The Power of Acceptance in Recovery

Recovery from addiction can be a hard journey. Accepting that there is a problem and that there are challenges to overcome can make the process easier.

The opposite of acceptance is rejection.

In terms of addiction and recovery, accepting that there is a problem, that there are challenges (but ones that can be overcome — with some effort), and working with and learning from those circumstances, those are major leaps forward in achieving sobriety.

Not quite convinced? Liken addiction to a diagnosis of some other illness.

If you have diabetes, and you ignore it, what happens? If you don’t make changes, more than likely, the condition will become worse. Not only do you risk out-of-control blood sugar, but all the other potential complications, such as blindness, infection, heart disease and nerve damage.

Compare addiction to a cancer diagnosis. If you opt to pass on treatment, recovery isn’t a very likely outcome. In either example, if you accept there is a problem, do the necessary homework to try to become better, and commit to treatment, the odds of getting better improve dramatically.

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What Is Acceptance?

Acceptance will mean slightly different things to different people. It comes up in various therapies, but for recovery, it’s accepting who you are. That also means taking the good with the bad. Feeling shame is counterproductive. Instead of fighting your situation, it involves working on accepting life circumstances. You work with them and learn from them.

That’s how learning acceptance in recovery can help, how acceptance heals. It also reduces the stigma, to accept whatever the roadblocks may be.

It may be helpful to liken addiction to depression. In current thinking, it’s beneficial to be more open about depression, to normalize it. It’s not a condition that can be remedied via avoidance.

A large component of acceptance is forgiveness — especially of oneself. It includes embracing all experiences, even the distressing ones. It’s not simply tolerating the situation, but also learning that it’s a part of your story, and changing the narrative to craft a better outcome.

Acceptance has its roots in mindfulness, which has origins in ancient Buddhist and Hindu spirituality. Nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants brought it to the United States, and in time psychoanalysts adopted it in the following decades.

In the 1980s social psychologist Ellen Langer described acceptance as a thought process characterized by a willingness to drop preconceived thinking and adopt new information. In the years since, it’s become more common in therapeutic practices, including in the recovery community.

It should be noted, though, that acceptance is not a blind acceptance of fate.

To offer another example, someone in a dangerous situation — say, a victim of spousal abuse — need not passively resign herself to circumstances. But when she leaves her husband, she’ll likely experience stress and anxiety.

Will he stalk her? Will he attack her? By acknowledging there will be some challenges to overcome, she’s better prepared to accept the ups and downs coming her way.

Acceptance can make it easier to make behavioral changes. If a person has depression or anxiety, for example, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Acknowledging it, perhaps seeing a therapist or taking prescribed medications, those make healing possible. Apply that logic to alcohol abuse. Ignoring the issue won’t make it go away.

Seeing help — perhaps via therapy, or a 12-step group, or a stay at a rehab facility — that’s admitting that there is a problem. That acceptance makes embracing help and making changes easier.

SMART Recovery offers self-acceptance exercises, too, including several thoughts to consider when faced with negative thinking, including:

  • It’s the behavior that is bad, not the person.
  • There’s no shame in making mistakes. Rather, mistakes are learning opportunities.
  • Correction is fine. Condemnation is not.

SMART Recovery also cautions against self-criticism. The program poses the question: does the mistake or rejection or criticism subtract from your good qualities? Does it make you a bad person? It doesn’t. It’s simply a mistake.

A good person sometimes does bad things. More acceptance means less guilt. It also sometimes means understanding your limitations.

Remember, it takes time to recover. It more than likely took some time and effort to get to the stage where help was needed. It will take time and effort to achieve sobriety.

Sobriety is not a quick shift in behaviors and thinking. Recovery is a lifelong journey.

Understanding your limitations and getting the help you need — multiple treatment modalities are available — can do wonders for your recovery journey as well as your frame of mind.


  • – The Psychological Health Benefits of Accepting Negative Emotions and Thoughts: Laboratory, Diary, and Longitudinal Evidence
  • – Understanding and Enhancing Psychological Acceptance
  • – Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction


Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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