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Are Teens Accepted in SMART Recovery Programs?

Teenagers sitting in a darkened room looking bored and annoyed.

A parent’s worst nightmare is to lose his or her son or daughter to a drug overdose or alcohol poisoning. The second biggest worry for some parents is not that their teenager will abuse drugs or alcohol and have to go through rehab. Rather, it is the fear that their child will grow up with the label of “alcoholic” or “drug addict” attached to him or her, along with the need to attend regular meetings of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous for the rest of his or her life.

This progression is not a foregone conclusion for teen substance abusers. There is an alternative approach that may be a “smarter” choice for adolescents who are struggling with alcohol or drug use.

What Exactly is SMART Recovery?

For some teens, SMART Recovery programs work just as well as conventional 12-step regimens in helping substance abusers become and remain sober. SMART is an acronym for Self Management And Recovery Training, and it focuses on getting teenagers to change their behaviors and take control of their lives.

All SMART Recovery programs embrace these four steps:

  1. Building and maintaining motivation. It is arguably the most important step since substance abusers must make the decision themselves to change their lives.
  2. Coping with urges. The program teaches participants ways to react to cravings, as well as how to suppress and overcome them in various situations.
  3. Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Much like traditional therapy, the program encourages the examination of these “triggers” of drug and alcohol use so emotions can be managed and self-acceptance achieved.
  4. Living a balanced life. Participants are taught to take a hard look at their lives, determine what is most important to them, and set realistic goals for the future.

How is SMART Different?

SMART Recovery programs differ from 12-step programs like AA and NA in several ways. The major difference is the SMART Recovery approach concentrates on people taking control of their lives, whereas 12-steppers admit they are powerless over their addictions and surrender to a higher power.

In fact, SMART does not view addiction as a “disease”, nor does it refer to participants as “addicts.” The idea is that such labels are not productive and could do more harm than good to an individual’s psyche. Also, people who go through SMART programs can “graduate” into a new, healthier life, whereas 12-step programs are designed to last a lifetime.

Smart or NA/AA?

So which path is better: SMART or 12-step programs?

A road extending into the distance with the words Recovery at the beginning.

The answer is different for every individual. There is no single road to recovery from substance abuse. Though SMART recovery programs encourage teenagers to abstain from drugs and alcohol, the same is not necessarily true for adults; many SMART graduates still consume alcohol in moderation (which is verboten in AA).

Like 12-step programs, SMART does utilize in-person meetings where specific topics are discussed. However, the program also relies heavily on additional peer support from message boards and other online discussion groups. These virtual social channels might be more appealing to tech-savvy teenagers who are battling their dependence on alcohol or drugs.

If you think that your teenager has the inner strength to take control of his or her life, make positive choices to achieve independence from drugs or alcohol, and move on into adulthood while putting substance abuse in the rearview mirror, then a SMART Recovery program might be ideal. So look for SMART Recovery programs in your area and see if they are suitable for your teen.

For more information on the various options to address teen substance abuse, contact us today.

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