SMART divides its tools and techniques into a four-point programme that includes building and maintaining motivation, coping with urges, managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and living a balanced life.

These roughly correspond to the arc of addiction recovery. To even try to get sober, you need to find some motivation. This point typically includes exercises like creating a cost-benefit analysis of addictive behaviour, where you write down the costs and benefits of continuing addictive behaviour and compare them to the costs and benefits of quitting.

When people do this, it usually becomes obvious that quitting is the best thing to do. After deciding to quit and making an initial effort, withdrawal symptoms and cravings are the first major hurdles people face. SMART teaches strategies for dealing with these, such as mindful awareness and cognitive restructuring. For example, most people experiencing withdrawal symptoms or cravings will tell themselves things like “This is awful!” or “I can’t stand it!” A much more rational way to think is “This is painful or extremely unpleasant, but it’s not unbearable, and it will eventually stop.” It seems like a small difference but it can get you through a tough time. Managing thoughts, feelings, and behaviours includes important skills to get you through the intermediate period of recovery when you’ve had some success staying sober for several months.

This is about the time when you start having to deal with problems like complacency and backsliding. Learning to deal with these issues along with the regular kinds of problems that derail recovery such as stress, anxiety, and depression is important during this phase, and CBT has many strategies for helping you keep your head in the right place. Living a balanced life is basically what keeps you on track. These are the big picture things that help make you a happy, productive person. This point includes strategies to help you clarify your most important values and set long-term goals for yourself.