Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Moving on from SMART after 23+ Amazing Years!

by Shari Allwood, SMART Recovery Executive Director

Much like how long-time volunteers feel when they graduate and move on from SMART, my need to leave the employment of SMART elicits immense sadness and full acceptance as I realize the need to tackle recent challenges in my life.

I have lived and breathed SMART for the past 23 years of my life — and happily so! It’s been amazing to have been a part of this vibrant and growing organization over the past two decades. The benefit of witnessing daily changed lives is a perk that few jobs offer, and one that I will never forget.

At the same time, I have had two major changes to my life in the past eight months. After my Dad passed away a year ago, my Mom, who will soon be 85, moved in with my husband and me in March. She’s suffering from dementia and requiring more of my time as her health seems to be deteriorating. Also, in August, I was diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer.

These events brought me to the realization that I need to begin to work on Point 4 of SMART’s incredible 4-Point Program – lifestyle balance – for the sake of my Mom’s and my own health.

If I were to begin to name the people at SMART who have touched my life over the past 23 years, this article in the blog would expand to hundreds of pages. SMART enjoys an incredible cadre of volunteers in our face-to-face and online venues, not to mention my amazing colleagues in Australia, the UK, Denmark, Republic of Ireland, China, Canada, etc. It’s been such an honor to work for and alongside so many gifted individuals

In 2017, we have accomplished so very much:

  •  A new Strategic Plan to help guide SMART in the five-years ahead.
  •  A new website.
  •  A new and improved tiered training structure.
  •  Our first financial audit.
  •  Achievement of GuideStar Platinum status, which will help us raise more funds.
  •  An IT audit resulting in new/improved IT support and processes.
  •  Creation of a Governance Committee to ensure best practices.
  •  Undertaking the formation of the SMART Recovery International organization.
  •  2,500 meetings worldwide – a milestone that seemed unfathomable as recently as 10 years ago.
  •  More research and more important organizations recognizing SMART.

And the list goes on and on. I’m so proud to have been a part of these recent activities, and I look forward to watching (from afar) the accomplishments and growth that will continue.

One last thing … I can’t fail to note my sincere thanks to one special individual — Joe Gerstein. Joe’s guidance over the past 23 years has been immense to me personally and to the organization. His ongoing generous gifts of his time and funds have enabled SMART to achieve the gains and to attain the status we enjoy today.

Thank you SMART for the honor and privilege of serving you for 23 years!


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Defeating Urges Using the DISARM Tool

DISARMing the Trickster
By Yvan Roy

A workshop I designed suggests how to use the SMART tool DISARM – Destructive Imagery and Self-talk Awareness and Refusal Method – at a meeting or on your own.

1. Develop the Framework – Externalize the Addiction

Talk about how the addiction has come to dominate the participants’ lives and led them to believe that it is much stronger than they are – in fact, serving as addiction’s core strategy for domination. Doing this begins to externalize the addiction. Discuss the relationship that participants have with their addiction.

Personify or name the addiction / the enemy – Take some time to name the enemy, perhaps with a drawing to further externalize the addition. For example, let’s use the Trickster.

2. Track the Influence of the Addiction / Enemy

Describing their relationship, participants can include:

• The Trickster’s influence on their life, such as their health, work, school, finances, relationships, and relationship with themselves (self-worth, confidence, self-esteem).
• The Trickster’s intention for their life going forward into the future.
• The Trickster’s strategies for dominating their life.

Questions to draw out this information

What does the Trickster make you believe about your addiction that prevents you from moving forward?

How did the Trickster take control of your life?

What is the Trickster getting you to do that goes against your better intentions?
What does the Trickster want for your loved ones, your family, and your children?

What does the Trickster tell you when it wants you to use or behave in an addictive way?

What does the trickster tell you about yourself in order to try to dominate or destroy you and prevent you from acting in your best interest?

Notice that these questions are similar to those used in the ABC exercise in that they invite participants to identify thoughts about their lives, their relationships and themselves that are untrue or unhelpful.

3. Create an Alternative Path

Depending on how far along they are in their recovery, participants next identify how they have begun to fight against the Trickster’s domination or are defeating him, gotten rid of him or learned to stand up to him.

Questions for this discussion

How do you stand up to the Trickster?

How does coming to the SMART Recovery meeting influence your relationship with the Trickster?

What could you do to send the Trickster away or at least scare him a little?

What could you do that would let the Trickster know that you are no longer interested in a relationship with him?

Can you recall a time when the Trickster had less control of your life? What were you doing then?

As you realize that you are not what the Trickster convinced you that you are, what new beliefs do you have about yourself?

What new activities will you be doing that lets the Trickster know he has lost his grip?

4. Role Play

At a meeting, the facilitator asks for two volunteers: one to act as themselves and the other as the enemy or Trickster. I prefer to have the volunteer play their enemy and ask someone who knows the volunteer to play them. You can also just interview the enemy.

The facilitator interviews the enemy about his relationship with the person, and interviews the person about their relationship with the enemy (optional).

An interview with the Trickster might proceed along these lines: Hi, I want to thank you for coming to our group today and agreeing to be interviewed. In this room you have to be completely honest and you have no power to attempt to lie or manipulate. We are interested in knowing how you have succeeded in dominating (the person’s name) life, how you operate, the status of your relationship with (the person’s name) and what your intentions are for his or her future.

5. Participants Debrief and Discuss the Exercise

Interview the person (optional) and ask what he or she learned or thought while listening to the Trickster. Ask the group if they have questions for the Trickster or the person.

Yvan Roy works as an addiction psychotherapist and clinical supervisor in Ottawa, Canada. The agency where he works translated the SMART Recovery Handbook into French; he is working on the facilitator’s manual in order to expand the SMART Recovery program in other parts of the Francophone world. This post is drawn from the handbook and the school of Narrative Therapy of Michael White and David Epson

To read more about the DISARM tool, please visit our website.

We invite SMART-related blog entries from all interested readers. Entries should have strong pertinence to SMART. Queries are welcome. Send manuscripts or queries to blog@smartrecovery.org


Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Relapse prevention, recovery management, recovery transcendence

A guest post by William L. White

I have tremendous respect for the work Dr. Alan Marlatt, Dr. Dennis Daley, Terrence Gorski, and others have done pioneering the field of relapse prevention (RP), but I have always been troubled by the relapse language and making RP a focal point in addiction treatment. My concern is threefold. First, the lapse/relapse language is drawn from moral rather than medical discourse and drips with centuries of stigma and contempt that have long been heaped on people experiencing alcohol and other drug-related problems (see earlier blog). Second, characterizing all AOD problems and related disorders as “chronically relapsing” misrepresents the natural course of such problems (grossly underestimating recovery stability and durability) in a way that increases personal, therapeutic, and cultural pessimism regarding the potential resolution of such conditions (see earlier blog). Third, and the focus of the present essay, the RP lens risks inadvertently casting personal and professional attention on deficits and vulnerabilities rather than assets and casting one’s vision backward (to the potential for resurging pathology) rather than forward (toward a flourishing and meaningful recovery). The image is one of running from something (the beast/dragon images often come to mind) rather than being positively drawn toward something of great value of one’s own choosing.

