Addiction Recovery - Sobriety

SMART and 12-Step Programs: Know the Difference

SMART and 12 Step Groups: Know The Difference

There are many avenues for recovery, including 12-Step programs and SMART Recovery. Knowing the difference helps you find your ideal choice.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Addiction Recovery


February 22, 2022

In recovery, many people use support groups to help them continue on their journey. However, there are various forms of support groups out there. Two of the most popular forms of support groups include 12-Step programs and SMART Recovery.

Understanding the differences between these two support programs can help you decide which path you would like your recovery to follow. 

What Is SMART Recovery?

Self-Management and Recovery Training, also known as SMART Recovery, is a novel method of recovery that differs from 12-Step programs. Self-empowerment, cognitive-behavioral approaches, and managing cravings are all heavily emphasized in SMART, which is founded on scientific methods rather than spirituality. 

SMART Recovery approaches are intended to help you overcome underlying issues surrounding addiction rather than focusing solely on alcohol intake. SMART Recovery is a non-profit organization focused on four key areas: 

  • Increasing motivation

  • Dealing with desires

  • Problem-solving

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

The SMART Recovery method recognizes that everyone experiences substance abuse differently and that each person's notion of "recovery" is as distinct as they are. In a similar vein, the SMART Recovery method recognizes people's inherent ability to modify their behavior when given the correct tools.

As a result, SMART Recovery builds on people's strengths and provides people with the tools to build on their strengths to reach their own goals using cognitive-behavioral strategies. 

What Are 12-Step Programs?

In their most basic form, 12-Step programs involve those recovering from addiction sharing their personal stories of substance abuse, describing the sobriety they have achieved in a 12-Step program and giving back by teaching the newcomer and being of service to other members.

There are various 12-Step programs that exist, including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), and more.

The primary focus of 12-Step programs is on the Twelve Steps. These steps are intended to guide members through their recovery journey and help them achieve a sense of peace and belonging. The Twelve Steps are as follows:

  • #1. We admitted that we were powerless over our addiction and that our lives had become unmanageable. 

  • #2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 

  • #3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

  • #4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

  • #5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 

  • #6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

  • #7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 

  • #8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. 

  • #9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others. 

  • #10. Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

  • #11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. 

  • #12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others struggling with addiction and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

AA has proven to be the dominant recovery fellowship worldwide since its founding in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. AA, along with the many other 12-Step programs that have followed in its footsteps, are frequently the first open door given to help people suffering from addiction discover a route to long-term sobriety.

12-Step programs also serve as the theoretical foundation for the bulk of treatment programs in the recovery sector and an important component of judicial sentencing mandates.

The Differences Between 12-Step Programs and SMART Recovery 

There are three distinct differences between 12-Step programs and SMART Recovery, including: 

#1. Secular vs. Spiritual Empowerment 

The biggest difference between 12-Step programs and SMART Recovery is the approach to spiritual elements. In 12-Step programs, members consciously admit they need the help of a Higher Power throughout their recovery journey. The approach to a Higher Power is not religious, although members are not against religion. It is up to the individual to decide which method of spirituality fits best for them. 

SMART Recovery programs allow members to follow a religious code, but they are primarily devoid of spiritual influence. Instead, members of SMART Recovery are given methods to implement into their recovery to rebuild confidence. 

#2. The Twelve Steps vs. Four-Point Program

Differences in how each support group treats addiction are most clearly defined in their methodology. SMART Recovery treats addiction like a systematic behavioral program. They seek to treat these problems through scientific treatment. The four-point program of SMART Recovery is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapeutic method that focuses on changing problematic behaviors.

On the other hand, 12-Step programs treat addiction like a chronic disease — something that can be treated but not cured — and its 12-Step model is indicative of this belief. The Twelve Steps focus on growing a relationship with a Higher Power of the individual’s choosing, making amends to those they have done wrong, a continual effort to improve oneself, and helping others as they have been helped.

#3. The End Goal

Another essential difference between the 12-Step programs and SMART Recovery is their end goal. The last step of the Twelve Steps states a person continues in their recovery by following the previous steps, spreading the virtue of sobriety, and maintaining their goal to continue to treat their addiction. SMART Recovery has an end to its program; once members have undergone therapy, they become better equipped to deal with addiction issues moving forward.

There Are Various Avenues To Recovery

Two of the most common support groups include 12-Step programs and SMART Recovery. Although both methods are seen to be effective in treating relapse, there are distinct differences between the two. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, The Edge Treatment Center is here to help. Our Orange County drug rehab is committed to providing the necessary tools for long-term drug and alcohol recovery. For more information on the programs, The Edge has to offer, call us today at (800) 778-1772.

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