The Role of Acceptance in Recovery From Alcohol Addiction

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It seems almost too simple to be true, but accepting that alcoholism is a chronic disease and not a personal failure – is the key to achieving long-lasting recovery.

In other words, relinquish your control, realize your limitations, and face reality (that you have an alcohol problem) is the most important step towards recovery.

Then, after acceptance of your powerlessness, you can move forward with changing what you can (what is within your realm of control).

Acceptance of Alcoholism 

This short passage about acceptance may be one of the most quoted passages in recovery literature. It's from the 4th edition of Alcoholics Anonymous or The Big Book as it is widely known.

The chapter was written by Dr. Paul Ohliger, who died Friday, May 19, 2000, in Mission Viejo, California at the age of 83.

"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."

The take-home message here is that emotional (not just logical) acceptance of one's alcoholism is imperative to becoming well and preventing relapse. 

On the flip side, emotional non-acceptance of alcoholism, as supported by denial, guilt, fighting against, or escaping the illness, puts a person at a high risk of relapse, even if a person can rationally accept the disease. Other signs of emotional non-acceptance may include feelings of anger or shame regarding the development of alcoholism. Fear and self-pity are two other emotions that prevent acceptance and peace of mind. 

Through professional counseling or therapy (either individual, group, or both), a person can learn to recognize these maladaptive emotional coping strategies and where they originated from (for example, through exploring unconscious childhood memories). Then, he or she can devise healthy strategies that promote acceptance, like developing a positive mindset.

Support from peers is also an important component to acceptance.

In fact, according to one study, attending a support group for alcohol addiction had a strong influence on whether or not a person could achieve emotional acceptance of their alcohol addiction. In this same study, having a positive attitude also strongly influenced disease acceptance. 

Gaining Acceptance Through Treatment

Once you understand the importance of accepting your alcoholism, it's important to reach out for help, if you have not already. There are a number of treatment options available to help you recover from your alcohol problem. Your first step should be to talk with your primary care doctor. He or she can provide you with a treatment referral and determine whether medication is an option for you. 

Besides medications that can help you stop or reduce your drinking, there are behavioral treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy or motivational enhancement therapy. Since strong family support increases a person's chance of remaining abstinent, marital and family counseling is also often integrated into treatment. 

Lastly, mutual-support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or other 12-step programs provide peer support, which can be very beneficial for preventing relapse and maintaining abstinence.

A Word From Verywell

In the end, it's important to remember that disease acceptance does not mean that you have to like it, condone it, or even ignore it. What it does mean is you are admitting your powerlessness and limitations – you are letting go, so you can then begin to recover and heal. 

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Article Sources
  • Bussing A, Mattiessen PF, Mundle G. Emotional and Rational Disease Acceptance in Patients With Depression and Alcohol Addiction. Health Qual Life Outcomes. 2008 Jan 21;6:4. doi: 10.1186/1477-7525-6-4.

  • L ancer D. (2014). PsychCentral. Substance Abuse: The Power of Acceptance. 
  • National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.