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Paired Recovery

By Bill Abbott and Suzy W., Facilitators at McLean Hospital, Belmont, MA

Suzy and I are facilitators for both regular SMART Recovery® meetings and a Family and Friends meeting. This time we write about Family and Friends.

Our Family and Friends meeting was started in January 2013. We call the participants who attend, Concerned Significant Others (CSOs). They have Loved Ones (LOs) with an obvious substance use problem. The meeting has grown in size and seems to be generally well accepted by the participants. They seem to be learning from what we have to say and are putting some of the coping strategies to work.

One somewhat unusual feature of our SMART Recovery Family and Friends meeting is that it is paired with a regular SMART Recovery meeting at the same site and the same time, albeit in different rooms. This has resulted in something striking happening, which we think is good. About half of the people in either of the rooms have their counterpart in the other room – so that attendance has become sort of a family thing. The CSOs and LOs arrive together and they leave together and perhaps they communicate better together. Some couples have even called this their “Date Night.”

We have seen, in many attendees, some fairly impressive and remarkable improvements in their attitudes and in their feelings about the quality of their own lives. The Family and Friends group is a mixture of spouses whose spouse has a problem with addiction and parents whose child has a problem. There’s no question in my mind that these meetings have great potential to help those who attend.

SMART Family and Friends has been adapted from a program called CRAFT or Community Reinforcement and Family Training. This is a method of family training developed by Robert Myers, the author of “Get Your Loved One Sober” and used by the Center for Motivation and Change (CMC). This approach, according to CMC’s website, “…teaches family and friends effective strategies for helping their loved one to change and for feeling better themselves.” (

Our SMART Recovery program’s principles and methods have been modified for the Family and Friends group. The application of these principles and methods is a bit different and includes adapted SMART Recovery tools.

The Family and Friends meeting format is similar to the addiction recovery format and also includes the interactive discussion. However, often different topics are introduced such as self-care, positive communications, setting boundaries, and managing their own thoughts feelings and behavior. These topics are picked from the Family & Friends Handbook published by SMART Recovery. (

There is data published on the efficacy and effectiveness of the CRAFT approach, which shows a high benefit in quality of life for the family member attending (CSO). There is also data published that shows that the changes that ensue in the CSO have an impact on the decisions or the success of the LO – that is the person who is having the substance use issue. This has been noted to be as high as 70% which is indeed remarkable. The 12-step equivalent, Al-Anon does not show similar results.

This is all well and good but we have a story in particular to relate here which conveys just how important that these principles are and the impact they can have upon those suffering from the addiction.

Several weeks ago something remarkable occurred. In the regular SMART Recovery meeting during check-in, one man who was new to the meeting related that his wife had been urging him to attend SMART Recovery for his drinking problem. Each week for a few weeks she encouraged him to attend while she attended the paired Family and Friends meeting. On the third week he decided to attend the recovery meeting. He related that this was because his wife came home after her first meeting, with such an immediately different attitude and mindset toward him that he felt that SMART Recovery was a program he wanted to look into for himself. A second person, also somewhat new, related a similar experience about how his wife had dramatically changed her behavior toward him after ONE Family and Friends meeting. Then, two others related that they had also observed similar changes in their significant other’s behavior.

What this says is that attendance at the SMART Recovery meeting for family and friends really does have a positive and beneficial impact in a short time in the family member and that further this can have positive results on the attitude of the person with the problem.

This good news alone gave me enough of a boost to keep me going for quite a long time. – Bill

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