An Alternative Self Help Option for Addictions

In 2002, when I was working as a alcohol and drug counsellor at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney I was introduced to an alternative self-help program, outside of the12 step models such as Alcoholics Anonymous(AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) called SMART Recovery. In this post I wanted to share some information about SMART Recovery to help raise awareness on the program so more people can access their services if needed.


SMART Recovery is a self-help group program designed to assist people to overcome any kind of addictive behaviour. The SMART Recovery Program has been successfully used with all kinds of dependencies, including alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs, shopping, overeating and even excessive internet use.

SMART is an acronym, which stands for:


SMART Recovery is a practical and user-friendly program, designed to give those struggling with addictive behaviours a toolbox of coping strategies they can use to achieve their goals, whether that goal is total abstinence or gaining a sense of control over their substance use or behaviour.

The SMART Recovery Program uses techniques from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is a widely used form of psychological therapy found to be helpful to people with all sorts of problems, including addictions.

Originally developed in America as an alternative to 12 step models such as AA and NA, SMART Recovery meetings now occur in every state in Australia. The SMART Recovery program is growing in popularity each year, with new groups springing up all over the country. For people in rural and remote areas, or those confined to the home, there are also SMART Recovery meetings online.

SMART Recovery Australia offer a 90 minute self-management program that seeks to give people the tools to empower themselves to change. SMART focuses on behavioural change and the impact the addiction is having on one’s life. SMART groups are run by trained, volunteer facilitators. In short, participants learn how their thinking can create feelings and lead them to engage in addictive behaviours. By changing these thoughts/feelings participants can empower themselves to abstain or moderate their addiction.

SMART Recovery is made up of 4 key components for change:

Enhancing and maintaining motivation
Coping with urges
Problem solving (Managing Thoughts, Feelings and Behaviours) and
Lifestyle balance.

These 4 key components exist with any change a person is making and is discussed in the groups to assist with planning and setting achievable goals/commitments on a week to week basis. The focus of SMART Recovery meetings is on the “here and now”. This means that participants are invited to discuss what has happened in regard to their recovery during the previous seven days and make plans for the next seven days, rather than talking about the past.

Participants are encouraged to set their own weekly goals/commitments and begin taking responsibility for managing their own change at their own pace. People are encouraged to attend meetings for as long as they are helpful, but the program is designed as a relatively short-term measure (12-18 months) rather than a lifelong commitment.

SMART Recovery is a strengths-based program focusing on the benefits of changing, rather than the problematic story of their addiction. SMART does not use labels (such as alcoholic or junkie) and it does not have a spiritual component to the program. These two decisions are left up to the individual. For some, labels and spirituality help motivate them through their recovery and for others it does not.

SMART welcomes individuals on other treatment programs (including methadone) and does not discriminate against other programs. Many people attend AA or NA and also participant in SMART.

Meetings are free of charge but a gold coin donation is usually asked for to cover expenses such as tea, coffee, printing costs

Brief History in Australia:

SMART Recovery was first piloted in Australia in 2003 at the Alcohol and Drug Service at St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst in response to the need to provide an alternative self-help program for patients suffering from alcohol and other addictions.

SMART Recovery provided patients seeking immediate support to attend SMART groups while waiting to get one on one counselling or other treatment. There was immediate interest and attendance at the SMART Recovery groups and in 2004 the Alcohol and Drug Service applied for and was successful in receiving a 2 year grant, from 2004 to 2006 from the Alcohol Education Rehabilitation Foundation. The AERF provide one off grants to enhance the capacity of the Alcohol and Other Drugs sector to reduce the social and health harms caused by alcohol and licit substance abuse.

The grant required the Alcohol and Drug Service to set up 20 (alcohol and other drugs specific) SMART Recovery groups in NSW during this 2 year period. With the help of 2 Coordinators they managed to double the grant requirement by establishing 40 SMART Recovery groups in a 2 year period. The outcomes from this grant highlighted the need for an alternative, community based, self-help option in Australia.

In May 2007 a private benefactor saw the need to continue growing SMART Recovery throughout Australia and donated money on the condition that SMART become a stand-alone, Not-for-Profit, Health Charity which was established in August 2007 and move away from the umbrella of St Vincent’s Hospital. This allowed SMART Recovery to expand nationwide and opened the groups up to include all addictions. This move was supported by St Vincent’s Hospital and both Coordinators were employed by SMART Recovery Australia LTD to continue their roles as SMART Coordinators. Currently SMART Recovery has 100 groups per week in Australia.

In addition SMART Recovery works closely with the Department of Corrective Services NSW. In 2004 SMART Recovery was adopted as the main CBT based program for offenders with alcohol or other drug conviction in all the jails in NSW. The Department of Corrective Services of NSW runs the Getting SMART Program (a 12 session which is based on the principles of SMART Recovery) in all 30 jails. As inmates are released from jail they seek SMART Recovery groups for probation and parole requirements, follow-up support and relapse prevention. Some jails run weekly SMART Recovery groups in the prison for inmates who have successfully completed the Getting SMART Program. The Getting SMART Program is licensed to The NSW Department of Corrective Services who hold the copy right to this program.

There are literally hundreds of scientific references that might be used to provide a foundation for the SMART Recovery® Program. A good place to begin reviewing them is, in particular, Hester & Miller, 1995 (Handbook of Alcoholism Treatment Approaches: Effective Alternatives, Boston: Allyn & Bacon). This provides a good overview.

If you have any quesytions please let me know or visit their website at