The Myth of the Addictive Personality

The Myth of the Addictive Personality

The idea of an “addictive personality” is one of the biggest myths about the cause of addiction. Rather than explaining addiction, it reinforces popular misconceptions, often stigmatizing those who suffer from an addiction.

Regardless of one’s personality, addiction can affect anyone. Although specific personality characteristics can be correlated with certain types of addiction, the idea of a single “addictive personality” grossly oversimplifies addiction.

As I explained in my article on the underlying causes of addiction, it is a complex issue with several potential contributing factors:

The underlying causes of addiction include trauma, unmet needs, or other emotionally painful experiences resulting in the desire to cope in the short-term through substances or behaviors that mask the pain, resulting in long-term harm. 

With this in mind, let’s consider the various reasons why it is important to dispel the myth of the addictive personality.

There Is No Scientific Consensus 

Researchers studying the correlation between personality and addiction have been unable to reach a consensus regarding a single “addictive personality.” Instead, many studies have found the importance of specific traits that may differ across each type of addiction.

Although there is no consensus regarding an addictive personality, one of the most significant traits observed in the research is low self-regulation. Low self-regulation means having difficulty controlling impulses, but it can also mean difficulty pulling oneself away from narrow areas of focus. On one end of the personality spectrum, low self-regulation can look like hyperactivity, while on the other end, low self-regulation can look like obsessive focus.

In Maia Szalavitz’s book, Unbroken Brain, she analyses the past twenty years of “addictive personality” research, in addition to sharing her own experience with an addiction to heroin and cocaine. As an anxious straight-A student who always followed the rules, no one suspected she would develop an addiction. She states:

“Children who ultimately develop addictions tend to be outliers in several measurable ways. Yes, some stand out because they are antisocial and callous—but others stand out because they are overly moralistic and sensitive.”

Rather than being about a single personality type, there are various personality types associated with increased risk. These personality types are generally found on opposite extreme ends of an impulsivity spectrum. As she states:

“While those who are the most impulsive and eager to try new things are at highest risk, the odds of addiction are also elevated in those who are compulsive and fear novelty. It is extremes of personality and temperament—some of which are associated with talents, not deficits—that elevates risk. Giftedness and high IQ, for instance, are linked with higher rates of illegal drug use than having average intelligence.”

We often think of persons with low self-regulation as lacking impulse control, as in the stereotyped image of ADHD. What is often neglected is how compulsiveness, at the opposite end of the personality spectrum, is also associated with low self-regulation. Maia Szalavitz shares her personal experience with this issue:

 “I had trouble stopping intellectual engagement, not starting it.”

As someone with mild work addiction, I can personally relate to this issue. From the outside, completing a PhD and writing over 80 articles on this site looks like a high degree of self-regulated focus. However, I experienced it as quite the opposite. Not doing these things would be more difficult since it takes an active effort for me to stop doing them, similar to a person trying to stop using substances.

Luckily, this is something I have insight into, so I carefully monitor it to minimize negative impacts on other areas of my life. To learn more about this balance, check out my article on when something becomes an addiction.

Although I have been able to turn this tendency into an asset, it could easily cause destruction if it results in too much neglect in other areas. Also, this tendency can easily become fixated on other addictive substances or behaviors if not kept in check.

Addiction is found in the extremes of a spectrum. Too often, addiction is classified as something you either have or don’t have. Rather, you can be mildly addicted to something if it has minimal harm in your life or severely addicted to something if it has a significant negative impact.

In the same way that addiction is not merely something you have or don’t have, it is a complex issue that does not look the same for everyone. Addiction is strongly associated with low self-regulation, but the way low self-regulation manifests looks different for everyone.

A 2018 study on the personality profiles of addiction found that different types of addiction attract different types of personality. Regarding these trends, the study found the following:

• Alcohol use disorders identified by lower extraversion and openness to experience.

• Drug use disorders and compulsive sexual behavior have similar personalities.

• Gambling disorder has similar personality to healthy controls.

These correlations provide further evidence against the idea of a single “addictive personality.” It is also interesting to note that persons with an addiction to gambling did not differ from the personality of the general non-addicted population. Regarding gambling disorder, the study concludes:

“…treatment centers and counselors may need to address environmental issues in these individuals, rather than focusing exclusively on risky personality traits.”

I’d go even further to argue that although there are some general trends in personality differences between various types of addiction, it is always necessary to treat individuals based on their unique personality traits, character strengths, and personal histories.

Although the science is relatively clear on the importance of self-regulation in addiction, even this concept manifests quite differently across each individual. There is no substitute for a person-centered approach to addiction.

It Does Not Explain Addiction

Rather than clarifying why someone may have developed an addiction, the concept of the addictive personality obscures the underlying causes, reducing everything to a perceived personality defect. Like the myth of a single “addiction gene,” we tend to seek simple answers to complex questions. In doing so, we gain certainty at the cost of genuine understanding. Although an array of genetic factors may contribute to an increased risk of developing an addiction, there is no single addiction gene.

These simplistic single-origin explanations label persons with addiction as fundamentally different. This false certainty can give the illusion that one is immune from developing an addiction if one does not exhibit certain traits.

The concept of an “addictive personality” is a convenient way to package addiction’s messy reality into the black box of a pseudo-psychological label. The concept’s explanatory power is equivalent to saying, “they have an addiction because they are an addict.”

Addiction is caused by various factors and the concept of an “addictive personality” erases this reality by simply attributing all addiction to a single variable. As shared in my article on what drives addiction:

“Addiction is driven by neurological changes related to dopamine, the reward center, and the brain’s self-regulatory center. This produces a learned pattern of coping with underlying pain or unmet needs.”

