Additional Articles and Essays


risk_rewardTo drink or not to drink. To use or not to use. What will break the log-jam of conflicting thoughts? Let’s start by getting the risks and rewards of quitting down on paper.

“I couldn’t cope without my dope” vs “What in the hell have I done now?”

Risks: All the things that terrorize us about stopping are risks of quitting, while the risks of using are those problems that have either already happened or are possible to happen. These two categories involve the more immediate aspects of the situation.

Rewards: There must have been rewards for using or we wouldn’t have kept it up so long. To complete the picture, there are sure to be rewards for quitting. These latter two categories involve the longer-term perspective.

In SMART Recovery we want you to act reasonably and responsibly about your future involvement with intoxicants or any bad habit. First there are a few ground rules to consider. You are a normal human being. You got started in this by seeking pleasure or relaxation, and also perhaps to avoid some perceived distress. That was understandable. You are not defective! It’s just that certain substances or behaviors can lose their luster and eventually become a real problem for some people.

The Risk-Reward Analysis is a powerful instrument that enables you to see what you are doing to yourself and others. It also gives you a glimpse ahead at the possible impact on your life of continued use as well as the possible impact of changing your behavior.

The fourth point of the SMART Recovery 4-Point Program is Living a Balanced Life which includes balancing long-term satisfactions against short-term satisfactions. Comparing the two may help motivate you to change your lifestyle and habits.

This exercise is an important tool for establishing motivation if you are contemplating quitting. It will also have value as you work toward quitting your substance abuse or other maladaptive behavior. During challenging situations, your Risk-Reward Analysis can be an anchor for you to refresh your memory of your reasons for quitting.

Get Started

myrraBegin with a blank piece of paper and organize a better understanding of your own personal situation.

Create 4 boxes: Risks of Using, Rewards of Using, Risks of Quiting, and Rewards of Quitting.

Below are examples to prompt your thinking and get you started on your own document.

We believe this is where the real work starts, and that you’re worth it!

Risks of Using


DUI or multiple DUIs
Trouble with the law
Problems with employment
Financial difficulties
Relationship problems
Loss of self-respect and from others
Health considerations
Loss of ambition
Fear of the future
Fear of AIDS
Loss of custody of a child or children

You will have some things to highlight or to add to this list for your own inventory. Be as honest and as specific as you can.

A good definition of addiction is the condition of finding yourself continuing in a behavior when you know it is against your better judgment. You find that you have been “hooked”, so to speak. That’s probably why you let things get to this stage. In SMART Recovery® we are interested first in having a clear picture of the problem. (This list of risks is a very good place to start!)

Risks of Quitting


No more getting stoned
People will think I’m different
People will think I can’t handle it
Won’t be able to resist temptation
I’ll be on unfamiliar turf
I’ll lose my secret best friend
I’ll get the shakes (fear of withdrawal)
I won’t have the “liquid courage”
I’ll begin to see my real self
I’ll have to be a goody-goody
If I fail, I’Il be worse off than before
I’ll have an empty place inside and nothing to fill it
I’ll have to stay away from usual friends and contacts
I’ll have to face the uncomfortable things that cause me to drink
Can’t think of how and where to find anything else better to do

…Once again, highlight and add things to make this list personal.

These examples are enough to get an idea of things to think about when you consider quitting. It is important to make your list as fair as you can and face the issues, rather than avoid them. Otherwise they will come back and bite you in the ass later. Also remember that many of your fears are based on faulty thinking that you may have been using to justify your behavior.

Rewards of Using


Getting stoned, feeling a rush, feeling a buzz
Weight management or loss
Social aspect, “let the good times roll”
Like the taste of it
Mask feelings of guilt
Drowning sorrow
Loss of inhibition
Escape from problems, reality, people
Avoiding withdrawal

…Once again, highlight and add things to make this list personal.

We emphasize again that to seek pleasure and to avoid pain are healthy and normal things to do. It is when the use of the substance or behavior takes over your better judgment, that you need to reassess the risks and rewards of continuing what has become a harmful habit.

If you want to end the addiction, establishing new alternative rewards is an important objective.

Rewards of Quitting


Better physical and mental health
Custody of child or children
More control over myself
No more fear of a DUI
Keep the judge happy
Increased self awareness
Peace of mind
Better job security
Improved relationships
New friends and interests
Feel optimistic
Feel self growing up inside
Not feel guilty all the time

The rewards of quitting are long-lasting. How attractive are these rewards of quitting to you, personally? This is the time to clearly see your choices. It’s up to you to decide.


