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The Role of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Addiction Recovery

Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an action-oriented approach to psychotherapy that has proven to be effective in the treatment of various mental health concerns, including addiction. Medically referred to as substance use disorder (SUD), addiction, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) and is noted as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. It is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli without regard for consequence. There are a variety of treatment options available to those struggling with substance use disorder. ACT, for example, can play a valuable role in treatment, as this therapeutic modality has gained recognition and success in the field of addiction recovery.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a form of third-wave behavioral therapy, which is an emerging approach to psychotherapy that represents “the evolution and extension of traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approaches.” The Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACBS) explains ACT as a “unique empirically based psychological intervention that uses acceptance and mindfulness strategies, together with commitment and behavior change strategies, to increase psychological flexibility.” The term psychological flexibility refers to emotional openness and the ability to adapt one’s thoughts and behaviors to better align with one’s values and goals. ACT is based on the concept that suffering is a natural and inevitable part of the human condition and proposes that undue suffering and dysfunction arise from attempts to control or eliminate unwanted experiences. ACT maintains the therapeutic goal of helping individuals productively adapt to these types of challenges by developing greater psychological flexibility. This is accomplished through six core processes, which include the following, provided by Verywell Mind

  1. Acceptance: This involves acknowledging and embracing the full range of your thoughts and emotions. 
  2. Cognitive defusion: Cognitive defusion involves looking at thoughts rather than from thoughts; it is the process of separating yourself from your inner experiences.
  3. Self as context: This involves learning to consciously observe, experience, and process your thoughts about yourself without attaching your self-value or identity to them.
  4. Being present: This involves learning to be more mindful and present in the current moment to gain a greater sense of self and events without judgment.
  5. Values: This involves choosing personal values in different domains and striving to live according to those principles.
  6. Committed action: This involves taking concrete steps to incorporate changes that will align with your values and lead to positive change.

ACT views addiction as a chronic pattern of learned behavior, and as with other detrimental learned behaviors, it can be modified. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is a valuable approach in addiction treatment due to its emphasis on mindfulness, acceptance, values-based living, cognitive defusion, committed action, and psychological flexibility. ACT is a transdiagnostic therapy, meaning its principles can be applied to almost any mental health issue, and in relation to substance use disorder, it offers a flexible and adaptable approach that can be integrated into various stages of addiction recovery. Depending on one’s needs, ACT may be used as a standalone therapy or combined with other addiction treatment techniques. 

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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