Using Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to Combat Addiction

Many people need guidance and empowerment to successfully recover from a substance use disorder and avoid relapse. However, an addiction to drugs or alcohol can be a heavy reality to admit to yourself. It may be that you feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit your substance use disorder. Has it taken over your behavior? Do you feel like you are losing all sense of control? Can’t quit even though you know the consequences? 

High tolerance and withdrawal symptoms indicate you may have a physical dependency. Furthermore, if your mind is entrenched with desires and fantasies of your next hit or if you couldn’t imagine going a day without, you may be psychologically dependent. Although this may be where you are at now, there is a reason for hope. Long-established and effective treatments like Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) can help transform the way you think about yourself and the way you live your life.

Physically and Psychologically Addicted

Physical dependency on a substance can feel intense and powerful – like nothing you have encountered before. You will know if you have an addiction if you have developed tolerance and physical withdrawal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, hallucinations and so on.  For example, if you have been using heroin, going without it for more than a few hours can leave you feeling sick to your stomach. Addiction to other substances like alcohol, sedatives or cannabis can cause other withdrawal symptoms that are specific to the drug. 

The term “psychological dependency” is used to refer to the cognitive and emotional aspects of addictive behaviors. If you find that your emotions, thoughts and activities frequently involve wanting to use drugs or alcohol, you may have a psychological dependency. Do you have strong cravings? Depression or anxiety when you cannot use or someone is preventing you from doing so? Some become obsessive over buying drugs or deny the issue altogether. Others experience mood swings and uncertainty about being able to quit. Cognitive issues with concentration, memory and problem-solving are other examples of symptoms of psychological dependency. 

Overcoming the Burdens of Dependency

Not all drugs cause a strong physical dependence, but they do cause a psychological dependence that can endure despite successfully completing a detox program. Moreover, physical and psychological dependencies are not necessarily mutually exclusive, as the body and mind are connected in complex ways. In other words, what happens in the body impacts the mind and vice versa. Different substances cause varying levels of physical and psychological dependency that should be treated with this interrelated relationship in mind.

 A physical addiction requires detoxification of the drug and alleviation of withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the substance, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) may be highly recommended. The psychological burdens, though, can be more numerous and variable in intensity. One treatment that has been around for a long time and has proven to be highly effective is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It has been used to treat a variety of ailments including stress at work, test anxiety, depression, psychosis and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Medical conditions – like chronic pain, diabetes and substance use disorders (SUDs) –  have also been treated successfully with ACT.

How does ACT work?

In simplest terms, ACT is an action-oriented approach to talk therapy. This means that you need to play an active role in achieving the goals set out in therapy. Your clinician will help you build the capacity to take recovery into your own hands. 

The underlying theory of ACT holds that trying to control or suppress how you feel leads to more distress and pushes you further away from recovering. You can expect to learn how to stop avoiding or denying your emotions. Instead, you will become more comfortable acknowledging and accepting these feelings as they arise within you. Certain situations trigger certain feelings and that’s okay; however, it shouldn’t prevent you from progressing. Despite what you might be feeling or what’s happening in your life, you will eventually come to affirm your situation and make the necessary changes in your behavior to facilitate your recovery. 

A key part of this approach is that ACT helps you identify your values so you can create a life based on what matters most to you. Do you value your independence? Are you experiencing fulfillment in your career? What about meaningful relationships with family? This therapy will teach you to continuously refocus attention on your life goals, helping you to push through difficult moments that are bound to pop up. With a strong commitment to healthy values and action, you can embrace behavioral changes that will feed your success in recovery. You will come to Accept your reactions, Choose a valued direction, and Take action.

Asking for help to quit drugs or alcohol can be an uncomfortable and upsetting task. You will have to admit to yourself and others that you have a problem and accept the challenge that comes along with the recovery process. Healing can be hindered if you bury painful thoughts and emotions in your mind and attempt to numb or escape them. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can help you confront your trials and tribulations by identifying your values and using them to guide your actions. You will learn how to accept your reactions, choose a valued direction and take action. It is not easy, but getting better is possible. At Casa Palmera, our trained clinicians have experience in applying trauma-informed ACT therapy within our drug and alcohol treatment program. We have helped hundreds of individuals manage difficult experiences during recovery and avoid relapse. Contact us today to find out how our therapies can help you.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.