This brief explanation does not even scratch the surface, so check out the full article for further detail if you are interested.

It Can Be Stigmatizing 

Such superficial explanations are also stigmatizing. An example can be seen in the stereotyped concept of the “degenerate gambler.” Like the idea of the “addictive personality,” concepts like “addict” often carry the weight of judgmental attitudes. Although persons in 12-step recovery may choose to identify themselves as a “gambler, alcoholic, or an addict,” it is not anyone else’s place to bestow such a label.

I interact with “persons with an addiction” in the same way I would interact with “persons with depression.” I wouldn’t walk into a mental health rehabilitation unit and refer to the clients as “depressives.” The comparison is not perfect because the “addict” labels have become normalized in 12-step recovery, but using the label for oneself is a personal choice.

When these labels are appropriately internalized in the context of 12-step recovery, they can be empowering. When they are given to you by someone else, they can feel alienating. Introducing oneself as an addict at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting feels very different than someone else saying, “You’re an addict.” The former indicates acceptance and the desire to maintain abstinence, whereas the latter often suggests judgment and misunderstanding.

The concept of an addictive personality can serve as a permanent mark of “defectiveness,” taking away hope in a situation already marked by a lack of hope. As shared in my article on stigma, Stephanie described her constant fear of judgment while in active addiction.

“I was hopeless and believed that I would not be able to get help. In my own head, I was a lost cause.”

When someone feels judged, they are less likely to reach out for help, prolonging their struggle with addiction. The concept of the addictive personality may contribute to this issue when the label is perceived as a form of judgment.

Conclusion

The concept of the addictive personality has been one of the most stubborn myths in the addiction field. Although persons lacking self-regulation are at an increased risk of addiction, issues in this area range from hyperactivity and impulsiveness to obsessiveness and compulsivity.

Each type of addiction has a different general trend in personality traits. Although this is the case, these trends are still not necessarily useful in clinical settings where each individual brings their unique cluster of personality traits, character strengths, and personal histories.

Lastly, relying on the concept of an addictive personality can be stigmatizing since it tends to be an overgeneralization based on a set of stereotyped negative characteristics.

The concept of an addictive personality is not useful for explaining addiction, nor is it helpful in treating addiction. As described in my article on the root causes of addiction, the causes of addiction include trauma, pain, and unmet needs such as purpose, belonging, and self-esteem. As in the insightful words of Gabor Maté:

“The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.”

If you want to learn more about the lived experience of addiction, check out my article, What Does Addiction Feel Like?

To learn more about our underlying psychological needs, check out my article, What Are Our Underlying Needs?

For more on the root causes of addiction, check out my interview with Stephanie from Aegis Health Group:

As an addiction counselor, my approach to helping clients is based on recognizing these underlying factors. Recovery results from effectively turning toward the underlying pain in a self-compassionate way, uncovering core values, and building habits of committed action.

If you reside in Canada, I am currently taking clients for online counseling, in addition to in-person sessions for persons who live in the Windsor-Essex area. If you are interested in learning more, you can fill out the form below, and I will contact you for a free 15-min phone consultation.

Underlying Causes of Addiction

Underlying Causes of Addiction

When considering the underlying causes of addiction, it is important to remember there is no universal answer. As an addiction counselor, I have met various individuals with unique stories and have observed how addiction generally results from some form of pain. As explained in my article on the root causes of addiction, these forms of pain may include trauma, intrusive thoughts, or unmet needs.

Although each person has their own unique story, I’ve noticed some general trends that explain why certain people may be drawn to certain substances or behaviors to cope with underlying pain.

The underlying causes of addiction include trauma, unmet needs, or other emotionally painful experiences resulting in the desire to cope in the short-term through substances or behaviors that mask the pain, resulting in long-term harm. 

Addictive substances or behaviors provide the illusion of one’s need being met while further taking one away from genuinely meeting their needs in the long-term. Throughout this article, I focus on how specific substances or behaviors are generally used to escape from the pain of specific unmet needs.

As stated before, I have encountered many exceptions to these general tendencies. In this article, I draw on Stephanie’s experience, a fellow recovery advocate who is in long-term recovery from stimulants and opioids. Her experience illustrates some general patterns I have observed, but as always, it is essential to assess each individual independently to determine their underlying unmet needs.

I share Stephanie’s fuller story of addiction and recovery here, and you can contact her on Facebook here. You can also check out an interview we did for Aegis Health Group on YouTube here.

Underlying Causes of Addiction to Stimulants

Some common stimulants include cocaine/ crack, crystal-meth, and other amphetamines. Producing a stimulating effect on the central nervous system, they often make users feel energized, confident, and powerful.

Of all the substance categories, stimulants produce the highest levels of dopamine response in the brain. This neurological effect is responsible for the increased risk of psychological addiction since dopamine is the primary neurotransmitter associated with addiction, as explained in my article on what drives addiction.

An underlying cause of addiction to stimulants is low self-esteem. Simulants offer a short-term escape from the pain of low self-esteem. This is reinforced by the high levels of dopamine production in the brain, causing a sense of confidence and invincibility. 

Stephanie shares the following experience:

“The first time I did cocaine, I felt like I was invincible. If I spoke, I said all the right things; if I danced, I hit every move perfectly. It was the first time I felt completely confident in myself. When you use coke, you have a lot of friends. Being picked on most of my life, being the popular girl was just as enticing as the drug. For once, I felt what I thought was happy, on top.”

This initial experience reinforced the brain’s learning mechanism in the dopamine pathways since a significant source of pain had been unexpectedly solved.