A lens of recovery management (or recovery enhancement) (RM) has advantages not achieved by the RP framework. The RM shift might be cast as “recovering from” to “recovering to,” with the potential for a process of discovery that transcends the recovery experience—a journey traversing from, to, and beyond. The prepositions here are important. We should build on what has been learned within relapse prevention research and practice while focusing on what makes us come alive rather than on what we most fear. At its most practical level, RP and RM are distinguished by a focus on what is not wanted versus what is desired, e.g., debt counseling versus wealth management, disease management (symptom suppression) versus recovery management (facilitation of healing and wholeness), marriage counseling versus marriage enrichment, a focus on correcting defects of character versus expanding character assets, interests, and social contributions. RP might be thought of as “vulnerability (demon) management”; RM might be thought of as “potential management” (e.g., the cultivation and management of a pleasurable, engaged, meaningful, and contributing life).

The RP to RM shift suggested here is part of a larger transition from pathology and treatment paradigms to a recovery paradigm within the AOD policy and service arenas. I am not suggesting that the nuts and bolts of RP be cast aside, only that it be renamed, reframed, and balanced with an emphasis on building personal, family, and community recovery capital. If recovery is more than the removal of alcohol and other drugs from an otherwise unchanged life, then the focus of recovery support interventions should shift from a strict RP focus (a process of problem subtraction) to an RM focus on achieving global health (a process of addition) and increasing one’s potential for a both personal fulfillment and social contribution (a process of multiplication). There is a difference between the prevention of illness and the promotion, achievement, and transcendence of wellness. The field of primary medicine required centuries to discover this simple maxim, and it is still struggling to grasp its full clinical and social implications. Hopefully, the same will not be true for the alcohol and other drug problems arena.

Of Related Interest and Highly Recommended: Krentzman, A. R. (2013). Review of the application of positive psychology to substance use, addiction, and recovery research. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27(1), 151-65.

About the author: William L. White is an Emeritus Senior Research Consultant at Chestnut Health Systems / Lighthouse Institute and past-chair of the board of Recovery Communities United. Bill has a Master’s degree in Addiction Studies and has worked full time in the addictions field since 1969 as a streetworker, counselor, clinical director, researcher and well-traveled trainer and consultant. He has authored or co-authored more than 400 articles, monographs, research reports and book chapters and 17 books. His book, Slaying the Dragon – The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, received the McGovern Family Foundation Award for the best book on addiction recovery. Bill’s sustained contributions to the field have been acknowledged by awards from the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, NAADAC: The Association of Addiction Professionals, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the Native American Wellbriety Movement. Bill’s widely read papers on recovery advocacy have been published by the Johnson Institute in a book entitled Let’s Go Make Some History: Chronicles of the New Addiction Recovery Advocacy Movement.

Source: Selected Papers of William L. White  (used with permission)



Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Celebrate the Holidays Safely, Comfortably, Joyously

Celebrating the Holidays with Recovering Family Members and Friends
Peter Gaumond, Chief, ONDCP Recovery Branch

Holidays in RecoveryThis time each year can be stressful for anyone, but the holidays present a special challenge for people recovering from a substance use disorder. Those in long-term recovery typically are adept at navigating the minefield of temptation at holiday social gatherings. But many of those in their first year of recovery, their friends, and family members wonder how best to celebrate the holidays safely, comfortably, and joyously.

If your festivities will include someone with a year or more in recovery, you may simply want to ask if there is anything you can do to make the holiday better for them. They may want to bring a friend who’s also in recovery. They may have beverage preferences or want the flexibility to step out for a short while, either to attend a mutual aid meeting (e.g., Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or SMART Recovery), make a call, or get some fresh air.

The holidays may come with expectations, such as shopping, travel, cooking, and multiple social gatherings. People in early recovery are often experiencing difficult personal or financial circumstances while at the same time trying to learn to live without the substance that had become central to their lives. While the holidays are a time to celebrate family and good cheer, they are also a time when other feelings can be heightened. Such feelings can include a sense of loss about a deceased family member, or feelings of hurt, resentment, anger, shame, or guilt about the past on the part of the recovering person, other family members, or both.

Early recovery brings reawakened awareness of the harm one caused oneself and one’s family and friends during the course of the addiction. It is also a time when the brain and body are still actively recovering from the effects of addiction. Those in early recovery are relatively new at learning to experience, process, and manage feelings and to function in social situations without the use of a substance. Alcohol or other drugs may have served the recovering person as a social lubricant during the early stages of their use, helping alleviate social anxiety and feelings of not fitting in while simultaneously lifting their guard, making it easier to speak and act spontaneously.  The social events of the holidays can be challenging in a number of ways for the individual who is new to recovery.

Fortunately, many in early recovery do well during the holidays. The experience of sharing the holidays with family or friends can strengthen their recovery and reinforce the value of the fuller, more authentic way of life they are entering. The holidays can, in effect, be a time to reconnect and restore. To help foster a positive holiday environment for those in recovery, please keep in mind the following:

Tips for celebrating the holidays with family or friends in early recovery:

