Addiction and ACT

What is addiction?

Addiction is a complex condition characterised by compulsive engagement in a particular behaviour or use of a substance, despite negative consequences. It is typically associated with the development of tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, and difficulty controlling or stopping the behaviour.

There are various types of addiction recognised by professionals in the field of mental health and addiction medicine. Some common forms of addiction include:

  • Substance addiction: This refers to a dependence on substances such as alcohol, tobacco, prescription medications, or illicit drugs.
  • Gambling addiction: Also known as gambling disorder or compulsive gambling, this involves an uncontrollable urge to gamble, leading to negative consequences and an inability to stop or cut back.
  • Internet or gaming addiction: Excessive and compulsive use of the internet, video games, or online activities, leading to impaired functioning in various areas of life.
  • Food addiction: This involves a compulsive overeating or binge-eating behaviour, often with a loss of control and negative physical and emotional consequences.
  • Shopping addiction: Also known as compulsive buying disorder, this is characterised by excessive and uncontrollable shopping, leading to financial problems and emotional distress.
  • Sex or pornography addiction: This involves compulsive sexual behaviour, excessive viewing of pornography, or an uncontrollable urge to engage in sexual activities, leading to negative consequences and impaired relationships.
  • Work addiction: Also known as workaholism, this refers to an excessive and compulsive need to work, often resulting in neglect of personal relationships, health, and other important areas of life.

It’s important to note that addiction is a complex and multifaceted condition, and everyone’s experience may vary.

Diagnosis and treatment should be sought from qualified healthcare professionals if addiction is suspected.


Usual symptoms of addiction

Determining whether something qualifies as an addiction can be a complex process that requires professional assessment. However, there are several signs and symptoms that can indicate the presence of an addiction with common indicators including:

  • Compulsive behaviour: The individual engages in the behaviour or substance use repeatedly, often to a greater extent or for longer periods than intended. They may have difficulty controlling or stopping the behaviour despite negative consequences.
  • Preoccupation: The person spends a significant amount of time thinking about the behaviour or substance, planning for it, or recovering from its effects. They may neglect other responsibilities and activities as a result.
  • Tolerance: Over time, the individual may require larger amounts of the substance or engage in the behaviour more frequently to achieve the desired effect. This is a result of the body and brain adapting to the substance or behaviour.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: When the behaviour or substance is discontinued or reduced, the person experiences physical or emotional withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can vary depending on the addiction but often include cravings, irritability, anxiety, depression, or physical discomfort.
  • Negative consequences: The addiction has a negative impact on the person’s physical health, mental well-being, relationships, work or school performance, and overall functioning. Despite experiencing these negative consequences, they continue the behaviour or substance use.
  • Loss of interest: The person may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and instead prioritise the addictive behaviour or substance use above all else.

It’s important to note that the presence of these signs does not definitively establish an addiction. A professional evaluation by a qualified healthcare provider, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or addiction specialist, is necessary to make an accurate diagnosis.

If you suspect that you or someone you know may be struggling with addiction, it is recommended to seek professional help for a comprehensive assessment and appropriate treatment.


Using ACT therapy to support people with addictions

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) can be a useful treatment approach for addiction as it does not view it as a problem of willpower or a result of faulty thinking. Instead, it recognises that addiction involves complex interactions between thoughts, emotions, physiological responses, and environmental factors. ACT aims to help individuals develop acceptance, mindfulness, and commitment to values-based actions, even in the presence of difficult thoughts and emotions.

Here are some examples of how ACT can support treatment for addiction treatment:

  • Enhanced mindfulness: Mindfulness can help individuals recognise triggers, cravings, and automatic patterns related to addiction, allowing them to respond more skilfully. Various mindfulness exercises can be incorporated, such as mindful breathing, body scans, or mindful observation of thoughts and sensations related to cravings. Observing thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations help individuals develop present-moment awareness and non-judgemental acceptance of their experiences.
  • Acceptance: ACT helps individuals develop acceptance of difficult feelings, cravings, and urges that arise during the recovery process. Rather than trying to suppress or avoid these experiences, individuals learn to acknowledge and make room for them without being controlled by them.
  • Clarified values: ACT helps individuals identify and clarify their personal values, which serve as a compass for making choices and decisions. This process helps individuals establish a sense of purpose and meaning beyond addiction, which can motivate and sustain behaviour change.
  • Commitment to behaviour change: ACT emphasises committed action towards values-based goals. Individuals are encouraged to develop and work towards specific behavioural changes that align with their values, such as engaging in healthy coping strategies, seeking support, and making lifestyle changes. The therapist may work collaboratively with the individual to develop a plan of action towards these goals, such as breaking them down into smaller, manageable steps and identifying potential barriers and strategies for overcoming them.
  • Relapse prevention: ACT can assist individuals in developing relapse prevention strategies through exploring potential high-risk situations, identifying triggers and warning signs, and developing alternative coping methods. This may involve practicing mindfulness in moments of temptation or engaging in values-driven behaviours as an alternative to addictive behaviours. Through acceptance, mindfulness, and values-driven behaviour, individuals can better navigate the challenges and setbacks that may arise during the recovery process.

It’s important to note that ACT is not the only approach to addiction treatment, and the effectiveness of any treatment method can vary depending on individual circumstances. A comprehensive approach that may include a combination of therapy, support groups, medication (if applicable), and other interventions is often recommended for treating addiction. Consulting with a qualified mental health professional or addiction specialist can help determine the most appropriate treatment approach for a particular individual.

For individuals:

If you have concerns that you or someone you know might be grappling with addiction, it is advisable to seek the assistance of a qualified professional to undergo a thorough evaluation and receive suitable treatment. Our ACT trained therapists can support you or recommend further interventions.

For professionals:

If you would like to learn more about how ACT can support people with addiction take a look at our upcoming live training and on-demand courses. We also offer free resources or further insight on our blog.

Upcoming live training

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3 hours (3 CE credits)
ACT for relationships

Dr Russ Harris

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Two 3 hour sessions (6 CE credits)
Mastering ACT

Robyn Walser

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ACT for obsessive compulsive disorder featured image
4 hours (4 CE credits)
ACT for obsessive compulsive disorder

Dr. Patricia Zurita Ona

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