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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for Drug Abuse

One of the essential components for treating addiction and mental health at La Jolla Recovery is evidence-based psychology practices such as ACT therapy.

New mental health treatment modalities have emerged in the past years, and we believe it is critical to implement them, given the outcomes and positive results of substance abuse. New treatment techniques have been developed for different dual diagnosis disorders as well. Acceptance and commitment therapy has proven to be suitable for addiction, depression, and anxiety disorders. This therapy has six main principles: Acceptance, living in the present moment, self-observation, value systems, cognitive delusion, and commitment to action. The objective of this treatment is to help individuals accept life’s difficulties and to experience wholeness and wellness.

ACT for Substance Abuse

What is the objective of ACT Therapy in Addiction?

As an action-oriented psychological treatment that stems from cognitive behavioral therapy; the objective is to help individuals from struggling, denying, and avoiding their emotions, and help them accept these deep feelings and see them as normal responses to the situations they face, and should not stop them from going about their lives. This is very helpful in substance use disorders such as alcohol and drugs as well as mental health disorders such as anxiety disorders including general and social.

How does ACT help with the discomfort of early detox and withdrawal during rehab?

Once this understanding is reached, patients at La Jolla Recovery can begin accepting their hardships and personal issues and commit to making a change in their behavior, regardless of the events in their life and how they might feel about them.

As humans, we tend to avoid pain, even if avoiding it causes us more pain eventually. Unfortunately, avoiding pain generally drive people to substance and alcohol abuse. The temporary relief, gratification, and pleasure that Alcohol and drug bring create a vicious cycle. This vicious cycle, in turn, will become an addiction.

History of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Steven C Hayes and his colleagues developed Action and commitment therapy in the 1980s, dr. Hayes is renowned as a professor and writer. He has received awards from the Association for behavioral and cognitive therapy, written all over 30 books, and has published hundreds of articles.
Action and commitment therapy is based on relational frame therapy, combining classic behaviorism and mindfulness practice. This type of therapy is considered a third-generation in behavioral therapy; dialectical behavior therapy and mindfulness cognitive therapy are considered other therapies of the third generation.
Doctor Hayes and his colleagues tried this treatment with substance abuse disorder experimentally nearly two decades after being developed. Action and commitment therapy is relatively new compared to other medicines, and it’s based on the idea that individuals need support rather than being cured.

Carl Jung, the famous psychologist, clearly addresses this issue with his known phrase, “what do you resist, persists.” Swallowing, inhaling, injecting, or drinking will not make the problems disappear; this behavior will often lead to more issues in the long run. Acceptance therapy is specifically designed to address this type of problem and addictive behavior with drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and other prescriptions such as Xanax.

ACT in Mental Health

Acceptance and commitment therapy is different from most western therapies because of Western therapies label symptoms as problematic or even pathological. Symptoms are reduced by helping patients change their relationship with troubling thoughts.

Action and commitment therapy teaches individuals to practice skills that help them remain sober and clean. Once the patient completes a treatment program, he can help himself maintain sobriety.

Other evidence-based therapies used at La Jolla Recovery for addiction include DBT or dialectic behavioral therapy and CBT (Cognitive Behavior Therapy). We also believe in MAT adjunct therapies such as buprenorphine when there is resistance which leads to greater outcomes and reduces withdrawal and overdose.

The Coronavirus epidemic has intensified many mental health disorders and ACT is possible to support these challenges in a social setting with healing in mind.

what is act therapy psychological support group of young multinational women sit in a circle at a meeting of a womens
women sitting on chairs in circle and talking to psychologist coach and audience discuss together act therapy

What does ACT actually do?

Action commitment therapy focuses on helping individuals change the way they see and feel mental pain to improve their lives.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy has three main components:
• Psychological flexibility
• creative hopelessness
• mindfulness

ACT and Psychological Flexibility

What is Creative Hopelessness?

The primary goal of action and commitment therapy is to help individuals become more flexible psychologically. This allows them through negative thoughts, Life situations, avoid unhealthy habits, and be mindful to choose the right action; it Is what psychological flexibility is all about. Being honest with self is possible when approaches like these are taken. Addicts are known for changed perceptions, manipulation, and lies. The flexibility of thinking makes it possible to be open to feedback and approach honesty and truth.

Creative hopelessness is when the patient reflects on all the therapy and efforts to get through the pain and improve the situation by facing all the steps that haven’t worked in the past. This allows the patient to find creative ways to improve their life; once the patient realizes that it is impossible to remove all the pain and suffer from life, they can accept the fact and begin moving forward to perhaps be open to experiencing gratitude.

What is Mindfulness and how does ACT help?

What Skills does ACT provide for drug and alcohol abuse?

Recently the theory of mindfulness has become widespread. The idea is to be aware of the present moment instead of going through life’s events aimlessly. Individuals that live mindfully upset, living in the moment without judgment, and living consciously

There are six main processes or skills that acceptance and commitment therapy teaches to Help individuals develop psychological flexibility:

  • Committed action
  • Observing self
  • Cognitive diffusion 
  • Acceptance
  • Being present
  • Values

Commited Action

Observing Self

Committed Action means setting goals and committing to effective and purposeful action that may help reach those goals. Action and commitment therapy suggest that we commit to acting, knowing that negative thoughts may appear through the process. With psychological flexibility, patients will be able to move forward even when there not feeling comfortable.

Realizing that our experiences don’t define who we are is in the heart of the observing self means the patients learn that they are not what they experience by realizing that it’s just a thought. This process helps patients detach from their experiences while fully aware of the present moment.

Cognitive Diffusion?

Realizing that our experiences don't define who we are is in the heart of the observing self means the patients learn that they are not what they experience by realizing that it's just a thought. This process helps patients detach from their experiences while fully aware of the present moment.

Being Present

Alcohol and drugs are usually used to avoid being in the present moment; this is called experiential avoidance, and it usually leads to harmful habits. The point of being present is to fully experience and pay attention to the present moment, avoiding thoughts about an uncertain future or a dreadful past.
Being present aligns individuals with their values and helps them avoid judging their experiences.


The opposite of avoidance in action and commitment therapy is acceptance. Many people go through life avoiding suffering and pain; these aspects are every day in the human experience. Usually, alcoholism and drug abuse come from preventing this kind of discomfort. Through Acceptance, a patient chooses to let go of avoidant impulses and learn to be in the present moment with the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings nonjudgmentally.


Action and commitment therapy values give life meaning and all the other things that matter most to the patient. Our values guide our decisions. Action therapy helps align the patients' values with their actions instead of avoiding the present moment and making bad choices. Values are the foundation for setting goals.

Here at La Jolla Recovery, we know that the objective of action and therapy in treating drug abuse and alcoholism is to give individuals the skills to cope with situations and emotions that drive unhealthy behavior. Strict strengthening psychological flexibility helps them learn to manage pain and discomfort under challenging situations without drinking or using substances.

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