The anti-substance abuse nonprofit SMART Recovery has started to gain more traction in Boston, largely thanks to demographic trends that have made the area far less religious than it used to be. Across the board, non-religious substance use recovery methodologies such as those pushed by SMART Recovery in Boston have started to become more and more popular.

Why secular recovery programs are in the spotlight?

Faith and alcohol have likely been at odds since the beginning of organized religion. Alcoholism has been a problem in Massachusetts for almost as long as there have been Christian European settlers in the area. 

And while these first settlers, the Pilgrims, were definitely of a religious bent, the people of Massachusetts today are anything but. A recent Pew Research poll found that only 33% of people in the state considered themselves “highly religious” and only about 62% considered themselves religious at all.

This trend continues a sharp decline in religiosity in the state that is even more pronounced in the Greater Boston Area, which is not only its most densely populated but is also its cultural and economic center. Just half a century ago, the area was considered to be one of America’s most socially conservative areas, with the phrase “banned in Boston”, widely understood at the time to refer to the area’s famously prudish sensitivities.

Meanwhile, even as Boston became the famously irreligious and liberal area it’s known to be today, alcohol consumption continued to remain strong compared to other parts of the country. While overall consumption has gone down over the decades, Boston has remained high on the list of cities in terms of binge drinking and underage drinking.

In light of this demographic shift, SMART and others like it have increasingly become a go-to for individuals with alcohol use disorders that require effective continuing care after rehab.


Where traditional recovery programs fall short?

Many old-school recovery programs employ a faith-based or religious perspective, simply because of the environment and times in which they were developed. The 12-step model pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous, for instance, usually requires faith in a “higher being”.

While these faith-based programs have respectable success rates, they’re not especially effective for individuals that have not been brought up in the faith espoused by the program. These programs tend to be at their most effective when the participant’s values system and beliefs already align with those of the program.

 A few decades ago, this might not have been much of a problem as the vast majority of Americans were Christians or had some belief in a higher power. As Americans become less religious, these programs are starting to become less and less effective for many who need treatment for alcohol use disorders. Ironically, having a non-religious person attend these programs may lead to pushback and even feelings of deep isolation that may fuel more substance misuse.

In response to the decline in faith in America, SMART Recovery and other more-inclusive drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs were developed to help out less religious individuals in need of an alternative to faith-based recovery programs.

How SMART Recovery works for alcohol use disorders

Unlike many other competing recovery models, SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Training) is not primarily centered around group sessions. Instead, it’s far more reliant on one’s motives to quit drinking. Certified SMART Recovery programs achieve this by giving individuals resources and training through certified hosts and facilitators.

Main objectives of SMART Recovery

Certified SMART facilitators and meeting hosts aim to have participants achieve the following:

  • Increase motivation to keep away from alcohol and other drugs
  • Understand and control triggers that could lead to a relapse
  • Understand one’s own thinking and thought patterns to avoid destructive behavior
  • Have a good life balance by acquiring the skills needed for it

Resources provided by SMART Recovery programs

Programs certified by SMART Recovery provide the following support:

  • Secular educational materials for treatment
  • Referrals
  • Online meetings
  • Meeting materials
  • Message boards
  • 24/7 chatrooms
  • Facilitator and host training and certification
  • Hands-on demonstrations and rehab site visits



With falling numbers of religious folks in the Greater Boston Area, programs that could meet the needs of non-religious individuals with alcohol use disorder are now becoming more in demand. 

While broadly true across all stages of treatment, this is especially crucial for continuing care programs. Fortunately, SMART Recovery and other similar methodologies have stepped up to fill this gap in substance use treatment.


Where to find SMART Recovery programs in Boston

SMART Recovery maintains a listing of certified programs in the New England area, including several for Greater Boston and the rest of Massachusetts. You can also get in touch with local drug rehab directories such as Boston Drug Treatment Center for a list of similar non-religious and faith-based alcohol recovery options in Boston.