The Role of Acceptance in Recovery From Alcohol Addiction

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It’s fair to say that drinking culture is ubiquitous across the globe, weaving its way into celebrations, social occasions, and evening wind-downs.

While many of us like to indulge in a few drinks (or more) from time to time, there’s a big difference between casual drinking and fully-fledged alcohol dependence.

Before we dive into the role of acceptance in the recovery process, it’s essential to define alcohol addiction: as a chronic illness with long-term health consequences.

While casual drinkers can cut down without a problem, alcohol abusers require formal treatment to maintain sobriety.

This is because Alcohol Use Disorder is recognised as a brain disease, with scientific evidence suggesting that chemical changes take place in the brains of those suffering.

Rather than quit without issue, those addicted cannot imagine life without a drink, and this is because their brain’s reward centres have been rewired to crave alcohol.

Addiction indeed has profound physical and psychological ramifications for the person suffering, but this doesn’t mean it can’t be treated.

Whether it’s in the form of self-help groups, 12-step participation, or therapy that encourages acceptance, there are plenty of options for victims of alcohol use disorders.

What is Acceptance?

Acceptance is often cited as the key to finding happiness, but what exactly does it mean? At its simplest, accepting something is the act of receiving or taking something offered to you. But in psychological health terms, it means assenting to the reality of a situation.

Many people hold the misconception that accepting something means resigning oneself to it or running away from our struggles.

What they’re thinking of here is something referred to as learned helplessness: wherein someone becomes resigned to their fate and feels powerless as a result.

In reality, true acceptance is quite the opposite and is an empowering feeling. it is the mental attitude that comes with acknowledging a situation, in this case, alcohol addiction, and making active efforts to achieve long-term recovery through 12-step meetings, Alcoholics Anonymous, and other means.

The Different Types of Acceptance in Addiction Recovery

Below, we outline the different types of acceptance in addiction recovery:

1. Self-Acceptance

Those recovering from alcohol addiction  are strongly encouraged to practice self-acceptance, and this is considered intrinsic to long-term abstinence.

Accepting oneself means coming to terms with all the features of our personality, whether these are the stronger, likeable parts or the weaker, less likeable facets. This is a core tenet in 12-step groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.

Self-acceptance involves a mindset of understanding and recognising oneself at the same time as seeking addiction treatment. For example, many members of Alcoholics Anonymous emerge from follow-up counselling, having practised acceptance.

This 12-step philosophy has given them a sense of inner peace and let go of any shame or guilt surrounding their situation.

To achieve this, not only are you working towards accepting your current situation, you’re coming to terms with your past self, too. This means acknowledging that our past actions don’t define our future self, and this is especially applicable to experiences of substance abuse.

While in active addiction, people often make mistakes and feel the negative consequences, but through self-acceptance, they can let go of the past and recognise their imperfections.

2. Accepting the Reality of Addiction

While each case of substance abuse is different, what many victims have in common is that they exist in a state of denial, and this impacts their psychological health.

Sadly, denial is an active ingredient in relapse, and those denying their addiction are missing out on long-term recovery and stunting their personal growth.

However, accepting the reality of addiction can begin by taking baby steps rather than launching head first into treatment and follow-up counselling.

For many, this is as simple as admitting that you or your loved one haven’t been seeing the entire picture as it relates to substance abuse. Perhaps you’ll accept the negative consequences of your alcohol use or that you’ve developed addictive behaviours.

Admitting to suffering from impaired control and drinking too much is the first crucial stage of acceptance.

After all, accepting that alcohol is the one in control rather than the person can open the door to 12-step attendance, individual counselling, and other kinds of formal treatment.

3. Accepting Others

It stands to reason that if we can accept ourselves for who we are, we must extend the same courtesy to others.

This isn’t always easy, however, and It’s common for victims of substance abuse to have suffered abuse from others, whether this is physical, verbal, or emotional.

Even if abuse isn’t part of their story, their relationships have likely been impacted in some way or influenced by the stigma of substance use disorder.

When accepting others as part of 12-step meetings or another form of substance use disorder treatment, it’s vital to realise that accepting something isn’t the same as condoning it.

Accepting things that are out of our control, such as the behaviour of others, doesn’t mean that we condone their actions but that we are more at peace with our lives.

Certain models of behavioural therapy, such as family counselling or 12-step programs, encourage participants to accept the issues within their family relationships and start the healing process.

With continued involvement, they’ll be able to forgive and unburden themselves of emotional distress.

Why is Acceptance Important?

In 12-Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, acceptance is cited in the first step: encouraging people to admit that they are powerless over alcohol and that their lives have become unmanageable.

Clearly, acceptance is important in the addiction treatment realm, but why?

Learning to accept that we have a problem is the first step toward meaningful change, as it encourages what’s known as emotional sobriety.

While going through alcohol detox and removing toxins from the body achieves physical sobriety, being emotionally sober means avoiding relapse by managing your feelings.

