Relapse Prevention And Using The SMART Recovery® Method For Continued Sobriety

Using The SMART Recovery Method For Relapse Prevention

Addiction treatment is more successful when there is a long-term plan in place to prevent relapse.

The SMART Recovery® method offers the tools necessary to accomplish continued sobriety.

The first-time recovery from addictive behaviors is difficult enough; having to recover multiple times because of relapse is even more challenging.

In an ideal world, those in recovery could use their occasional relapse as a means of recognizing triggers and self-defeating actions more effectively.

Repeated relapse is avoidable when individuals feel empowered and are equipped with the tools necessary for self-directed change.

The SMART Recovery® method is a four-point program employing a variety of tools. Through SMART Recovery®, a participant can achieve sobriety without the constant fear of relapse.

The 4 Points of the SMART Recovery® Method

The four points of The SMART Recovery® program are:

  • Building and maintaining motivation to abstain.
  • Finding ways to cope with urges.
  • Finding ways to manage thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • Living a life of balance–considering momentary and lasting gratifications.

Each point has specific tools and techniques designed to achieve the goal.

There are also specific relapse prevention tools including tips on how to deal with backsliding, identify triggers, get the mind off of urges, and move forward with recovery.

Addictions That Can Be Helped By SMART Recovery® 

An addictive behavior is an over-involvement and dependency on an item or activity that has led to negative and undesired consequences.

SMART Recovery® can help with any type of addiction, including these common dependencies:

  • drugs
  • alcohol
  • gambling
  • internet usage
  • sexual behaviors
  • food
  • nicotine/smoking
  • unhealthy relationships

The 6 SMART Recovery® Steps 

The basic steps to overcoming an addiction are identified in the SMART Recovery® program as pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and graduation.


During the initial pre-contemplation step, the individual may still be in denial that about having a problem.

They may be looking into SMART Recovery® at the advice of a loved one or as a condition of a court action.

Also, an individual who relapsed during their recovery may return to this step.


The contemplation step of the SMART Recovery® system encourages the participant to recognize the concrete costs of their addiction.

A cost-benefit analysis is completed to emphasize how the dangers associated with addiction far outweigh the perceived rewards. Financial costs are only part of the equation.

Participants are asked to consider how their drug problem could negatively impact their career and family life.

The purpose of this step is to show that there isn’t a rational reason to avoid sobriety.


Achievement of any goal requires a plan. The preparation step of the SMART Recovery® method is putting together the plan for an individual’s recovery, including personal changes that will be necessary for success.

This step looks at the process that created the addiction and how to remove those barriers, as well as the activities, associations, and thought processes feeding the addiction.


Now that the problems have been analyzed, it is time to put the plan into action.

Some recovery plans will be easier to fulfill than others, but consistent support through meetings, therapy, activities, chats, and other components of the SMART Recovery® method provides constant encouragement to individuals. Positive changes are part of each action on this path to sobriety.


When the person has reached a point where the positive changes in lifestyle are not only achieved but no longer felt to be a daily battle, the person is considered to be in the maintenance phase of recovery.


Graduation means different things to different people. For some, graduation means no longer needed to utilize the SMART Recovery® method.

Other individuals may take advantage of meetings and support any time they feel drawn back to self-destructive behaviors.

Relapse at any step is a possibility, but the risk of relapse is greatly reduced when the effort is made to do the steps properly.

Is the SMART Method Meeting-Focused?

Meetings with SMART Recovery® differ from those found in 12-step programs.

The focus is on self-analysis and education, allowing participants to talk with one another instead of at one another.

While there are various locations around the world for face-to-face meetings, the SMART Recovery® program also offers daily online meetings, forums, 24/7 chat and empowers individuals to start new meetings in their area.

Various treatment centers, like Elevate, are now incorporating the SMART Recovery® method.

Does SMART Allow Participation in Other Support Groups? 

There are as many roads to recovery from addiction as there are people who seek treatment. The important thing is to find what works for an individual, such as scenarios where one method naturally works in conjunction with one another.

While many treatment programs do not “play well with others,” so to speak, the SMART Recovery® method does. Additionally, SMART Recovery® is an alternative to faith-based 12-step recovery programs.

What Makes the SMART Recovery® Program So Effective for Relapse Prevention?

The SMART Recovery® method’s effectiveness for relapse prevention is two-fold.

First, the system provides for a strong mental foundation that allows participants to break down self-defeating thinking, actions and emotions.

When the quality and satisfaction of a sober life is envisioned and the grim realities of backsliding are understood, a continued recovery is more likely.

Second, the system ensures that resources and support that are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The message board, chat room, meeting rooms, and online library are all useful tools that can get patients through weak moments by reminding them that relapse is not an option.

Between recovery based on sound scientific methods and the availability of aftercare treatment and ongoing therapy, the chance for relapse is minimized.

The SMART Recovery® Program Meets Legal Requirements 

SMART Recovery® is completely within the guidelines required to meet court-required treatment.

Documentation can be provided to meet employer stipulations or for pre-court good faith evidence requirements as well.

Even those who utilize online meetings can receive documentation of participation. A verification letter is emailed to participants after each meeting is completed.

Who Should Consider the SMART Recovery® Program? 

Anyone who feels a substance or activity is adversely affecting his life will gain from participating in the SMART Recovery® program.

The success rate for SMART Recovery® is quite high, in part because the program depends on scientific methods to prevent relapse.

It is an ideal program for those who may have found the faith-based 12-step is not responsive to their needs and are looking for something different.

The program does not discourage the spiritual aspects of addiction recovery, but doesn’t emphasize these aspects either.

Also, participants do not need sponsors as required with other systems. After all, the focus of SMART Recovery® is to build up an individual’s self-reliance and self-confidence through scientific methods.

This page does not provide medical advice

Written by Elevate Addiction Services | ©2020 Elevate Addiction Services | All Rights Reserved

Medically Reviewed by

Tim Sinnott, LMFT LAADC

December 2, 2020

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