Make it yours personally, think about it privately, see what’s best for you, keep it and then believe it -it’s what you really think! Keep it to remind you about your personal advantages of long-term satisfactions over short-term satisfactions.


1. Completely accept that you are fallible. Your fallibility includes thinking in a manner that greatly hinders you in your individual pursuits and in relating to people with whom you live, work, and associate.

2. Intensely focus on eliminating your emotional upsets quickly (as soon as they occur) and regularly (several times a week). Follow this practice to give yourself more freedom from self-defeat and toward happiness.

3. Forgive yourself your mistakes. You will make many of them. Practice effective self-help techniques and you will eventually improve your behaviors and your abilities to change. Tolerate others’ shortcomings and forgive their mistakes. Keep your friendships even with their problems, because you won’t find any that do not have them.

4. Accept that you are a creature who thrives on happiness, delight, joy, and love, and work to develop your ability to find and achieve these in as many ways as you can.

5. Accept yourself with your mistakes and shortcomings.

6. Work and practice, and you will eventually improve your abilities to change.

7. If you have attended SMART Recovery meetings and found them helpful, continue to attend and help yourself and others.

8. Continue your Rational-Emotive education through reading REBT books and other materials.

9. Work on upsets quickly (as soon as they occur) using DIBs and the other REBT techniques you have learned.

10. Work and practice-practice and work!

11. Absorb yourself in a long-term interest that brings you happiness.

From Alcohol: How To Give It Up And Be Glad You Did, pp. 186 – 7 Author: Phillip Tate


This word “abstinence” can be an intimidating word to many, especially those in the early stages of recovery. Your whole body may convulse saying, “I’ll do anything, just don’t ask me or tell me that I have to stop forever.” This is normal. If this is how you feel, commit yourself to being open to new ideals and beliefs that may result in a healthier and more fulfilling lifestyle. Here are some answers to your questions.

Why abstinence?

What we know is that after one has developed a severe addiction, the simplest, easiest, safest and surest way to keep from repeating past behaviors is total abstinence. This is not to say one may not go thorough a period of “day at a time,” or “week at a time,” or even try a “harm reduction” approach. Still, if you want the easiest way to minimize the problems in your life, go for abstinence eventually. It actually is much easier to just give it up entirely than punish yourself trying to moderate or control your addictive behavior. Studies have shown that regardless of the method employed to become sober, the number one factor for sobriety success is a permanent commitment to discontinue use permanently; a commitment to abstinence.

When will I be ready?

Some of you are ready right now. You have experienced enough consequences in your life that no one needs to tell you that you are fed up with your addictive behavior. You just need some tools to help you. If you are just starting your recovery program it may take time to make a decision on a commitment to abstinence before it is really firm in your heart. It needs to be something that you are really committed to and not just something you would like to do. Stick with the program and let the decision build in your heart. When you are ready, you’ll know it.

Is abstinence the only way?

Studies have shown that in some cultures there are a small percentage of people who can return to moderate drinking. Still, the chance of being successful is unclear. Attempts at moderation may not be worth the effort or the risk when considering the consequences. If your own life has been a mess because of your addictive behavior, why chance it? What has the empirical evidence in your own life been? Have you tried to moderate and not been successful? Then that’s your answer.

Abstinence may not be a realistic solution with some addictions, such as eating and in some cases sexual addictions. For these addictions moderation is the prescribed course of action. Even in these instances commitment to moderation is an important factor for success.

How do I make the commitment?

First of all, as mentioned earlier, don’t make a commitment until you are firm in your path to sobriety. Second, realize a commitment to sobriety is not a commitment to be forever perfect. Before you consider that to be a SMART Recovery® license to relapse, it is not. The reality for alcohol addictions, for example, is that people have an average of two and a half relapses in their ultimate turn to permanent sobriety. Many never have a relapse and that can be you. A commitment to sobriety means that you are committed to a course of action, understanding that it is not an easy task and one that takes a great deal of patience, persistence and practice. You may be tempted and many succumb to the urges. We are not perfect beings, we are fallible and breaking a commitment is not the same as giving up on one. A permanent commitment means we are committed to a course of action for the future and we will do every thing in our power to fulfill and maintain that commitment.

What if I lapse or relapse?

