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ACT For Addiction Treatment

    ACT For Addiction Treatment

    ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, is a type of behavioural therapy which encourages people to accept challenging situations.

    The idea is that this is much more effective than trying to avoid or deny them.

    It’s an intervention that doesn’t take too long to carry out and is realtively easy to engage with.

    When people try it once or twice, they understand how to use it in the future and can return to it throughout their lives.

    How Is ACT Different?

    Therapist and patient

    ACT is an approach that ultimately focuses on acceptance, mindfulness and personal values.

    It’s shown to be extremely successful in treating people with addiction problems.

    ACT is different to other therapeutic approaches -such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Dialectical Behavioural Therapy– because it makes you focus on how to live with the addiction.

    The symptoms aren’t “problems” to avoid; they’re realities that must be navigated through.

    How ACT Tackles Addiction

    woman anxious

    It’s important to acknowledge that as a species, we go to great lengths to avoid and ignore uncomfortable realities.

    Substances are often a way to block out these feelings, along with bringing feelings of pleasure and relief.

    This is hugely influential on the development of addictions, but suffering is a normal part of life.

    ACT is revolutionary in how it supports people to accept that suffering is a fact of life.

    Once a person accepts this, they are then able to respond in a healthier way rather than using drugs or alcohol.

    What Is The Main Aim Of ACT?

    The aim of ACT is to accept the fact that you are experiencing cravings and the urge to use.

    Allow the craving for drugs or alcohol to sweep through you without trying to push it away, instead just refusing to act on them.

    ACT therapy supports people to understand how to be psychologically flexible.

    In the case of addiction, this means learning how to experience difficult emotions and moments, allowing them to happen and using your new way of thinking about them to inform a healthy decision.


    Participating in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy enables you to grow in self-awareness.

    You become deeply in-tune with your values, which allow you to direct your response to cravings.

    You learn how to act in effective ways that help you to manage the addiction.

    You learn to separate the feeling from the act, which can be incredibly empowering.

    Thoughts Are Just Thoughts

    teenager stress

    The ACT approach emphasises the fact that thoughts are just thoughts.

    They aren’t stressful events -just moments that you can accept.

    A common example to demonstrate this is to think of a night when you can’t sleep.

    You’ll be tossing and turning and probably thinking that you’ll never get to sleep.


    ACT suggests that if you accept the thought that you’ll “never sleep” is just a thought, that actually many other evenings you sleep fine, then this thought isn’t the “ultimate reality”.

    It’s just a thought and it becomes easier to manage, and it probably becomes easier to sleep.

    When you accept something and stop struggling against it or for another way, things become easier.

    This is known as useful pessimism.

    What Makes ACT An Effective Way To Treat Addiction?

    Addiction is typically characterised by negative thoughts and feelings.

    These cause people to use alcohol and drugs, resulting in a kind of learned helplessness as they become dependent on substances to function.

    ACT shows that learning psychological flexibility can create great power for change.

    It helps you to change your thinking from “I’m an addict” to “I’m a person with an addiction who can choose to have different behaviour”.

    You learn to accept reality, accept your inner demons, learn a new way to approach them and then you turn to face them head-on.

    Where Did Acceptance Commitment Therapy Originate From?

    women interview

    ACT was developed in 1986 by Steven C. Hayes who was a psychology professor.

    To start with it was developed as a concept that aimed to make the person aware of their inner world and how this affects their behaviour.

    Many consider it the third wave of behaviour therapy, coming after behaviourism and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

    It’s a combination of mindfulness and behavioural therapy which emphasises a “creative hopelessness”.

    It’s shown to work effectively alongside other treatments and create a

    The Six ACT Principles


    1. Cognitive defusion – This is where you detach from inner thoughts and memories. You see them as bits of language and pictures, rather than distressing events. This reduces their influence and impact.
    2. Expansion/Acceptance You allow thoughts and feelings (i.e. cravings) to arise without trying to deny them. You learn how to make room for uncomfortable feelings in your life.
    3. Committed action. You recognise that the life you want can be achieved through healthy actions and effort.
    4. Understanding the self – This is the letting go of inflexible thoughts (i.e. “I’ll never change”). You come to understand yourself within the current context.
    5. Identify and clarify your values You identify your deepest values and how these align with your behaviours. These are likely linked to family, interests and your health.
    6. Connection with the present moment – Here, you focus on the here and now, becoming present. You use the present moment to make healthy decisions. You engage with full awareness and are open and honest in order to help yourself make healthy decisions.

    The ACT Components


    Creative Hopelessness – You identify all the things that haven’t worked to alleviate pain.

    All things that don’t work, you then ask the question, “What’s next?”

    You are then open to using new strategies and moving forward when you accept that “removing pain” is impossible.

    Mindfulness – Being fully present in the moment, not being mindless to youf own actions.

    You are open and non-judgemental

    Psychological Flexibility – Learning how to handle negative experiences through new and healthy thoughts, reactions, and behaviours.

    The Benefits Of ACT


    There are many benefits to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy,  including:

    • Developing strategies to deal with cravings and to get through any relapses and withdrawal symptoms.
    • Becoming mindful and practising acceptance techniques to inform positive behaviours.
    • Identifying your personal values and using these to develop goals.
    • Expanding self-belief. ACT is especially useful for people who have limiting beliefs around what they can achieve in relation to recovery.
    • Total acceptance means acknowledging the addiction as a disease where the cravings are a symptom that you have to live with. The cravings need to be controlled and you need to learn how to do this and do it.

    ACT is also shown to be helpful in treating anxiety and depression, which commonly exist alongside addictions.

    What Happens In Acceptance And Commitment Therapy?


    In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, you become aware of your inner experiences and are mindful of them.

    You come to understand the meaning you place on various thoughts.

    ACT helps you to build understanding and compassion around difficult, distressing, or painful thoughts and feelings.

    “Sing It” Exercises


    Some ACT therapists will lead you through the “Sing it” exercise.

    This is where you take a negative thought and concentrate on becoming aware of it.

    For example, the negative thought might be “I’m bad” or “I can’t do it”.

    You would replace the words of a nursery rhyme like “Baa Baa Black Sheep” with the words “I’m bad” so that the negative thought is sung in a silly way.

    This makes you become more present.

    It emphasises that the thought is simply a thought -the thought is not the ultimate truth.



    An ACT therapist will also support you to reinterpret past events.

    This helps to reduce the impact of how painful experiences will continue to influence you.

    You would be led through a values exercise, which is where you come to understand your deep values.

    This is, of course, where your shift in perspective will come from.

    The exercise would help you to identify what’s important to you and whether the way you’re currently living is aligned with your values.

    You would reach a point where you accept your dissatisfaction with how your current behaviours don’t align with your values.

    After this, you’d start making moves to change your behaviours to be reflective of your values.

    ACT Therapy Near You


    If you’re interested in finding an ACT therapist or rehabilitation treatment programme to suit your recovery goals, contact Rehab Recovery today.

    We can explain what options you have locally, as well as what’s available at private rehab facilities.

    With the right support behind you, no addiction is too great to overcome.

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