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What is ACT and How Does it Help with Addiction?

ACT stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It has been around for about 30 years but has come into the mainstream relatively recently. It has been shown to be effective in treating a range of challenges including depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and addiction. Many treatment programs and therapists use at least some aspects of ACT.

At its core, ACT is based on mindfulness and values. Rather than suppressing or avoiding negative emotions, ACT is a process of learning to reframe those emotions and acting in ways that align with your higher values.

ACT has six core concepts: Acceptance, cognitive defusion, being present, self as context, values, and committed action. These are all interrelated and mutually supporting. They are not complicated ideas, but they take some practice. Acceptance, for example, is simple–you accept what you are feeling without denying or resisting it. In practice, though, that can be extremely difficult. You naturally want to avoid pain, or push it away, but the more you resist it, the more power it has. As you might guess, acceptance is a crucial aspect of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.

Cognitive defusion is a name for any number of techniques that take the sting out of your thoughts. One common way of doing this is acknowledging that your feelings are not objectively true. By simply replacing the thought, “I’m a loser,” with “I feel like a loser,” you acknowledge the feeling without beating yourself up.

Being present is fairly self-explanatory. Instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, you pay attention to the present and what you can do in the moment. Self as context is a little trickier. It’s sort of the idea that everything is a situation and you can alter your behavior without threatening your identity.

Values and committed action are perhaps the meat of ACT, especially for addicts. While all the concepts are important, values and committed action are where the rubber meets the road. This means identifying the values that are most important to you and making decisions that support those values, even when it’s hard. So for example, maybe you decided to stop drinking because it’s hurting your family and you value their happiness. If you’re having a bad day and someone offers you a drink, you may feel stressed, tired, and severely tempted, but in that moment, you can choose to avoid your discomfort or you can choose to act in a way that supports your higher values in spite of your discomfort. ACT tries to give you the tools to do the latter.

ACT, like CBT, is a flexible approach that incorporates a lot of different techniques. Chances are you will find something in it to help you in recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.