Like figuring out how to hunt a large animal successfully, resolving the hunger pains of our ancient ancestors, the dopamine response reinforces the importance of continuing the specific behavior that preceded the relief of the pain.

This learning mechanism has been fundamental to acquiring new skills to solve problems throughout human history. The dopamine response is mainly triggered when the reward is unexpected. Stephanie shares that the first time she used cocaine in a similar way. She described it as an “ah-ha!!! Moment”. Stephanie shared the following regarding her unmet need for self-esteem:

“All my life, I grew up believing I was ugly, stupid, weird. I felt unlovable and ostracized. When I did coke, none of that mattered. I was beautiful and smart and funny.”

Although low self-esteem is a common cause of stimulant addiction, there are many other underlying causes. Another common situation I’ve encountered includes the use of stimulants to regulate one’s focus.

This is particularly common among persons who have ADHD. Rather than feeling agitated and aggressive, stimulants can have a calming effect by strengthening parts of the pre-frontal cortex, increasing one’s ability to regulate one’s focus. Research demonstrates the relationship between untreated ADHD and cocaine use.

Many people abuse stimulants for reasons beyond those mentioned here. These are just some of the major themes I’ve encountered, shedding light on some common causes.

Underlying Causes of Opioid Addiction

Common opioids include substances such as heroin, Oxycodone, and Fentanyl. Opioids are central nervous system depressants which also have an analgesic effect. This means they are calming and have a pain-relieving effect.

Of all the substance categories, opioids produce the highest risk of physical dependence. The intense pain produced by the withdrawals contributes to the highly addictive nature of these substances. Working in a withdrawal facility, I witnessed many people going through this fierce agony first hand. At its worst, it looked like a demon was trying to escape their bones. If you want to learn more about opioid withdrawals, check out my article, What Does Opioid Withdrawal Feel Like?

The withdrawal of opioids is so powerful due to the rebound effect. This means the withdrawals are generally the exact opposite of the effect produced by the drug. Opioids produce an intensely soothing effect, often compared to a warm hug.

Underlying causes of opioid addiction include lacking a sense of being loved, feeling isolated, or dealing with a great deal of emotional pain, in addition to the high level of physical dependence facilitated by this class of substances.

Stephanie shares her experience with opioids as the following:

“When I did opiates, I was in another failing relationship. The one that was supposed to love me was the one making me feel unlovable. He was constantly putting me down and cheating on me. The first time I ever used, I felt this warm hug wash over me, and the pain of the abuse went away. I was numb, and if he started in on me again, I would just close my eyes a tune him out. I didn’t care. It was the only thing that made me feel the way I did when him and I first met, and I was lying in his arms. I found a way to have that without him.”

Just as painkillers numb physical pain, they also numb emotional pain. Recent research demonstrating this effect studied the impact of acetaminophen on social rejection. Although painkillers numb emotional pain, this effect is fleeting since tolerance to opioids rapidly builds. This causes users to require a significantly larger dose over time to maintain the same effect.

Stephanie describes this experience as the following:

“The warm hug wears off and is only there for a fleeting second. It’s all just to stay normal.”

Like all addictions, the initial effect fades, and the primary purpose of using becomes an attempt to feel somewhat normal. Due to the physically addictive nature of opioids, the pain of withdrawal is continually looming on the horizon.

Although opioids can produce intense pleasure, it is a myth to assume everyone responds the same way. Research demonstrates a large variability in individual subjective responses to opioid use. I have witnessed this in my encounters with individuals who have used opioids primarily as a way to be more productive or function better at work.

Although opioids are a central nervous system depressant, some users report having more energy and the ability to complete tasks they would otherwise find boring. This same response is also found in the ability to stay up later, get up earlier, or be more productive in the gym. Although these things are often associated with stimulant use, opioids can facilitate this type of response by numbing the painful elements of these tasks, making them easier to complete.

Like stimulants, there are a variety of potential responses someone can have to opioids. Therefore, it is essential to consider how each individual is affected by the substance and what they are using it to achieve.

Underlying Causes of Gambling Addiction

Although many people understand how substances can be addictive due to their composition and direct chemical effect on neurophysiological processes, it might be hard to understand how behaviors such as gambling and gaming can have the same effect.

The underlying causes of gambling addiction include random rewards that hijack the brain’s dopaminergic reward mechanism, combined with the illusion of hope for winning back losses, the desire to escape from emotional pain, and a sense of belonging or specialness.

Recall the previous description of dopamine and the brain’s reward mechanism. Gambling hijacks this reward system due to the unpredictable nature of random rewards. Newer slot machines are designed to heighten this dopamine response even further by incorporating several features that result in more opportunities for a surprise. False wins, free spins, and bonuses are some of these features.

False wins are spins where a “win” is triggered, but the amount you receive is less than the amount you bet. Since dopamine responds to the surprise more than the amount won, false wins provide the opportunity for more frequent surprises without having to pay out.

Free spins are another common feature that allows the machine to surprise the player, often accompanied by special graphics or sounds. Like false wins, they allow the machine to incorporate further surprises without necessarily having to pay.

This sense of constant anticipation is a common feature of gambling addiction. In the beginning, it may start as a sense of hope for a better future. As reported in a Vice article:

“People don’t play the lottery because they expect to get rich. They play the lottery because it’s fun to indulge in the fantasy that, one day, their lives could suddenly get easier.”

Like opioid addiction, the warm glow of this glimmering hope quickly dissolves into desperation and the need to escape underlying pain.

In an article in The Guardian, Craig shares this experience:

“Gambling for me wasn’t about chasing the big win, it was about chasing the money I’d already lost.”