  1. You are not responsible for your guest’s recovery, even if that guest is your child, sibling, or parent. Behind the scenes orchestration to “help” the recovering person through the event can sometimes be unhelpful. Instead, reach out to him or her to see if there’s anything you can do to help the event  go smoothly. If you do, be ready and willing to accept “No, thank you” as the answer.
  2. Ask yourself if you and your family are ready to celebrate the holiday with the recovering person. Are there unresolved hurts or resentments that could make the holiday difficult for all? Does your family understand addiction and embrace recovery or is the topic shrouded in shame, an “elephant in the room”? Addiction affects not only the addicted individual, but the family as a whole. Denial or shame around addiction, if not appropriately addressed, can make the holiday difficult for the family and risky for the recovering person. So, it’s worth asking: Are you and your family ready?
  3. Ask your friend or family member if they are comfortable taking part in the celebration this year. Make sure they understand that it is perfectly OK to miss the celebration if that is what is best for their recovery. Their recovery comes first. It’s better to miss them this time around in order to increase the likelihood that they will be alive, well, and able to participate in future events.  Think of it as an investment that will pay dividends.
  4. If you will be serving alcohol, check to see if your invitee is comfortable with that. Note, even if you’re willing to host an alcohol-free holiday event, your family member or friend might not be comfortable attending if alcohol is not served simply because he or she is present.
  5. Ask if they’d like to invite someone or invite others who do not drink. Regardless of whether alcohol is served or not, the recovering person may want to invite a recovering guest. If you’re serving alcohol and have family members or friends who are in recovery or who do not drink, you may want to ask your guest if he or she would like you to invite them so that there will be other non-drinkers with whom to socialize.
  6. Ask what kinds of beverages they would like to have. While non-alcoholic “mocktails” may seem like a good idea—and many in recovery do enjoy them—they  may actually be a trigger for some people in early recovery, either because they visually remind the guest of cocktails or because they remind the individual that he or she can no longer drink. Despite all the pain and aggravation that alcohol and drugs may have caused the recovering individual, giving them up can result in a powerful sense of loss. Beverages such as hot spiced cider, hot cocoa, iced or hot tea or coffee are often welcomed. Some people in long-term recovery drink so-called “non-alcoholic” beer and wine. If this works for them, it is of course perfectly acceptable. It should be noted, though, that these beverages generally do include small amounts of alcohol. For people in the early stages of recovery from alcohol addiction, these beverages should be avoided.
  7. Provide time and space to step away from the group, if needed. Being able to take a walk, relax in a quiet room, step away to connect by telephone with another person in recovery, attend a mutual aid meeting, or gracefully depart early can be very important to a person in early recovery.
  8. Listen to them. If they don’t want any special steps taken to accommodate them, and both you and they are comfortable with them taking part this time, then simply go ahead.

Tips for individuals or families in early recovery:

  • Have a plan for the holiday, including mutual aid meetings and calls to sponsor, mentor, recovering peer, counselor, clergy or others central to your recovery.
  • Identify risk factors that should be avoided and know how you will respond if they’re encountered.
  • Know your signs of potential relapse and take steps to address them.
  • Stay in touch with your key supports, such as counselors, sponsors, mentors, or recovering peers.
  • Keep it all in perspective: Nothing that happens, no matter how painful or unpleasant, is worth giving up one’s recovery.
  • If relapse does, occur, don’t delay acting out of shame or guilt. Get help immediately. There is still an opportunity to build on the progress you’ve made.

    Source: The Whitehouse ONDCP Blog


Tuesday, 14 November 2017

How to improve your sleep while in addiction recovery

Sleep disorders are a common struggle in recovery from addiction

Guest blogger, Alisa, Nestmaven.com

According to a study in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, the incidence of insomnia is five times higher in early recovery than in the general population. Insomnia is not the only sleep disorder associated with addiction; contribute to the development of circadian rhythm disorders, parasomnias and sleep apnea.

The relationship between sleep and addiction goes both ways: while the mechanisms of addiction and withdrawal cause sleep disorders, the resulting sleep deprivation can inhibit the recovery process. The consequences of sleep deprivation include low mood, impulsivity, and poor emotional regulation which increase the likelihood of relapse.

The SMART recovery approach can be used to identify areas in your life where you are lacking balance. If you are experiencing sleep issues while recovering from an addiction, making changes in your lifestyle and environment can dramatically improve your symptoms.

Light Exposure

Light is the most powerful cue for our circadian rhythms which are responsible for guiding the sleep-wake schedule.

Timing light exposure for the correct times of day, while avoiding unnecessary light sources as bedtime approaches. Basking in light — especially sunlight — first thing after waking up can help combat sleep inertia; while dimming house lights in the evening signals that it’s time to start winding down for sleep.

Blue light is emitted by electronic device screens (including computers, laptops and smartphones) and is responsible for blocking the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. These devices should be avoided at night, and, when their use is necessary, nightmode should be activated.

Light Therapy is used to treat circadian rhythm disorders and insomnia, the two disorders with the highest incidence in recovery. Light therapy is also a useful tool in treating the depression which frequently occurs alongside drug addiction.


Diet, while an important part of any healthy lifestyle, lends additional benefits to those struggling with sleep disorders.

Foods that inhibit sleep include those high in sugar and refined fats, as well as spicy foods and chocolate depending on its caffeine content. People suffering from sleep disorders should avoid these foods, particularly after midday.

Foods that promote sleep do so by either inducing drowsiness or through inducing muscle relaxation to relieve discomfort. Experts recommend natural sources of magnesium, potassium and B vitamins such as legumes and leafy green vegetables. Dairy products and animal proteins contain tryptophan — a precursor to the neurochemicals serotonin and melatonin which are essential to sleep.

The timing of meals is just as important as their content. It’s recommended to avoid eating — especially large, heavy meals — late at night as it can make falling asleep difficult. Additionally, consuming regularly spaced meals and snacks throughout the day can help prevent dips in energy level.


Both physical and mental exercise play an important role in regulating circadian rhythms and increasing relaxation.

Studies have shown that performing aerobic exercise 3-4 hours before bed has the greatest effect on sleep: reducing sleep latency and increasing overall sleep time. A short workout of 15-30 minutes per day is sufficient to see an effect.

Meditation is exercise for the mind and with consistent practice has been proven to reduce stress and promote restful sleep. One popular form of meditation, called mindfulness, focuses on bringing attention to the present moment and foster a nonjudgmental mentality.

Sleep Environment

The bedroom environment should be designed in a way to promote comfort and relaxation, while simultaneously reducing factors which inhibit sleep.

Bedding should be selected to fit each individual’s needs. One must consider sleep position, weight and physical complaints when choosing a mattress and pillows. It’s likewise important to replace items within the recommended time frame to ensure that the body is properly supported during sleep.

Temperature plays an important role in circadian rhythms. During the night, body temperature drops to its lowest point, before steadily rising again by morning. Setting the thermostat lower at bedtime (around 60 – 70 degrees Fahrenheit) promotes more restful sleep.

Noise at night, particularly for light sleepers, can make it difficult to drift off and stay asleep. Even when not consciously perceived, environmental sounds can cause restlessness. White noise can be used to dampen these sounds, whether played through a dedicated machine or a mobile application.

Colors have influence over mood and energy levels. Research indicates that those who sleep in a blue colored room tend to get more sleep and wake up feeling more refreshed. Experts recommend choosing a color scheme which instills an atmosphere of calm in the bedroom.

Bedtime Routine

According to leading sleep specialists, maintaining a bedtime routine is one of the most effective strategies for combatting insomnia and promoting quality sleep.

A relatively set sleep-wake schedule should be adhered to every day (weekends included). This allows your circadian rhythms to adjust to a regular pattern, preventing desynchrony that results in sleep disorder.

Reserve the bedroom for sleep and intimacy only. Sleep experts warn against using the bedroom for other activities as these habits can inhibit the association between the space and sleep.

A bedtime routine including relaxation helps make the transition from a state of wakefulness to sleep more natural. Recommended activities include yoga and meditation, as well as simple comforts such as taking a hot bath or reading a story.

