SMART Recovery International and COVID-19: Expanding the reach of mutual support through online groups

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Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment


Background: Mutual support groups play an extremely important role in providing opportunities for people to engage in alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment and support. SMART Recovery groups employ cognitive, behavioural and motivational principles and strategies to offer support for a range of addictive behaviours. COVID-19 fundamentally changed the way that these groups could be delivered. Methods: A series of online meetings were conducted by the lead author (PK) and the SMART Recovery International Executive Officer (KM), with representatives from the SMART Recovery National Offices in the Ireland (DO), United States (MR), Australia (RM), and Denmark (BSH, DA), and the United Kingdom (AK). The meetings focused on discussing the impacts of COVID-19 on SMART Recovery in each of the regions. Results: As a result of restrictions to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, the vast majority of SMART Recovery face-to-face meetings were required to cease globally. To ensure people still had access to AOD mutual support, SMART Recovery rapidly scaled up the provision of online groups. This upscaling has increased the number of groups in countries that had previously provided a limited number of online meetings (i.e., United States, England, Australia), and has meant that online groups are available for the first time in Denmark, Ireland, Hong Kong, Spain, Malaysia and Brazil. Discussion: Whilst the urgent and rapid expansion of online groups was required to support people during the pandemic, it has also created an opportunity for the ongoing availability of online mutual support post-pandemic. The challenge for the research community is to critically evaluate the online delivery of mutual support groups, to better understand the mechanisms through which they may work, and to help understand the experience of people accessing the groups.

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