From the outside, gambling can seem like an activity focused on greed. For someone with a gambling addiction, the issue goes much deeper. It’s often not about the money. Instead, it is primarily a way to escape a painful reality. According to a participant in a study published in the Journal of Gambling Issues:

“It’s just been a nice escape for me, so even though it causes me grief at times, it’s an escape from reality… I think that’s the basic reason… to get away from reality, just go to a fairy world. Yeah, it’s an escape; wherever your mind blanks out, you don’t think about it. That’s it, your little hideaway, on that chair.”

Just like any addiction, short term relief comes at a long term cost.

Other common underlying features of gambling addiction are the thrills, the social environment, and the sense of importance.

When someone lacks a sense of belonging, they often cope by seeking out status or specialness. Casinos are built around this principle, fostering status and specialness through elaborate marketing and reward programs.

Casinos often have multiple tier-leveled membership programs based on the amount someone wagers throughout the year. With names like Gold, Platinum, or Diamond status, members strive to achieve the next level, giving them special access to parking, entrances, rooms, trips, and events.

Casino hosts are sent real-time electronic information on where members are playing, how much someone has spent, and any other relevant information such as birthdays. Members are greeted by name at their machine or table and offered incentives. Of particular interest are players spending increasing amounts of money.

Other common casino incentives include invitation-only gift giveaways where players are mailed an invitation to visit the venue to pick up a gift, which often consists of everyday household items like pots and pans.

Casino’s have a culture of their own, continually facilitating a sense of specialness. The casino marketing machine can artificially meet this need for those who are socially isolated or suffer from low self-esteem. Many people describe the casino as the only place they feel like “somebody.”

There are many underlying reasons for being drawn into a gambling addiction, most of which are not about the money. If anything, money becomes devalued to the point of feeling fake. Casinos and online gambling venues help facilitate this further by turning dollars into chips or credits.

Over time, these numbers merely signify how much longer someone is able to continue their escapism. At the extreme end, some people even become annoyed or agitated when they win a jackpot because it takes away their ability to continue playing, as they wait for venue staff to pay them out manually. At this point, money becomes nearly irrelevant, and the need to continue playing becomes the sole reason for playing.

Like all addictions, each person with a gambling addiction has a unique experience. Although I have presented some common underlying causes, one must fully inquire into how each individual experiences gambling to get their full perspective.

Underlying Causes of Gaming Addiction

As described in my article on why video games are addictive:

The underlying causes of gaming addiction include their ability to meet our basic psychological need for a sense of autonomy, purpose/progress, and social connection. Many games also incorporate random rewards, similar to gambling, in “loot boxes.” 

Video games provide an environment to experience a sense of autonomy/freedom from social constraints, reduced social anxiety, and allow for a sense of adventure. This is particularly relevant for persons who feel stuck, constrained, or bored/dissatisfied in their offline life.

Video games also provide a sense of purpose and progress through a mission orientation and the ability to level up. This is particularly relevant for persons who lack a sense of purpose in their offline world. Games offer this through various forms of leveling up in addition to encouraging a flow state where players feel completely immersed in the activity.

Video games also provide a platform for individuals to gain a sense of social connection with like-minded individuals. This offers a sense of connection that is particularly relevant for persons feeling isolated. Multiplayer online games can facilitate this through a team environment, whereas single-player role-play games provide an experience where you feel connected to a grand narrative imitating a hero’s journey.

When one’s underlying need for autonomy, purpose, and connection is unmet in one’s offline environment, games can be used to meet these needs virtually. Although gaming can be a healthy way to meet these needs when done in moderation, gaming addiction makes one psychologically dependent on games. Meeting one’s needs through games at the expense of meeting them in non-gaming environments further reinforces the appeal of gaming, making it more challenging to meet these needs offline.

Like all addictions, when gaming is used as a way to escape from pain, it can have long-term costs when the underlying issues are unaddressed.

Conclusion

This guide to the underlying causes of various types of addiction is not meant to be a strict template, but rather, a general way of understanding how certain substances or behaviors are commonly experienced.

At the core, persons with addiction are attempting to fill a void, escape from pain, or meet an unmet need. Although there is significant overlap between each substance/behavior, the specific details presented here are meant to help you gain deeper insight into the common subjective experiences of those struggling with addiction.

If you want to learn more about the subjective experience of addiction, check out my article, What Does Addiction Feel Like?

To learn more about our underlying psychological needs, check out my article, What Are Our Underlying Needs?

For more on the root causes of addiction, check out my interview with Stephanie from Aegis Health Group:

As an addiction counselor, my approach to helping clients is based on recognizing these underlying factors. Recovery results from effectively turning toward the underlying pain in a self-compassionate way, uncovering core values, and building habits of committed action.

If you reside in Canada, I am currently taking clients for online counseling, in addition to in-person sessions for persons who live in the Windsor-Essex area. If you are interested in learning more, please complete the form below, and I will contact you for a free phone consultation.

What Drives Addiction?

What Drives Addiction?

When considering what drives addiction, there are many misconceptions. Persons with an addiction are not merely lacking will-power. Instead, they are coping with underlying issues through addictive substances or behaviors, causing long-term changes in the brain that make it difficult to escape the cycle of addiction.

As an addiction counselor, this is something I’ve learned both academically and through experience working with clients using addictive substances or engaging in addictive behaviors.

Addiction is driven by neurological changes related to dopamine, the reward center, and the self-regulatory center in the brain. This produces a learned pattern of coping with underlying pain or unmet needs. 

Let’s unpack this statement and make sense of what drives addiction in more specific terms.