It’s important to discuss your sleep issues with your doctor and others in your recovery support system to ensure your needs are being properly addressed. Better sleep leads to healthier living, and better empowers you to take the steps towards sobriety.



Alisa is the editor in chief at Nestmaven.com where she writes about all things sleep related – from how to improve your sleep hygiene, how to find the best mattress or tips on sleep meditation techniques. She has a Bachelor of Honors in Information Science, loves yoga, healthy food and chocolate (and is totally fine with that contradiction).


We invite SMART-related blog entries from all interested readers. Entries should have strong pertinence to SMART. Queries are welcome. Send manuscripts or queries to blog@smartrecovery.org





Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Book Review: Alex Korb’s The Upward Spiral

Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2015, 225 pp.

Review by Ted Alston, facilitator

Bad feelings and bad habits fly together, and evasive maneuvers for one may serve for both. Accordingly, students of SMART Recovery may enjoy this book that addresses depression. Alex Korb, PhD, is an expert on neurotransmission, but he presents a model permitting self-management and and self-empowerment to have roles in mental health. In this model. a prescriber might help someone with a medication molecule that modulates neurotransmission, but readers have the power to choose other reasonable tactics that are non-pharmacological but have neurotransmission aspects.

Korb puts forth the important and attractive concept that neuroscience does not doom anyone to depression or addiction, nor to various other conditions with labels. He emphasizes that we all have pretty much the same instrument of thought and behavior. Whatever genetic or experiential differences may be, the troubled brain is usually out of tune rather than defective. Korb has a gift for analogy, and I do not want to spoil the encounters of his readers with those gems, but I will mention one. I liked when he said, “There’s nothing wrong with your brain, just like there’s nothing wrong with the air in Oklahoma–despite the devastating tornados.” This excerpted quote might seem inscrutable, but Korb’s full argument is easy to follow.

Korb offers much advice that is in line with the philosophies of SMART tools. For instance, a section of Chapter 2 is subtitled “The ABCs of Anxiety.” The Korb ABC is different from that of Albert Ellis, but it rhymes. One could delete all of the neuroscience from the Korb book and be left with a practical and reasonable pamphlet collating many SMART concepts. However, Korb offers a lot more than that. His every point includes a rationale based on what is known about neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. The book is intended for a broad audience, so the science depth is limited. However, the work is a superb introduction to neuroscience. Even a professional neuroscientist might appreciate the book for Korb’s power of explication.

Pharmacological and procedural therapies are beyond the scope of SMART Recovery, but the subjects are of wide interest. This book is a great introduction but does not attempt to handle issues such as the potential for adverse effects. However, too much information would have detracted from the superb readability. Consequently, there are a few glib statements. For instance, electroconvulsive therapy “increases BDNF, which helps grow new neurons.” (BDNF is a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor.) Anyway, ECT is not a focus of the book. Korb has much more to say about other antidepressant strategies, such as cultivating social interactions. According to Chapter 10, boosting gratitude is just the thing for your serotonin. Be that as it may, from a SMART standpoint, grateful beliefs tend to be more rational, helpful, and realistic than ones of ingratitude. And considering your gratitude is a way to examine your beliefs.

Albert Ellis spoke of bibliotherapy for depression and other disturbances. David Burns cited a study showing that the act of reading his book Feeling Good has a measurable antidepressant effect. Korb suggests that a read of Upward Spiral is one small but appreciable change away from depression. The suggestion is plausible.

We invite SMART-related blog entries from all interested readers. Entries should have strong pertinence to SMART. Queries are welcome. Send manuscripts or queries to blog@smartrecovery.org


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Getting a Fix: Preventing Opioid Addiction

A three part video series

The SMART Blog editors received the following press release and link for a video addressing the opioid situation. The video does not directly pertain to SMART but could be of interest.

“In the three part series, Getting A Fix presents an on-the-ground look at solutions to the devastating opioid epidemic in the United States. Newsy and the Scripps Washington Bureau investigative team research the emergence of synthetic opioids, like fentanyl and carfentanil, while providing an in-depth look at who is trying to solve the crisis and how.”

Link to story:  https://www.newsy.com/stories/painkiller-alternatives-offered-to-prevent-opioid-addiction/

We invite SMART-related blog entries from all interested readers. Entries should have strong pertinence to SMART. Queries are welcome. Send manuscripts or queries to blog@smartrecovery.org



Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The REBT Opp, a Useful Abbreviation

Author: Ted, SMART Recovery Volunteer Meeting Facilitator


Bringing SMART Recovery into state prisons has rewards but also poses bureaucratic challenges. Difficulties in regularly covering a Tuesday afternoon meeting in Massachusetts prompted the recruitment of a third volunteer facilitator. With obstacles, the new volunteer was able to schedule an in-person orientation class that was required but was officially offered at erratic and infrequent intervals. This volunteer traveled many miles to show up for a SMART meeting a week later. He got to the door and was denied admission because he was not yet “in the computer.” (Of course, the delinquent cyber entry happened a few hours later, after the group meeting.)

When the new volunteer was denied entry after his paperwork, classwork, and travel, the three of us looked briefly at each other. All that was said was, “Well, an REBT opportunity.”

With practice, it is often effective to quickly recognize that many potential frustrations are “just REBT opps.”

The phrase said a lot. It seemed to say it all. As SMART facilitators, we had absorbed the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) concepts of Albert Ellis. Faced with an invitation to disturb ourselves, we could have done an ABC exercise. We could have examined the unhelpful Beliefs that were permitting the Activating Event to invite negative Consequences. We could have proceeded to Dispute the Beliefs. We could have done all that, but we did not take the time. Basically, we had done plenty of ABC exercises over the years. We knew that, if we did one more, it would just show that there was no value in getting disturbed about this problem. With practice, it is often effective to quickly recognize that many potential frustrations are “just REBT opps.”

Practice of SMART tools may lead to other shortcuts. For instance, upon substantive recovery from a bad habit, it becomes increasingly hard to list the user benefits in a Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA). Attempts to propose benefits are automatically thwarted by disputation. Indeed, some REBT practitioners may come to feel that it is no longer worth their time to list any benefits of an addicting problem. After all, the benefits are just going to be effectively disputed.


We invite SMART-related blog entries from all interested readers. Entries should have strong pertinence to SMART. Queries are welcome. Send manuscripts or queries to blog@smartrecovery.org







Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Register: Helping Families Cope with Addiction webinar with Dr. Robert Meyers

Talk with Dr. Bob Meyers about how families and friends can help when a loved one drinks or abuses drugs.

Saturday, October 21, 5:00 pm EST

Register for This Webinar

As concerned significant others, families and friends, our intimate connection should make us natural allies, but we often don’t know how to talk with each other or work together when it comes to addiction, with all the emotional intensity that brings to relationships.