Acceptance is a huge part of emotional sobriety, as it allows people to deal with their feelings positively. Becoming emotionally sober is all about freeing yourself from the negative emotions associated with alcohol use. Accepting yourself, your addiction, and the transient nature of negative feelings is an integral part of this process.

By becoming a more accepting person, those in recovery will find that they become more productive and have more time to focus on themselves and their treatment.

Instead of trying to escape reality through their drinking, alcohol abusers can learn to accept their situation and begin working through their recovery goals.

The mechanisms of behaviour change can only be set in motion by admitting that you have a problem with alcohol and that complete abstinence is needed to live a healthier life.

In this way, acceptance becomes the driving force behind future recovery attempts, helping people emerge from alcohol detox with a clearer view of how they can change over some time. 

How to Develop Acceptance During Recovery

Practising acceptance during recovery isn’t always easy; there will be times when you feel guilty about your past alcohol abuse or shame if you experience relapse after periods of abstinence.

However, struggling with acceptance from time to time is normal, and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed in your recovery process. What’s more, there are plenty of ways that you can develop acceptance and create the best mindset for personal growth:

1. Mindfulness Meditation

Whether it’s being used in substance use disorder treatment plans or daily life, mindfulness has an array of benefits. Its primary goal is to help people ground themselves in the present moment: accepting any thoughts, feelings, or sensations that arise without judgement.

Even if it’s just for a few minutes each day, mindfulness can make you more “present” in your daily life and achieve a more peaceful, relaxed state of being.

When practising acceptance as part of addiction recovery, it can be easy to let negative thoughts get the better of you and begin obsessing over past grievances.

Practising mindfulness can also enhance the effectiveness of other therapies, such as behavioural interventions, 12-step meetings, and other self-help groups.

2. Practice Humility

Humility is a state of mind that you can practice each day in your recovery; it refers to our understanding and acceptance of our limitations.

By recognising that we might need help sometimes, we can become stronger and open up to others: whether it’s those we love, work colleagues, or a therapist.

3. Positive Rituals

Oftentimes, how we start the day can shape our mood and influence our behaviours.

By starting the day with a positive mindset, holding yourself in high regard and knowing you will accept yourself no matter what happens, it’ll feel easier to practice acceptance throughout the day.

This can be as simple as writing down a few positive affirmations or telling yourself aloud that today you will accept yourself and others.

Which Addiction Treatments Emphasize Acceptance?

Cultivating acceptance is a key part of many treatments for alcohol addiction and features in various therapies for individuals in recovery.

From 12-step meetings to individual counselling, those in recovery have countless opportunities for personal growth, and acceptance is an active ingredient in most of these methods.

1. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

When it comes to 12-step groups and peer-based recovery support, Alcoholics Anonymous is perhaps the most widely utilised in communities around the world.

From the get-go, AA members are encouraged to practice acceptance as a key 12-step philosophy, and as we’ve already mentioned, admitting powerlessness over addiction is the initial goal in 12-step meetings.

2. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT is often implemented in alcohol rehab for those with a co-occurring psychiatric disorder or for individuals struggling with trauma. This form of behavioural therapy differs from other treatments because it teaches two opposing (dialectical) ideas at once: acceptance and change, to boost psychological health.

During DBT sessions and follow-up counselling, individuals in recovery are taught how to accept their difficult feelings while making an active effort to find new ways of coping.

The thought behind this is that periods of abstinence are often broken when people struggle to control their difficult emotions. But by having healthier ways to cope with stress, individuals with substance use disorder can recover fully over a period of time.

3. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

The role of acceptance in ACT is inherent in the name, and the ability to acknowledge feelings without judgement is a core concept of this therapy method.

ACT teaches individuals with substance use problems to live and behave in ways that are consistent with their values. To achieve this, ACT emphasises psychological flexibility, and learning acceptance is an active ingredient in this process.

Finding an Alcohol Rehab

Cultivating acceptance is just one crucial element in the addiction treatment process. Continued involvement in various treatments, such as those offered at a rehab clinic, is necessary to tackle the root cause of an alcohol disorder.

One way to learn more is to check out the excellent website run by Rehab Recovery, or even learn more via the NHS, who also host resources on this topic.

Although many people assume that rehab is out of their budget, various insurance companies provide cover for treatment, and clinics nowadays offer payment plans to split up the health care costs.

Through continued involvement in a substance abuse treatment program, those struggling can cultivate long-term abstinence, either through inpatient or outpatient care.

Rehab programmes teach patients how to sustain their abstinence through a range of techniques. These include individual therapy sessions, practising the 12-step philosophy, Motivational Enhancement Therapy, follow-up counselling, ample resources for family members, and access to self-help groups.

Substance use disorder treatment plans range from 3-week stints to 120 days of inpatient care, meaning there’s an option to suit anyone struggling with alcohol addiction.

No matter the severity of your addiction, you are welcome at specialised alcohol rehab if you have the intention of overcoming your dependence and starting the recovery process.