“SMART made me realise that I do have power and autonomy. None of the facilitators asked me what my drug of choice was or how many sober days I have because it just isn’t important. You talk about how the last seven days have been and then you talk about setting achievable goals for the seven days ahead. There is no ‘failure’. If you don’t achieve your goals, you don’t have to start again from Day One, you just try again the next week. I like that it’s an evidence-based program that uses proven techniques like CBT and meditation. It’s a welcoming and inclusive community that is helpful at any stage of one’s recovery journey. There is no judgement, blame or shame and addiction is viewed as a behavioural problem that can be changed and resolved.” 

- A Community Activator at The Level talks about his experience attending SMART Recovery support groups. 


I first heard about SMART Recovery when I worked as an addictions counsellor in high schools. At the time I was struggling to make sense of my personal and work life, and how these two fit together. I had my own past and present experience with using drugs and felt like a massive hypocrite for spending my days working with students to cut down their drug use while continuing to use myself 

It was when I first trained as a SMART Recovery facilitator and ran my first groups that I was able to better make sense of this. Instead of starting each group by getting the participants to review how often they used different drugs, we got them to review their goals – whatever those happened to be. For some it was to use meth less throughout the week, for others it was to build a better relationship with their kids, or to find solid employment. 

Exactly how much someone was using was no longer a relevant question.  

I felt strangely free because there was no longer this strange contradiction between my work and personal life. That voice in my head telling me that I was a liar, and a hypocrite was dimmer and the divide between the abstinent helper, and the trying to be abstinent client was broken down 

Of course, I always understood that there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ when it comes to drugs, but SMART allowed me to practice what I was preaching. After all, everyone uses drugs in some way - whether that’s coffee, sugar, meds, or meth. We are all just people living in a world where drugs exist, trying our best to navigate it. 

For me, few treatment approaches have captured the reality of drug use better than SMART Recovery. Let’s explore exactly what this modern approach is and how it can help people who aren’t able to connect with traditional treatment options. 


For those scrolling through, here is the high-level information: 


Key things to know about Smart Recovery 

  • Support groups to help people who use drugs.
  • All are welcome – you can be using drugs occasionally, regularly or anything in between.
  • No set programme – set your own goals to guide the content, these don’t have to be drug-related.
  • Delivered by trained facilitators, often with their own lived experience of using drugs.
  • Uses evidence-based tools to support people to live more balanced lives. 


Now let’s dive in a bit deeper: 


What is Smart Recovery? 

SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is a group for anyone who uses drugs that wants to set goals and make changes. It was created as an alternative to 12 step meetings (e.g. Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous) for people who don’t connect with the programmes roots in religion, God and abstinence. 

It is evidence based and grounded in Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). With the guidance of a facilitator, participants of the group support each other to: 

  1. Build and maintain motivation
  2. Cope with urges and cravings
  3. Manage thoughts, feelings and behaviours
  4. Live a balanced life 

To attend these meetings, you don’t need to be trying to cut down or quit using drugs.  

These meetings are run online and in person across 23+ countries including the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Find a meeting in your area. 


What is it actually like to attend these meetings? 

The amazing people I spoke to for this article can say it far better than I ever could. This is what SMART recovery means for them and their relationships with drugs: 

Toni, a SMART facilitator at Odyssey Christchurch talks about her experience running these groups. 

It's rational and it’s clear and it’s matter of fact. It’s not all airy-fairy clinical words.

It’s not always about abstinence. Some people do get to a point where they can manage what they’re doing. And it’s not up to anyone else to tell them they can’t. It’s up to them to decide whether it’s helpful to continue on that path or whether they need to change tack a little bit.

There was someone in a group I ran. They were drinking daily. They had no intentions of stopping. They’re now not drinking at all. That was over an 8 – 12 month period. They just started to cut a day down. Then two days. They then realised they were feeling a lot better. All of a sudden, just through their own motivation they started to feel the enormity of what they were doing to themselves and realised they had some power to change that. It was gradual, but now they’re not drinking at all. Which is quite amazing. Not once were they told to stop drinking.

When it’s someone that’s consistently done all these other things and none of those things have worked out. To actually see that fire get created in a way where there’s no shame attached to whether you relapse or not. It’s amazing.


Bridget, a regular in SMART Recovery groups at Odyssey Christchurch talks about her experience participating in these groups. 

We talk about our goals in the group. Some people want to go for a walk once a week or cut down coffee. Any number of things. They might spend that time instead reflecting on their journey and start thinking about themselves a bit. What self–care looks like.

The social aspect of SMART recovery is huge for me. And being responsible for our goals. If we don’t do them, we’re only responsible to ourselves. The facilitator isn’t going to slap me on the wrist or give me a hard time. It’s up to me.

Through these groups, I’ve had to learn a lot. I’ve tried a lot of sneaky routes around addiction and realised that for me abstinence is the best way to go about it. But it’s so much more than just the drug use. We talk about the involvement of my health, my sanity, my goals, my relationship with my kids. 

I’ve grown so much in this last year. Even though I’ve been through lots of different rehabs before, this just worked for me. With the facilitators help I’ve started going to this art group. I’ve got structure. My social anxiety is much better.


Where to find SMART recovery groups 

Currently there are two main providers for Smart Recovery in Aotearoa, Odyssey in Auckland and Odyssey Christchurch. There are also online groups available for anyone to join from around the country. Find a meeting in your area. 


If you live in Northland, Odyssey offers meetings once a week in person:

  • Every Wednesday 6.00pm - 7.30pm, at 144 Bank Street, Whangārei.
  • No RSVP needed – Just turn up on the day and attend as often as you’d like
  • Any questions: contact via (09) 982 8054 or smart@odyssey.org.nz.


If you live in Auckland, Odyssey offers meetings once a week in person: 

  • Every Wednesday 1.30pm – 3.00pm, at 4/3029 Great North Road, New Lynn
  • Ample parking onsite or at LynnMall across the road, and a short walk from public transport links
  • No RSVP needed – Just turn up on the day and attend as often as you’d like
  • Any questions: contact via (09) 638 4957 or smart@odyssey.org.nz


If you live in Christchurch, Odyssey Christchurch offers meetings once a week in person: 

  • Every Monday 12.30pm to 2.00pm and Tuesday 6.00pm to 7.30pm, at Christchurch Central Services - 55-59 Ferry Road.
  • For friends and family of people who use drugs, meetings run Wednesday 10.30am to 11.30am.
  • No RSVP needed – Just turn up on the day and attend as often as you’d like.
  • Any questions, please phone (03) 3384437 or email smart@odysseychch.org.nz 


If you live elsewhere in New Zealand, you can search for online meetings here.

  • From 25th July 2024, Odyssey Christchurch will be running online groups on Thursday 6.00pm to 7.30pm. 


Thank you to all participants and facilitators that graciously lent me their time and their stories. I’d like to finish with a thought from a SMART participant on what they’d like to see for the future of SMART recovery in Aotearoa.

I'd just love to see more SMART meetings available. There's so many available in Australia, both online and in person and frankly it makes me jealous. There are people in New Zealand who don’t want to use a 12 Step approach - for a variety of reasons. I think SMART would be a great alternative for us.


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