SMART and CRAFT work beautifully together to encourage healthy, productive efforts towards an improved quality of life for everyone, and we are particularly proud of our association with Dr. Meyers, and the growth of our efforts to help SMART Recovery Family & Friends based on CRAFT, Community Reinforcement and Family Training.

Robert Meyers has pioneered the study of how families can help support those with addiction and is a creator of CRAFT, the scientifically validated and widely acclaimed alternative to “intervention,” as we widely think of it. His book, Get Your Loved One Sober: Alternatives to Nagging, Pleading, and Threatening, co-written with Brenda Wolfe in 2003, has already become a classic.

Dr. Meyers is an internationally renowned speaker and gives CRAFT training workshops around the world. He has been in the field of addiction treatment for 38 years and long affiliated with the University of New Mexico. He is currently director of Robert J. Meyers, Ph.D. & Associates.

SMART Recovery is pleased to continue to offer its Special Event Webinars and subsequent podcasts free to everyone who may have interest in topics related to addiction and recovery, in addition to our extensive community of participants, facilitators, professionals, and friends, and of course, the family and friends of loved ones. SMART celebrates its 23rd anniversary; we hope you’ll join our warm community of support!



Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Review of “Over the Influence: The Harm Reduction Guide to Controlling Your Drug and Alcohol Use” (2nd ed.), by P. Denning and J. Little, published by Guilford Press, 2017

Book review by A.Tom Horvath, Ph.D.

Although harm reduction is commonly used in other countries, this approach to coping with problematic addictive behavior is unfortunately uncommon in the US. The authors are two US harm reduction leaders. They founded the Center for Harm Reduction Therapy in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2000. This book is intended for persons considering change. The authors have also written a book for professionals, the acclaimed Practicing Harm Reduction Therapy, now in a 2nd edition.

To provide an overview of this impressive work I will extensively quote it. In response to the question “What is Harm Reduction?” they provide the following three paragraphs (p. 197)

“Harm reduction is a way to help people change their substance use without demanding immediate and lifelong abstinence. It uses many creative strategies to keep people alive and safe while they figure out how to develop a healthier relationship with drugs. For some people, that means abstinence; for others that means moderate or safer use.”

“Harm reduction takes a health perspective rather than a moral or legal perspective, on drug use. Drug use is not bad. It is normal human behavior, and most people don’t get into trouble with it. Drug misuse is a habit that has gotten out of hand, or it is a signal of other co-occurring problems.”

“Harm reduction attends to every aspect of health—physical, mental and emotional, social and economic. It is nonjudgmental, compassionate, and pragmatic—it starts where the person is, stays with the person through the entire process of change, and never ever kicks anyone out.”

The sections of this book are:

Preface: How did we get here?
Introduction: Why harm reduction?

1) Welcome to harm reduction
2) Why do people use drugs?
3) When is drug use harmful?
4) Why do some people get into trouble while others don’t?
5) How do I know if I am in trouble?
6) How do people change?
7) You don’t have to quit to change?
8) Substance use management
9) Taking care of yourself while still using
10) How can I tell if harm reduction is working?
11) Finding the right help
12) A letter to family and friends of people who use drugs

What should you know about drugs: A quick reference

For SMART meeting leaders many of the chapters or appendices alone would be sufficient reason to purchase this book. In particular the quick reference to drugs (the 1st appendix) includes a section, for each drug or drug class, on the “beneficial effects.” This section is consistent with how SMART conducts a cost-benefit analysis (CBA), and provides essential information for understanding the user’s motivations.

SMART meeting leaders will find the entire book to contain familiar language and a familiar motivational perspective. Chapter 7 includes specific mention of the Stages of Change (p. 131) and provides an extended presentation that weaves together the underlying concepts of the Change Plan Worksheet and the Cost Benefit Analysis. Chapter 8 includes Triggers (p. 145), as well as classic harm reduction steps to reduce harm while not stopping or reducing use.

Some SMART meeting leaders might view SMART’s abstinence approach as very different than a harm reduction approach. I suggest the alternative perspective that all approaches to problematic addictive behavior involve making changes that are appealing in the long term but not so appealing in the short term. The extent to which each person is willing to honor the long term over the short term varies person to person, and time to time in the same person. Harm reduction provides a unifying framework for helping anyone, at any moment, in their personal change process.

It falls outside of SMART meeting guidelines to discuss classic harm reduction methods (like changing your route of administration). However, we do focus on “stopping,” which is also a unifying framework. Anyone who wants to honor the long term over the short term will need to “stop” something, to some extent, at some point. The harm reduction approach is larger than, and includes, the SMART approach. It would benefit any SMART meeting leader to be familiar with this larger perspective.

In full disclosure, the back cover of this book includes the following quote from me: “A highly informative, practical, passionate and moving guide…The stories on these pages are reminders of the power of the human spirit.” I’m pleased to say that, after reading this book a second time (for this review), this quote seems even more applicable.

We invite SMART-related blog entries from all interested readers. Entries should have strong pertinence to SMART. Queries are welcome. Send manuscripts or queries to blog@smartrecovery.org






Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Hurricanes Can’t Stop SMART Recovery Conference from Rising Strong!

Things were a little touch-and-go as to whether SMART’s 2017 Annual Conference: Rising Strong would be able to occur in Ft. Lauderdale on September 22-24. But much like the conference theme and SMART’s unstoppable growth, Rising Strong took place as scheduled. The Conference was well attended and received great ratings from the volunteers, meeting participants and treatment professionals who attended.

SMART remains grateful for the financial support of our sponsors, Synergy Recovery Center/Synergy Executive, and the Florida branch of NAADAC.

The President’s Address by Dr. Joe Gerstein, and Guerrilla Tactics for the Hostile, Difficult, Disengaged, and Over-Engaged Participant Part 2 by Dr. David Saenz were the two favorite presentations of attendees.

SMART’s new 5-Year Strategic Plan was debuted at the Conference, and included in many of the comments during Dr. Gerstein’s President’s Address. A copy of the Strategic Plan can be found here.

“Great conference, well organized and concise, no wasted time. I learned things I will use and facilitate meetings a little differently.” Dan Piddington, Synergy Recovery Center and SMART Facilitator

Also enjoyed were new results from the Peer Alternatives to Addiction (PAL) study, presented by Dr. Sarah Zemore, and a research review by Dr. William Campbell of the Checkup & Choices app, which when used in conjunction with SMART meetings, is shown to enhance recovery outcomes.

Organizational-related presentations — including an update on SMART Recovery International; BMore SMART, a program for growing SMART in inner cities; and SMART coming alive on Prince Edward Island, Canada — were each well received.