The Neurological Drives 

Although addiction is often called a disease, recent research finds it is more aligned with the brain’s learning mechanisms. Therefore, addiction is a learned behavior, reinforced by the chronic use of a substance or behavior to stimulate pleasure or provide relief from pain.

For example, imagine you regularly carry a high level of stress or anxiety. When getting home from work, you drink a few alcoholic beverages to relax. Over time, this becomes a habit, requiring more alcohol to gain the same effect.

This is an unconsciously learned behavior because your brain discovers that the use of alcohol solves your current problem. The part of your brain learning this short-term adaptive behavior is distinct from the part of your brain in charge of higher reasoning that would rationally know this is not a long-term solution.

Let’s roughly distinguish between two major parts of the brain: the higher brain and the lower brain. This will be a rough neurological sketch, focusing on the main aspects relevant to addiction.

The higher brain is the rational outer layers developed later in evolutionary history. According to research, the most recent area is the pre-frontal cortex, located around the forehead, which is especially developed in humans. This part of the brain regulates emotions, providing impulse control.

The lower parts of the brain are involved in emotions and motivation. The central part involved in motivation is the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA). The VTA produces dopamine, sending most of it to the pleasure center (Nucleus Accumbens), providing a reward. These rewards are triggered when you solve a problem, reinforcing this particular behavior. This is how behavior is learned and how we can adapt to new or challenging situations.

This learning mechanism in the lower parts of the brain is focused on short-term gains rather than the long-term planning associated with the higher brain. In any area of life, motivation is produced through dopamine production in the VTA when you successfully complete a novel task. This is particularly powerful when the reward is unexpected, as in the case of gambling. 

Although this process occurs primarily outside of the upper brain’s higher-order reasoning, the upper brain then gets consulted after the fact. The reward experienced in the lower brain gets communicated to the upper brain, telling it to make sense of this situation and plan for future scenarios where this behavior may need to be drawn on. For example, your upper brain will rationalize why it’s a good idea to continue using alcohol to cope with stress, in addition to planning for continued drinking.

This is a rough outline of the major neurological forces driving addiction. Beyond brain circuitry, the content of thoughts is also important, so let’s consider the cognitive realm.

The Cognitive Drives 

Simply put, cognition means the realm of thoughts. This activity occurs in the upper brain and is highly intertwined with the language centers. In the case of addiction, this can refer to the beliefs one has about oneself or one’s behavior.

For example, as previously mentioned, you may develop reasons why addictive behavior is necessary or beneficial. Perhaps drinking after work each evening is justified by the thought that it makes you a better parent since you are less stressed.

Addictions are often based on illusory ideas about unmet needs. For example, alcohol may promise relaxation, gambling may promise hope, opiates may promise love, and cocaine may promise self-esteem. These false promises are reinforced by the short-term effects of the substance or behavior, blinding you from the long-term consequences. Even when these consequences are recognized, the substance or behavior disguises itself as the savior.

Beyond the illusions and rationalizations that drive addiction, one’s thoughts about oneself are also an underlying driver. For example, many people are driven to addictive substances or behaviors to cope with the anxiety produced by the belief that they are not good enough.

These underlying thoughts regarding one’s self-worth may go back to childhood. Whether or not there was a major traumatic experience, many people internalize thoughts about themselves that were reinforced by others around them.

Growing up with the constant thought of not being good enough may escalate throughout one’s life, especially while taking on further responsibilities in adulthood. This can result in underlying anxiety regarding one’s ability to handle future situations, affecting one’s self-esteem as well.

This cascade of negative thoughts regarding oneself can lead to substances or behaviors as a form of short-term coping. As previously discussed, this short-term relief triggers the brain’s reward pathways, reinforcing a long-term pattern of habitual behavior.

The Interpersonal Drives 

The interpersonal realm consists of one’s quality of social connection. As discussed in my article, The Impact of Isolation on Addiction, I shared Bruce Alexander’s famous Rat Park Study. He highlights how addiction is a disease of isolation, where substances are used to cope with isolation, producing even more isolation.

Researchers discovered how rats tended to overdose in the Rat Park Study when provided drugs while alone in a cage. These overdoses no longer occurred when rats were kept in the company of other rats.

Human beings are social creatures and isolation causes us deep emotional pain. Social isolation is an often overlooked health concern and recent research suggests it is as dangerous as smoking.

In a TED Talk, Robert Waldinger emphasizes the dangers of social isolation, stating:

“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

Physical health issues receive a great deal of attention, while interpersonal health is often neglected. Luckily, social determinates of health have gained traction in the scientific literature. Recent research looked at the impact of loneliness as a risk factor for mortality and found:

“Current evidence indicates that heightened risk for mortality from a lack of social relationships is greater than obesity.”

Coping with isolation through addictive substances or behavior is one-way social isolation can affect one’s physical health. For example, coming home from a stressful day to an empty home may result in coping through consuming alcohol.

Without addressing the underlying isolation and unmet social needs, one’s physical health may deteriorate as the short-term coping results in long-term harm. This can make it increasingly difficult to meet one’s underlying needs in a healthy way in the long-term.

Conclusion 

The neurological, cognitive, and interpersonal processes driving addiction are all intertwined. Although it is possible to analyze addiction on multiple levels, addiction is often experienced as a way to gain relief from an underlying source of pain, whether it’s past trauma, anxious thoughts, depressed moods, or the pain of social isolation.

If you want to learn more about the lived experience of addiction, I’ve written more on the topic in the article, What Does Addiction Feel Like?

If you want to learn more about the psychological factors driving addiction, check out my article, What are the Root Causes of Addiction?

As an addiction counselor, my approach to helping clients is based on recognizing these underlying factors. Recovery is the result of effectively turning toward the underlying pain in a self-compassionate way, uncovering core values, and building habits of committed action.

