SMART Recovery CBA:   How the Benefits of Recovery Expand

by Julie Myers, PsyD

Volunteer Adviser, SMART Recovery San Diego

When you begin to contemplate changing your addictive behavior, you may think about all the problems that your behavior has caused.   There may be a single negative event (such as a DUI) or an accumulation of events and problems.  These problems may be enough to motivate you to change, but for sustained motivation, you may want to consider the positive change that may happen.

Try this simple exercise.  A cost-benefit-analysis1 is a simple way to start thinking about the benefits of changing.   First, draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper.  On the left side, list all of the benefits of your addictive behavior, for e.g., “It’s fun”, “It helps me sleep”, “It makes me more social”.   Now, on the right side, list all the negatives (costs) of using, for example “Hangovers”, or “My spouse is mad at me”, or “Legal issues”.   If your costs outweigh the benefits, you may be ready to change your addictive behavior.

Now, try expanding this simple exercise by adding two more columns on another page:  “Costs of Quitting” and “Benefits of Quitting”.   For example, costs may include losing friends or being bored.  The benefits may be something simple, such as “I’ll have more money”.

Something interesting happens the further you move forward in recovery:  The costs of quitting diminish.  Things that once seemed so important to you may lose their significance or you find new ways to satisfy your need.  For example, you may believe that you won’t have any way to calm yourself down, relax, or relieve your depression if you don’t use.  But as you learn to identify your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, you will find new and more enduring ways to relax and deal with emotions.  Another commonly held belief is that you won’t have any fun, you will be bored.  But as the brain becomes accustomed to less intense rushes of dopamine (which most drugs of abuse and some maladaptive behaviors supply in overabundance), you will learn new ways to find enjoyment.

Even more interesting is how the benefits of stopping expand in unexpected ways.   The simple benefits of  “feeling better” or “having more time” lead to even more benefits.  For example, feeling better may mean that you feel good enough to enjoy the sunrise or climb a mountain.  You might not have predicted that you could find the time to go back to school, play basketball with your kids, or even read a book.  But the benefits of quitting are real, and in the end, more deeply satisfying than your maladaptive behavior.   As you move forward in your recovery, make note of all the things you discover that you can now do and enjoy, which you couldn’t do before.

1For a great examples of this exercise, go to

Copyright 2011 Julie Myers, PysD:  Psychologist in San Diego.  All Rights Reserved.


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