Learn from it and don’t beat yourself up. Ask what events led up to the lapse/relapse. Ask yourself what were the excuses you gave yourself to use and dispute them. Your commitment isn’t broken and you can renew your resolve. If you do slip, the outcome does not have to be an experience without worth, it can be a powerful learning experience. It does not mean that you will repeat this behavior in the future. Forgive yourself, learn from it and remember that a commitment applies to what we plan for the future.

When you are ready, say to yourself, “I am not going to use again!” Reinforce that commitment in any way possible and rational. One of the best ways is to remember why you are making the commitment. The consequences of using should be remembered, not with a guilty conscience, but in a realistic portrayal of why you have chosen sobriety. The addictive behavior just is not worth it anymore! Also to be remembered are the experiences and feelings that come from abstinence. A balance of both experiences has proven to be a powerful tool.

What can I expect?

If you continue to use, your past may dictate your outcome. A permanent commitment to abstinence means we no longer have to fight a battle with moderation; but rather devote ourselves to sobriety permanently. Ours is a “no excuses” program, we are responsible for our decisions and behaviors; we have a choice. There is a feeling of freedom that results from this commitment where one does not feel hopeless or without choices. You know what our commitment is. Combined with a consistent and aggressive disputing of urges to use, most find their messages to use either decrease to nothing or become infrequent and easily handled. It may not be easy to see now, but your life can be restored to where you are in control, your addiction and the urges will recede to an unpleasant memory. You don’t have to live in a constant battle with these painful, nagging urges.

Will the urges go away forever?

Possibly, but one will benefit from being on guard for them, as they can reappear years later. Be ever vigilant, but ever hopeful and know that you can control your outcome; the choice is yours.
Originally authored by Michael Werner 
Edited by a SMART Recovery Volunteer


by Jonathan von Breton MA, CCMHC, CAS Professional Advisor, SMART Recovery

The central idea of REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) is that our emotions and behaviors (how we feel and act) are strongly influenced by how we think. Therefore, changing our thinking can be a very powerful way to change our emotions and behaviors.

The following is a brief overview of how we can go about changing our thinking.

A – B – C Basics

A = Activating Event: Something Happens. These Activating Events can be major: job loss, serious illness, death of a loved one, failing at something very important. They can also be a series of minor annoyances that add-up
over time: spilled coffee, broken shoelaces, a long line at the bank or grocery store. Activating Events always have something to do with your goals (what you want) being either aided or interfered with.

B = Beliefs: Thoughts, & Attitudes about “A”

These Beliefs can be RATIONAL (Reality Based, Logical & Self Helping) These Beliefs can be IRRATIONAL (Demand & Wishful Thinking Based Illogical and Self-Defeating)

C = Consequences: The Emotions (Mad, Sad, Scared & Glad) and Behaviors that are the results of A (Activating Event) + B (Beliefs)

D = Disputes: Arguments against irrational beliefs

E = Effects: of the disputes. New emotions and behaviors that result from replacing irrational beliefs with rational ones

People can change how they feel (Emotional Consequences) and what they do (Behavioral Consequences) by changing their Beliefs.

Sometimes you can change A (Activating Events) and it is a good idea to do so. However, it is not always possible to change A (Activating Events). If you think you can, I want you to CONTROL the weather for the next 2 weeks.


A + B = C Activating Event, Beliefs, Emotional & Behavioral Consequences,

Something Happens

Thoughts, Attitudes about A

How we feel & what we do as a result of A + B

IMPORTANT! What happens to you does not, by itself, cause how you feel or what you do. People do not make you angry. You make yourself angry about what people do. Bad things do not make you feel sad or depressed. You make yourself feel sad or depressed. Dangerous situations do not make you scared. You make yourself scared. People or things do not make you happy. You do! It is what happens to you AND what you believe it means to you or about you that results in how you feel and what you do. This is pretty good news because it gives you a lot of freedom.

If you are happy with how you are feeling and what you are doing is working well for you, go no further.

However, if you are feeling miserable or doing things that do not get the results you want, you just might want to change some of your thinking. Here is where D and E come in.

D E Arguments against the irrational beliefs

New Emotions & New Behaviors that result from replacing irrational beliefs with rational ones

This process may involve your challenging some very old, deeply held, habitual beliefs about how you, other people and the world should be. As these beliefs are so habitual, it may take some time just to recognize them. Then it takes even more time to challenge them and replace them with beliefs that work better for you. In the long run, all this effort is well worth it!