If you reside in Canada, I am currently taking clients for online counselling, in addition to in-person sessions for persons who live in the Windsor-Essex area. If you are interested in learning more, please complete the form below, and I will contact you for a free phone consultation.

7 Ways to Stop Gambling and Save Money

7 Ways to Stop Gambling and Save Money

As a certified gambling counselor, I’ve often been asked how to stop gambling. Some individuals just want to save money, realizing they have been spending too much on gambling. Others are looking to completely stop gambling because they have lost control, and it is causing significant problems in their lives.

In this article, I provide seven ways to stop gambling and save money. I’ve developed these strategies over several years of working within a casino doing problem gambling prevention, helping people who are struggling with their gambling, in addition to working within a hospital setting, providing residential support to persons recovering from problem gambling.

Although gambling functions like any other addiction, there are some important distinctions to consider. Hopefully, this article helps you make sense of the unique features of problem gambling, in addition to providing some useful tools to help you gain back control.

If you are considering counseling, click here to learn more about my online services.

1. Let go of common gambling fallacies

Unlike other forms of addiction, gambling relies on the powerful force of random reinforcement. Rewards are distributed randomly, causing players to develop distorted thoughts regarding their level of control over the outcome. This is especially powerful if someone had an early big win.

Here are some common gambling myths and reasons why they are not true:

“I have a system for winning.”

This is an illusion of control. Although our minds are built to find patterns and predict outcomes, this is not helpful in the artificial world of gambling where outcomes are random. Seeking the need for coherence and understanding, we develop rigid rationalizations, trying to make sense of the outcomes. We may feel like we have a system, but outcomes in casino gambling are random.

“It is due to pay out soon.”

This is a form of false hope. For slot machines, and several other forms of electronic gaming, outcomes are determined by a random number generator (RNG). It is a computer chip that automatically generates thousands of random number combinations every second and is always running, even when you are not playing. Hitting the “spin” button selects the random number it happens to be generating at that exact moment, converting it to a position on the reels. Therefore, it is never due to pay.

“If I keep playing, I can win my money back.”

This is another form of false hope based on the idea that hard work should ultimately pay off. Although this may be an adaptive rule in real life, it does not apply in the gambling world. Casino games are always configured to take more money than they give back. This is also known as the “house edge”.

Although outcomes are random, the amount of money you get for a win is less than the amount you spend on a loss. For example, it’s like betting $1 on a coin toss and only getting around $0.85 if you win. Since you’ll end up paying $1 roughly half the time and earning $0.85 roughly half the time, you can see how this is a losing game in the long-run. In casino gambling, the longer you play, the more you pay.

“I feel lucky today.”

This is the illusion of control, combined with false hope. Our intuitions may serve us well in everyday life, allowing us to sense subtle social cues and adjust our behaviours accordingly. In the world of gambling, intuition is more like a form of magical thinking.

Other forms of magical thinking include the use of good-luck charms, prayers, or rituals such as touching the machine in a certain way. If this is simply for entertainment purposes, it may be harmless, but if it is an attempt to control the outcome, it will merely lead to further disappointment in the long-term.

These gambling fallacies promise a sense of control and hope for a better future, but they are illusions that actually do the opposite. You may feel a false sense of control and hope in the short-term, at the expense of genuine control and hope in the long-term.

2. Decide if gambling is really worth it

Deciding to stop gambling ultimately comes down to whether or not gambling is worth it. Even if it’s not worth it monetarily, most people who have problems with gambling say it’s not about the money. You can recognize the financial downside, but still enjoy the sense of escape.

Here are some common reasons people continue gambling:

“Gambling makes me happier”

Even if you know you are spending more money than you are getting back, you may justify continued gambling based on its ability to make all of the world’s problems go away temporarily. Using gambling to escape is one of the most common forms of gambling, especially among those who use electronic games such as slot machines.

Although many people in the early stages of problematic gambling may believe it makes them happier, this illusion is often shattered when their lives become unmanageable. Gambling offers a false promise of happiness, just like it offers the false illusion of control and false hope for a better future. Genuine happiness can be built, only after letting go of the illusion provided by gambling.

“I can make money gambling”

I have heard this several times from persons who engage in professional forms of gambling where a significant amount of skill is involved. For example, tournament poker allows players to gain a slight mathematical edges on one another, making it a game of both skill and chance.

The first question I would ask is whether or not your gambling is actually profitable. Do you keep a balance sheet, closely tracking your wins and losses? Are you treating your gambling like a business? If so, and you are profitable, I would ask you this question: Is it worth it?

Let’s say you’re actually able to make a bit of money. Is this amount of money worth the roller-coaster of stress? Is it worth risking the relationships it is perhaps putting in jeopardy? Is it worth the constant lying, loss of integrity, and resulting low self-esteem?

What do you truly value in life? Is gambling getting you closer or further away from that?

I’ll be bored if I stop gambling”

Many people looking for gambling support can’t imagine their lives without it. By this point, gambling often becomes a full-time job. Spending so much time gambling, other hobbies and interests go by the wayside. In my years talking to patrons who frequently visit the casino, one of the most common reasons to continue gambling is that there is nothing else to do.

Although gambling may feel like the only form of leisure activity currently, I’ve seen many people adjust to an enjoyable life outside gambling. It may take some brainstorming at first, but given time, it is possible to rekindle old hobbies and find new fulfilling activities to engage in.

This fear of boredom is common in all addictions, so if you’re interested in learning more, check out my article 16 Reasons Being Sober Is Worth It. Many of the lessons apply to gambling as well.