“Totally enjoyed the fellowship and enthusiasm of members from all over the U.S., Australia, Canada, and England. SMART continues to be supported by science, hard to argue with data. I learned some new skills from other facilitators. Dr. Joe continues to inspire.” Michael Weiner, Treatment Professional

Breakout sessions on four topics of interest to attendees were enjoyed and considered a valuable learning experience.

Dr. Don Sheeley received the 2017 Joseph Gerstein Award for Outstanding Service. While not able to attend because of a conflict, Dr. Sheeley expressed it was an honor to learn of his selection following the meeting.

“The conference was very helpful and informative. I got to meet many fellow travelers in the world of recovery from old destructive behaviors and the men and women who work hard to support me. My passion to bring SMART to as many as possible continues to just rise up!” James R. Moore, SMART Facilitator, West Palm Beach, FL

Sunday’s Motivational Interviewing Workshop, led by Dr. Lori Eickleberry was extremely well received, with ratings of 9 out of 10 for every question on the evaluation form. Comments included: “One of the best workshops re: usefulness & practical application & helpful key skills”, and “Lori was fantastic and did wonderful within the time allotted.”

Special thanks to the GALLERYone DoubleTree Hotel for working hard to ensure the Conference could take place, though many of their guestrooms and some meeting space had water damage from Hurricane Irma.

Networking and reconnecting with the SMART community are always atop the list of things most enjoyed by Conference participants. It’s really an event not to be missed – start planning now to join us in the fall of 2018. Stay tuned for dates and location.




Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Cincinnati Reds Bring Partnership Resources to Families in Ohio

The post Cincinnati Reds Bring Partnership Resources to Families in Ohio appeared first on Partnership for Drug-Free Kids - Where Families Find Answers.


Personal choice and empowerment

A Diverse and Welcoming Support Community

Rob Freundlich, SMART Recovery Meeting Facilitator

When I recognized and accepted my sex-related addiction in March 2015 (2 1/2 years ago), I started looking for resources to help in my recovery. I knew that in addition to a good therapist, I would need at least one good group. For various reasons, the 12-step approach didn’t appeal to me, so I looked for alternatives, and ended up finding SMART Recovery.

From the website, I learned that SMART emphasizes personal choice and empowerment, and uses a rational thought-based approach toward recovery It’s backed by scientific research and updated as new research and discoveries are made. On the site I also found a lot of information about the organization, detailed information about the program (including “how-to” pages), and an amazing amount of reading material about addiction and recovery in general.

For a science-minded person like me, who’d always thought I was very logical and rational but was mystified and frustrated at how illogical, irrational, and powerless this addiction had made me, it seemed like a great fit. The only catch was that even though the site talked about addiction in general, the materials seemed to focus an awful lot on substance addiction (primarily drinking). Would I fit in?

More importantly, would I be welcome? At the time, I had a tremendous amount of shame – more than most people with addictions because mine was … you know … SEX!

I walked into that first meeting very tentatively, but resolved to stay. The facilitators recognized that I was new and made me feel very welcome, as did the people I sat next to. At the start of the meeting, there was a “check-in” – people saying their name, why they were there, and a little bit about what was going on with them at the time. My turn came, and I looked down at the table, with a knot in my gut, and said “Hi, I’m Rob. I’m a sex addict. This is my first meeting.” and talked a bit about how I’d come to be there …

From around the table came a chorus of “Welcomes” and “We’re glad you found us”s and so on. The facilitator said “Thank you for sharing – if it’s OK, we’d like to come back to you after check-in and hear more about your story.”

I’ve been going back to that meeting, 1 or 2 times per week, ever since.

I have learned that I am not an addict – I have an addiction.

I have learned to use numerous tools (thought/writing exercises) to help me motivate myself to change, to deal with challenging urges, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and to live a balanced life. I use these tools every day, not only in relation to my addiction, but in other areas of my life.

I have learned to stop using self-defeating and self-limiting language and instead use language that reinforces my power of choice in my life.

I have learned to notice when I am thinking in irrational ways and how to challenge that thinking and turn it into rational thoughts.

I have learned how to safely be vulnerable.

I have learned how to get back up when I fall.

I have found a community of people who are genuine, honest, and caring, and I’ve made some very good friends.

I have stayed sober/clean/unusing/whatever term you want.

I’m not going to say that SMART Recovery did this for me or to me, because that’s not the case. I did this. But I did it in large part because of SMART Recovery, because of what I learned through SMART Recovery.

One final note. SMART Recovery meetings are facilitated by volunteers, not medical professionals. Many facilitators are people people like myself who have gone through recovery. I have such respect for this organization and gratitude for what it has helped me to do that this summer I decided to take the online training class to become a facilitator. I am proud to have done so and to be able to give something back to this incredible organization.

Rob Freundlich is a software developer in the greater Boston metropolitan area. He has been attending SMART Recovery meetings at Emerson Hospital in Concord, MA since early 2015 and recently completed the Get SMART FAST training and began facilitating a meeting at Emerson.





Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Parent Coach Training Takes Place in Nashville, Tennessee

The post Parent Coach Training Takes Place in Nashville, Tennessee appeared first on Partnership for Drug-Free Kids - Where Families Find Answers.


Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Joins the Fashion and Music Industries to Help Address Substance Use Disorders

The post Partnership for Drug-Free Kids Joins the Fashion and Music Industries to Help Address Substance Use Disorders appeared first on Partnership for Drug-Free Kids - Where Families Find Answers.


The Science and History of SMART Recovery

SMART Recovery 2017

Guest Blogger, William L. White 

The growth of secular addiction recovery mutual aid groups is an important landmark within the history of addiction recovery in the United States. In recent years, I have helped catalogue (See HERE) the history of groups such as Women for Sobriety, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, LifeRing Secular Recovery, and SMART Recovery, as well as describe the growth of a secular wing of Alcoholics Anonymous (See HERE and HERE).  A related involvement has been serving on SMART Recovery’s International Advisory Council. Dr. Joe Gerstein, founding President of SMART Recovery, recently shared the following update with members of the International Advisory Council. This communication highlights both the growth of SMART Recovery and its increasing recognition by addiction professional and recovery support specialists. It is shared here with permission.

30 August 2017

Dear Member of the SMART Recovery International Advisory Council:

Those of us who are deeply involved in the development and expansion of the SMART Recovery Program into a worldwide phenomenon greatly appreciate your willingness to lend your name and reputation to our endeavors!

SMART Recovery has now clearly entered into the mainstream of the self-help/mutual aid recovery movement with more than 2,400 weekly meetings in 21 countries. The SMART Recovery Program has been endorsed by NIDA, NIAAA, SAMHSA, NADCP, Federal Bureau of Prisons, ASAM, EAPA, AAFP, NICE (UK) and NCHCQR (Australia). SMART Recovery received three mentions in the landmark U.S. Surgeon General’s Report Facing Addiction (2016). The SMART program for correctional facilities InsideOut, funded by NIDA, is now used in more than 200 prisons worldwide.

