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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in Addiction Treatment

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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a cognitive-behavioral method that is used to treat substance use disorders, such as drug or alcohol addiction. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy emphasizes the key notions of acceptance, mindfulness, and personal values. In the practice of ACT, our goal is to help you develop healthy and effective coping mechanisms to work through toxic thoughts and behavioral patterns. 

Once you have a toolkit of skills you know how to work with, you’ll find that you’re much more equipped to address cravings and temptations. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a powerful tool used in overcoming substance use disorders.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

What is Addiction?

Drug or alcohol addiction is a complex disease that affects the mind, body, and spirit of an individual. Extended substance use leads to physical changes in the body’s chemistry and brain. This can result in serious issues for the addicted individual. Not only does their physical health suffer, but their emotional and mental well-being is affected as well. 

Individuals struggling with a substance use disorder rely on their drug of use daily. The consistent use of drugs or alcohol leads to a variety of issues in one’s personal life. These issues can impact their relationships, professional life, and virtually every aspect of their life. 

Without treatment, these brain alterations and negative lifestyle changes can last a lifetime. That’s why it’s crucial to address these problems head-on and seek treatment immediately. We encourage you to find the strength within yourself to take that first step in seeking help. No matter how lost you may feel, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel if you’re willing to find it.

Spot the Signs of Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Recognizing signs of drug or alcohol addiction can make all the difference. We encourage you or your loved one to be honest when making an effort to recognize these symptoms. Some may be subtle, while others more obvious. Addressing these signs now can help move you forward in the recovery process and prevent future consequences, such as a fatal overdose. When drug or alcohol addiction is addressed early on, the chances for a successful recovery significantly increase. 

It’s important to note that there is no “one size fits all” approach to addiction. Different signs and the severity of addiction will call for different actions to be taken. 

However, the most common signs of drug and alcohol addiction are:

  • Loss of control
  • Continued problems despite negative consequences
  • Less enjoyment in activities that once brought joy, such as personal hobbies or social interactions
  • Negatively impacted attendance and performance at work or school
  • Taking serious risks to obtain a particular substance
  • Behaving poorly in personal relationships, particularly if someone is attempting to address their drug or alcohol addiction
  • Sneaky behavior, such as strange phone calls or changes in a group of friends
  • Severe differences or deterioration in hygiene or physical appearance
  • Requiring more of the substance to produce the same effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as depression, shakes, sweating, nausea or fatigue

If you feel as though drug or alcohol addiction is taking a toll on your life, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can be a beneficial tool in overcoming this obstacle. Through evidence-based methods and continued dedication to getting better, you’ll start to find a new sense of fulfillment in a long-term sober life. 

A Brief History of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Brought on by Steven C. Hayes in 1982, and first tested by Robert Zettle in the late 1980s, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a behavioral approach built on the foundation of Relational Frame Theory. In addiction treatment, this theory focuses on the importance of understanding how recovering individuals form relationships in their inner experience. Hayes and his colleagues began testing Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as a method used in addiction treatment during the 2000s. This form of therapy has been highly effective in treating substance use disorders in conjunction with other forms of treatment, such as group therapy and medical care. 

Self-Assessment: Am I Addicted?

What to Expect in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy aims to help recovering individuals to discern between thoughts and behaviors. Becoming cognizant of one’s inner experiences allows the individual to change them in a positive and impactful way. Commonly, we find ourselves living on auto-pilot, not taking the time to be mindful of our inner dialogue. For example, there’s a method in ACT referred to as “singing and silly voices.” 

In this method, an individual takes a stressful negative thought (e.g., “I’m not good enough”) and sings it within an easy popular tune (e.g., “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”). Instead of a tune, the patient can replace their normal voice with a humorous cartoon-like voice. The goal of this exercise is to assign less meaning to the thought itself and understand the power you have to manipulate thoughts in a way that serves you rather than hurts you. 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy also aims to help recovering individuals reinterpret past painful events, recognize harmful behaviors, and address the emotions that often co-occur with addiction such as depression and anxiety. A major component of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy also includes the identification of values and commitment to actions that are aligned with those values. 

Six Core Principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Six core principles of Acceptance and Commitment therapy define the practice. Kindly see below for the six principles you’ll be practicing in ACT. 


Acceptance is a major theme in ACT. Many people go through life trying to avoid anything that induces suffering. However, pain is a part of human life and it’s important to welcome it, rather than run away from it. Substance abuse often stems from the urge to avoid discomfort in any form. Acceptance helps the individual consciously practice letting go of this impulse and replacing it with compassion. Pain helps shape our character. It’s important to recognize the potential for growth within each obstacle.

Being Present

The art of being present is a well-known practice in mindfulness-based therapies. Drugs and alcohol are oftentimes used to get away from the present moment. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, being present is the practice of paying attention to and fully experiencing the moment at hand. Recognizing that the past is long-gone and that the future can play out in a lot of unexpected ways returns the focus into the present moment. Thoughts can be immensely destructive and the reason for our suffering. Taking a few moments to be mindful of the present moment can help you detach from negative thoughts and the emotions they bring along.

Self as Context

This key understanding of self as context emphasizes the notion that experiences don’t define us. In other words, we are merely the ones having the experience. Self as context is a powerful tool that helps to recover individuals detach from their experiences while being aware of and fully present in them. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helps peel away at the layers of conditioning we’ve acquired over time. We often hold limiting beliefs and thoughts that we don’t truly resonate with; we’re just used to them.


Values in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy refers to the fundamental beliefs that guide and motivate our attitudes and actions. Values are about sorting out the kind of person we want to be, as well as how we treat ourselves and those around us. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy helps members of our treatment program take action that aligns with their values instead of making decisions centered around avoidance. 

Commitment to Action

Once a recovering individual becomes clear on their values, fulfilling goals can be set. The progression towards a meaningful goal can change the course of a person’s life. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is largely based on the commitment to take action, despite knowing that negative feelings and thoughts will be a part of the process at times. 

Cognitive Defusion

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy uses the concept of cognitive defusion to recognize that one’s thoughts are merely thoughts. Cognitive defusion emphasizes the notion that thoughts don’t necessarily represent facts or reality. Many people struggling with addiction become consumed with thoughts, often leading them down a rabbit hole of worry. Learning to interact with your thoughts in a detached manner takes away the power of those thoughts and their validity.

For instance, let’s take an individual that’s struggling with depression. They may be constantly repeating to themselves – “I’m worthless” or “I can never do anything right”. ACT helps the individual to recognize this thought and reframe it to “I’m having the thought that I’m worthless”. Learning not to identify with negative thoughts shows you that you have more power than you realize. 

Have More Questions About Acceptance and Commitment Therapy? Call Us Today!

Remember, we’re here to guide you through every step of the way. We believe in the personalization of treatment for each unique individual that walks through our doors. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re waiting for your call!

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