3. Self-exclude or use a gambling blocker

This is another area unique to gambling addiction. Unlike bars and liquor stores, you can ban yourself from casinos and block yourself from gambling sites. This has actually been a significant part of my role within casinos. When someone decides they want to ban themselves (self-exclude) from a casino, there is a process to sign themselves out while receiving emotional support and information on treatment resources.

GameSense is a larger North American organization dedicated to this form of support. Since I’m familiar with the North American system, I will just speak to my understanding of the process in this context. Also, procedures may vary depending on the casino.

Larger venues owned by major chains often have sophisticated facial recognition software. When signing yourself out, your photo is taken and entered into the system, alerting security if you enter. Recently, I’ve witnessed considerable gains in the accuracy of this facial recognition software.

Self-exclusion provides an immediate deterrent, allowing someone to form new habits. Unfortunately, gambling is now everywhere. Many people who cannot enter the casino may take up gambling online. One helpful application that provides an online version of self-exclusion is Bet Blocker. This is an app that blocks all gambling-related content and can be installed on your computer or mobile phone.

4. Replace gambling with other activities

Once you’ve decided to commit to changing your habits, it is important to consider healthy replacements for gambling. Since gambling can take up a significant amount of one’s time, self-excluding can often result in boredom, fuelling the desire to return to gambling.

Consider the things you used to do before gambling took over. If these activities are no longer appropriate, consider trying new activities or learning a new skill. If you’re interested in learning something new, I recommend checking out sites like Skillshare. With thousands of classes to choose from, this online community allows you to gain new skills, network with peers, and find new opportunities. Check out their free trial here.

*As an affiliate partner with Skillshare, I receive a commission if you sign up for a free trial.

5. Identify your gambling triggers

Identifying your gambling triggers means noticing the people, places, and things that make you automatically desire gambling. This may be a specific group of friends, a particular route on your drive, or having access to a particular device.

Many people who regularly visit a gambling venue form friendships around their shared interest in gambling. Although this may be a healthy form of social connection for some, it can be unhealthy for others who feel trapped in patterns of gambling. It becomes even more problematic when people begin loaning money or asking for loans.

Gambling venues have their own internal culture and networks of regular visitors, providing a sense of belonging. It is crucial to notice when the people you surround yourself with are not aligned with your values. If you find yourself lending money to others, it could be helpful to determine if this is a form of co-dependency. To learn more, check out my article, When Does Helping Become Enabling?

When it comes to places that might be triggering, consider where you are when you feel the urge to gamble. Is this along a specific part of your drive? Is this during a particular part of your day? Many people find it helpful to take new routes home or include social supports in specific aspects of their day when they regularly feel the strongest desire to gamble.

Lastly, consider the specific things in your life that trigger gambling. For some people, this may mean getting a non-smartphone or a phone without access to the internet. Since gambling is now accessible everywhere, merely having a smartphone can be a strong trigger in early recovery. If taking a break from your device is not feasible, perhaps it could mean blocking or deleting certain apps.

6. Uncover what’s driving your gambling

As stated earlier, when gambling becomes an addiction, it is often no longer about the money. Gambling is often used as a way to escape from deeper issues such as stress, anxiety, pain, boredom, or loneliness.

Consider any unmet needs and how gambling is serving as a temporary solution at a long-term cost, taking you further away from actually meeting these needs.

To learn more about these unmet needs, check out my recent article: What Are Our Underlying Needs?

In that article, I delve into the six underlying needs driving addictive forms of coping, offering tips on how to meet these needs more effectively, in addition to providing further resources.

7. Seek gambling-specific counseling

If you want to gain back control over your gambling, reaching out for support significantly increases your odds of success. Various mental health and addiction professionals may be helpful, but many people do not realize there are dedicated gambling counselors who specialize in this specific area.

If you are starting to think gambling is no longer worth it, I am currently accepting new clients. I can only accept a limited number of clients, so if you’re ready to make some important changes, send me a message below.

If you are considering counseling, click here to learn more about my online services.

Contact

What Are Our Underlying Needs?

What Are Our Underlying Needs?

As an addiction counselor, I’ve learned the importance of considering a person’s underlying needs. Addictions, as well as other mental health issues, are often the result of unmet needs. There are various theories of fundamental human needs, including Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the basic psychological needs theory. The approach I present here is based on the core yearnings in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

This approach is supported by over 330 clinical trials, providing a comprehensive understanding of our human needs that encompasses those provided in the previously mentioned theoretical models.

Our underlying needs consist of the following:

  1. Belonging and connection 
  2. Meaning and self-direction 
  3. Competence
  4. Coherence and understanding 
  5. Orientation 
  6. Feeling and experience 

Let’s delve into each of these six areas, exploring what each of them means and how we can meet these needs in more effective ways.

We need belonging and connection 

Human beings are fundamentally social creatures. The need for belonging and connection is crucial for our mental wellness. Being one of the main themes in my articles, I’ve often discussed the power of social connection.

According to a Harvard study that followed a group of individuals for 80 years, the quality of one’s relationships is the best predictor of overall health and happiness:

“…people’s level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels were.”

When this need is not met, we often attempt to fill the relational void through ego identification. Inflating our sense of self through stories about our own “specialness,” continually comparing ourselves to others. As described in my article, Is Social Media Making us Less Social:

“Social Media is making us less social when used to compare oneself to others, contributing to higher levels of loneliness and lower levels of well-being among frequent users. It can be social when used to connect with others.”

Our attempts to compensate for the connection through comparison drives us further apart. “I am” statements require social comparison, making us feel even more cut off from others. Clinging to the idea of our specialness gives us a seductive illusion of connection at the expense of genuinely meeting this need in the long term.