The SMART Recovery Handbook is now in its 3rd Edition and has been published in 11 languages plus a special edition for Australian Aboriginals. Special editions of the Facilitator Handbook for SMART Recovery and the Family & Friends (F&F) program were developed in Australia and the Participant Handbook in the UK. Our F&F program is based on the highly effective Community Reinforcement And Family Training (CRAFT) system. SMART now hosts about 50 F&F group meetings.

A global SMART corporate entity is in formation: SMART Recovery International, which will hold the SMART Recovery trademarks and copyrights, and administer multinational entities being formed, along with national organizations to support local SMART groups. At the outset, the Board seats will be occupied by US, UK and Australia SMART representatives. We hope to add representatives from Ireland (Eire), Denmark and Canada in the near future.

The smartrecovery.org website is approaching 2,000,000 annual visitors and 200,000 registrants. SMART online meetings are in tremendous demand. The SMART Recovery online, interactive facilitator training program is enrolling a monthly cohort of about 300 people, about two-thirds of them professionals.

SMART’s value in reducing crime was proven in a recent study of inmates in the New South Wales Prison System. Authored by Chris Blatch, et al., this study was published as an Invited Article and the Leading Article in the Journal of Forensic Practice in January of 2016. It followed the reoffending [reconviction] rate of 3,000 inmates with addiction histories within two years of release who were exposed to SMART Recovery meetings compared with 3,000 exquisitely matched controls. Those who attended at least 10 SMART Recovery sessions had reoffending rates reduced by 22% overall and an impressive 43% in violent crimes.

This January, Bill White and Rita Chaney generated a SMART Recovery bibliography, which now runs to more than 100 articles and research papers. Additional research is planned and underway, including significant studies that will evaluate SMART’s effectiveness in providing recovery support/mutual aid in detail and over significant periods of time.

John F. Kelly, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Addiction Medicine at Harvard Medical School, has been serving as SMART Recovery’s Volunteer Director of Research since 2011, vetting proposals for research potentially involving SMART Recovery participants. You might be interested in this article, which concerns the ethics of appropriate mutual aid group referrals: “Addiction, 12-Step Programs, and Evidentiary Standards for Ethically and Clinically Sound Treatment Recommendations: What Should Clinicians Do?” available here: http://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/2016/06/sect1-1606.html

If and when you come across a scientific study which you think might have pertinence to the SMART Recovery Program, please do send me the reference so that we may consider its potential utility.

Again, many thanks for your generous support of SMART Recovery.


Joseph Gerstein, MD, FACP
President, SMART Recovery

William L. White is an Emeritus Senior Research Consultant at Chestnut Health Systems / Lighthouse Institute and past-chair of the board of Recovery Communities United. Bill has a Master’s degree in Addiction Studies and has worked full time in the addictions field since 1969 as a streetworker, counselor, clinical director, researcher and well-traveled trainer and consultant. He has authored or co-authored more than 400 articles, monographs, research reports and book chapters and 17 books. His book, Slaying the Dragon – The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America, received the McGovern Family Foundation Award for the best book on addiction recovery. Bill’s sustained contributions to the field have been acknowledged by awards from the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, NAADAC: The Association of Addiction Professionals, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the Native American Wellbriety Movement. Bill’s widely read papers on recovery advocacy have been published by the Johnson Institute in a book entitled Let’s Go Make Some History: Chronicles of the New Addiction Recovery Advocacy Movement.



Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Seeing Yourself Sober

Benefits of developing a strong mental image of yourself as a non-drinker

Pete Soderman, author of Powerless No Longer

A few years ago, when I decided to quit smoking following a major heart attack, one of the techniques that made it easier was seeing myself as a nonsmoker. I visualized a person with fresh breath, no little holes in his shirt, no nicotine stains on his fingers, and no pack of smokes in his pocket. A person who could answer the phone, read the paper in the morning, have a cup of coffee, deal with stress, and socialize, all without having a cigarette constantly burning nearby. Not just any person either, it had to be myself in a new role.

To some extent, I used the same technique years before when I quit drinking, but not as consciously as I did with smoking. With drinking, I had to first convince myself that there even was a life without alcohol before I could see myself in it. Once I decided there was, I could imagine myself in all sorts of situations, even attending my daughter’s wedding, without a drink.

Let me make something clear at the beginning. I’m not talking about the “Think and Grow Rich,” “Power of Positive Thinking,” or “The Secret” thing here. What I’m talking about has nothing to do with quantum entanglement, spooky action at a distance, collapsing wave functions, or the “energy field” in the universe. If you’re into that kind of thing, you can find plenty of it elsewhere.

Instead, I’m talking about a way to help you change your way of thinking by making it easier to identify and dispute your irrational beliefs. Let me explain.

First, what do I mean by “visualizing yourself as a non-drinker?” Whether we like it or not, we carry around a mental picture of ourselves most of the time. While we are in the early stages of sobriety, we are still picturing ourselves as that confident person at the cocktail party, pouring out witticisms and engaging in scintillating conversations. That might have been true when we first arrived at the party, but it’s a far cry from the person who stumbled out the door when it was over. I don’t know about you, but the guys in our circle of friends when I was drinking, somewhat resented it when I stopped. You see, I was the guy they pointed to when their wives criticized their behavior. “Yeah, but I wasn’t as bad as Pete,” they would say in their own defense.

How about picturing yourself as that confident person at the cocktail party, but with a soft drink, or a club soda, instead of alcohol? How about picturing yourself as a person that people seek-out at a gathering, rather than someone they avoid like the plague. Picture someone who conducts themselves properly, rather than someone who insults the host, spills drinks on the carpet, and hits on the hostess. Picture yourself going through life as the person you are, rather than the person you became when you were drinking. Picture yourself as a person who works through their problems, and deals with stress, rather than one who avoids, postpones, and makes things worse by retreating into an alcoholic haze.

If you can keep that mental picture before you, it makes it easier to dispute some of your irrational beliefs. If you recall, the three questions we use to challenge our beliefs are:

  1. Is my belief based upon fact – would a camera recording the scene see it the same way my thoughts reflect it?
  2. Does my belief help me achieve my short and long-term goals?
  3. Does my belief help me feel the way I want to feel?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, the belief is probably irrational. Now, look at question #2. Whether or not you realize it, by creating a mental picture of yourself as a non-drinker, you have set a goal – something to shoot for, a person you wish to become. If the belief that you are evaluating is one that produces a feeling that leads you to consider drinking, that belief is contrary to the goal you now have in your mind, reinforced by the mental image you have created.

