around them.

Support groups for SMART Recovery followers are available in a number of states as well as in prisons for incarcerated individuals that are working on their recovery.  For those who do not have an in-person meeting accessible to them, there are daily meetings available online on the group’s website, as well as message boards and 24/7 chat rooms.

Effectiveness of Smart Recovery

Some have questioned the effectiveness of SMART Recovery, and studies show varied results.  Some have found that SMART is less effective than NA, AA, or other twelve step programs, but others have found that the two methods are nearly equally effective.  Because it is different from the traditional, common, ubiquitous twelve step programs, it is at least work investigating for individuals who did not feel that AA or NA was right for them. SMART recognizes that everyone’s recovery journey is different, and that people should try a variety of options to see what works best for their particular and very personal situation.

SMART Recovery may not be well known, but many people feel that this organization was exactly what they sought and is something that has changed their lives immensely for the better. If you would like to find out more about SMART Recovery, visit their website at

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