Staying sober is a mind game. You against your learned habit. Your opponent is composed of strongly encoded neural pathways that you can overcome only by encoding new pathways. A strong mental image of yourself as a non-drinker is another tool you can use to help you encode new, healthier pathways, thereby developing new habits. Drinking or using after a period of abstinence is a choice—always. Questioning our belief systems is about making different and healthier choices.


The forgoing is an excerpt from the book “Powerless No Longer” by Pete Soderman, and is the property of the author.

About The Author:
 Pete Soderman is a SMART Meeting Facilitator who co-founded a SMART meeting in Wilmington, NC with Mike Werner, and is currently facilitating a SMART meeting in Ajijic, Jalisco Mexico. He is the author of Powerless No Longer , a book about self-empowered addiction recovery. He also publishes a blog with a focus on how to empower your mind to overcome self-defeating behaviors.




Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Carl Rogers on “The” Model

By Ted Alston, Volunteer Meeting Facilitator

In 2005, William White and Martin Nicolaus wrote that SMART Recovery and other secular recovery groups “were influenced by the work of Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis”1. Ellis gave us the ABC Model and other tools. The influence of Rogers is less direct. I find the writings of Rogers to be tough reads. However, the following quote is clear and may be of interest to students of SMART2.

“We regard the medical model as an extremely inappropriate model for dealing with psychological disturbances. The model that makes more sense is a growth model or a developmental model. In other words we see people as having a potential for growth and development and that can be released under the right psychological climate. We don’t see them as sick and needing a diagnosis, a prescription and a cure; and that is a very fundamental difference with a good many implications” — Carl Rogers, 1978

SMART has no position on the so-called medical model, and Rogers did not find that model necessary. Furthermore, he cautioned against labels.

At different times, Ellis and Rogers were individually recognized as the Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association. From the photos, it is hard to say which psychologist sported the pointiest shirt collar.

1 White W, Nicolaus M. Styles of secular recovery. Counselor 2005;6(4):58-61.
2 The quote is from an interview and was selected by editor David Webb for the preface to Significant Aspects of Client-Centered Therapy, Psychology Classics, Carl Rogers.
Details of the interview are at



Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Overdose Awareness Day 2017

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A Portable Lapse Prevention Plan

Randy Lindel, Facilitator, SMART Recovery Boston

A “lapse” or a “slip” is a brief reengagement with your addictive behavior. Usually, you feel bad about it right afterwards, but weren’t able to successfully avoid it.

Many lapses are triggered by unforeseen events. Some pressure just occurs out of the blue. It’s an important reminder that you can’t control everything – what other people say or do or what happens that you didn’t expect. Strong emotions can result quickly and produce powerful urges.

But, there IS something you can do. And that’s to have a plan for the unexpected.

In SMART Recovery, we have many strategies to use when you know you’re going to be in a social situation. You “play the tape forward,” thinking through the event and develop your plan to deal with what you’re expecting to happen. After being in a few different situations, you refine your plan to a point that it starts to become automatic.

The difference for the unexpected situation is that your plans are in the back of your mind and the current events may make them hard to find and use while you’re in an emotional state. What you need now is help to access your plans. And a great way to have that help ready is to –
Write your Lapse Prevention Plan on an index card that you keep in your wallet, purse or someplace that’s always accessible. What’s on your card can be any strategy that you think can help. At my regular meeting this week, here are some ideas the group came up with for a card:

Whatever your list, just make sure they are approaches you think will be good to deal with strong emotions and urges. With your “plan in your pocket,” you won’t have to worry about making one up when you really need it.

For a list of SMART Recovery meetings near you visit https://www.smartrecovery.org/local/



Tuesday, 22 August 2017

What’s the first step of habit change? Going off autopilot!

– Carrie Wilkens, Clinical Director of the Center for Motivation and Change

Changing behavior requires self-awareness. Changing a well-worn habit in particular requires that you move it from “automatic” to “conscious” so that you can make other behavioral choices. For example, if you don’t even notice that you are reaching for a cigarette as you get into your car, how are you ever going to decide to resist lighting it up?

Habits are influenced by your environment and are set off by environmental cues, sometimes called triggers. Triggers are the people, situations, locations and emotions associated with any behavior you are trying to change. When it comes to substance use, triggers are the environmental variables that provoke “cravings” or the desire to use or engage in the habit. Neuroscientists have studied the trigger effect in the brain—how an encounter with drug paraphernalia or the smell of a long-frequented pub lights up the part of the brain responsible for emotion and instinct, the “feel good” parts of the brain. As you encounter these cues in your daily life, it’s likely that you are on autopilot and don’t even notice how they are linked to your decision to engage in your habit. Scientists have also found that once these habits are engaged, the brain has a difficult time considering the consequences and risks associated with the behavior. In other words, once you are in your car, smoking the cigarette, it’s not likely that you will have the wherewithal to say “this is really bad for my health, I’m going to throw this cigarette and the rest of the pack away right now.”

If you are wanting to change a habit, it is important to start with identifying the cues/triggers (both internal and external) that lead up to the decision to engage in the behavior.

  • What are the usual times of day/night associated with this behavior?
  • What are you doing?
  • What are you feeling?
  • What are you thinking?
  • Who are you with?
  • Where are you?

The good news is that by understanding these triggers you can go about altering your

environment in order to support change. In addition, when you replace old behaviors with more positive actions, new neural pathways are forged. Thankfully, triggers tend to lose their strength over time as the old pathways power down from disuse.


  • Address your environment: You can choose to be one place or another. You can avoid certain places or certain people. You can consciously alter things in your environment to make it safer (remove paraphernalia or any other visual cues to use).
  • Be conscious! Much of daily life is out of our control but we can make conscious decisions about some variables and doing so can make a big difference. Who are you spending time with? Where are you hanging out? How are you responding to certain emotional states?
  • Pay special attention to the internal triggers (the feelings and the thoughts). Do you need to get specific help with anxiety? How can you go about tending to your loneliness? Fatigue? Anger?
  • Be proactive and deliberate. As you try to resist old behaviors, be creative and engage in life-enhancing alternatives so that you don’t feel deprived.
  • Ask for help. Changing your relationship to behavioral habits often involves including other people. Let people know what you are trying to do so that they don’t accidentally contribute to your being exposed to your triggers.

Remember, making changes in behavior require new learning. No one is an A student over night. Be patient with yourself as you navigate your day to day and encounter triggers and possibly the desire to engage in your habit. By shifting out of “automatic” and trying to be aware of your triggers you will have a much greater chance of changing your behavior and patterns. Conscious decision making leads to change!

Dr. Carrie Wilkens CMC

Dr. Wilkens
is a Clinical Director of the Center for Motivation and Change in NYC which she co-founded with Dr. Jeffrey Foote. She specializes in motivational treatments and group psychotherapy, and has worked with traumatized populations in both individual and group modalities.


Source: Center for Motivation & Change (used with permission)
………………….Center for Motivation & Change