According to ACT, the yearning for belonging and connection underlies the process of “self as content” vs “self as context.” Rather than trying to fill ourselves with more identity content, we can more effectively meet our need for connection by letting go of the rigid ego identification. This requires recognizing we are not the contents of our thoughts, but rather, we are the space where the thoughts occur.

A useful metaphor consists of seeing ourselves as the sky rather than the weather. The sky is not the weather. Rather, it is the ever-present blue space that contains the weather. The sky does not attempt to control clouds as they come and go, nor does it identify with the clouds.

Sometimes our thoughts are like storm clouds, while other times they are like fluffy stuffed animals. We can more effectively meet our need for connection by simply noticing when you are having these difficult thoughts based on social comparison and letting them go. As Eckhart Tolle asks, “Can I be the space for this?“.

We need meaning and self-direction

Without a sense of meaning and self-direction, we feel apathetic, lacking motivation. As described in my articles on Veterans in Transition, This is a common theme among persons leaving the military where they gained a deep sense of meaning in their roles compared to the relative sense of meaninglessness in civilian life.

Others may experience a lack of meaning and self-direction in soul-destroying jobs where you feel like a robot, just going through the motions for a paycheque. Working in these deserts of meaning, we may feel tired all the time, only gaining the strength to complete the most basic tasks out of fear of punishment.

Meaning and self-direction are the most fundamental ingredients of motivation. As an addiction counselor, motivation is one of the most important variables I focus on. As described in my article on, How Motivation Works, we feel motivated when we have a sense of being in control of our actions.

When someone takes away your sense of control by telling you what to do, it provokes a reaction to do the opposite. This is why the collaborative technique of motivational interviewing is used in addiction counseling. Rather than telling someone what to do, we can help someone meet their need for a sense of self-directed meaning by evoking their values and collaborating with them to create an effective plan.

In ACT, the yearning for meaning and self-direction underlies the process of having a values orientation. This means gaining a clear understanding of what you value. Although many people tend to immediately focus on goals, they are distinct from values. Values are a “way of being” without a particular end-point. For example, if you value being “compassionate,” there is no end-point. You can always turn to your values to fill the motivational fuel-tank. As stated by Viktor E. Frankl:

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

Finding your “why” provides motivational momentum in difficult times. Gaining clarity on one’s core values allows for ongoing motivation, independent of one’s specific goals.

We need a sense of competence 

A sense of competence, mastery, or feeling that we are progressing is another key underlying feature of motivation. Feeling stagnate in our lives deprives us of the natural rewards we receive when seeing progress.

Fundamentally rooted in the dopaminergic reward-centres of our brains, we experience pleasure when correctly solving a problem. This explains why we experience satisfaction after completing a check-list, solving a puzzle, or winning a game.

These tasks are engaging so long as they are challenging, but not so challenging that it begins to evoke feelings of incompetence. We naturally enjoy what we are good at, which is the core of developing a passion. As stated by Cal Newport in my article on What it Means to Follow Your Passion:

“Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.”

We are often told to find our passion through soul searching, but this can often have the opposite effect. Rather than finding our bliss, we end up living in our heads, continually planning or strategizing without taking action. Without taking action, we cannot know what we genuinely enjoy since this enjoyment is dependent on developing skill in a particular area.

My personal experience with this occurred as I developed more skill in writing. I used to be terrified of a blank page, never knowing what to write. Throughout school, I would only write the bare minimum word-count for the assignment and always relied on several quotes to add more fluff.

Throughout the last decade of blogging, in addition to writing a doctoral dissertation, I’ve gained quite a bit of practice writing. This practice has led to quite a bit more competence, leading to an increased sense of reward and enjoyment.

In ACT, the yearning for competence underlies the process of committed action. This means building patterns of committed action, integrating them into your life over time. The most common barrier to committed action is procrastination, based on perfectionistic ideas.

Procrastination is perhaps more rooted in fear than laziness. Rather than beating ourselves up for not taking action, it could be more helpful to consider the underlying fears preventing action toward your valued goals.

We need a sense of coherence

A sense of coherence and understanding allows us to make sense of ourselves and the world. When this need is not met, we feel uncertainty and fear. A common way to cope with a lack of coherence is to impose false order, retreating into your head, and treating life like a problem to be solved. Common defense mechanisms include rationalization and intellectualization.

When the problem-solving mind takes over, we become fused to our thoughts, making it difficult to take a step back from them. For example, if a driver cuts you off, it is easy to immediately rationalize that this person is selfish and careless. Imposing false order onto the character of the other person allows the world to make sense again, amidst the driving chaos, neatly dividing the everyone into judgmental categories of “good” vs “evil”.

Although this form of black and white thinking provides an immediate sense of coherence, it causes us to react in anger, perhaps putting ourselves in further danger. Flexibly looking at the situation without clinging to our initial judgments allows us to be open to the uncertainty inherent in the situation.

For example, the seemingly “bad” driver may have recently received news that a loved one is passing away, and they are rushing to the hospital. Although this does not excuse dangerous driving, being open to these potential alternatives allows us to gain enough distance from our judgmental mind to be able to choose the most effective path forward, rather than merely reacting.

The purpose of stepping back from your thoughts about a situation does not have to do with the accuracy of those thoughts. Maybe you are right that the driver is doing something dangerous. Maybe you are right that what the driver did was illegal. Maybe you are right that they need to be taught a lesson. But at what cost?

Rightness does not equal effectiveness. If you’ve ever tried to change someone’s behavior by telling them that they are wrong, you will quickly see how your rightness does not translate into effectiveness. As described in my article on Motivational Interviewing, we can’t make people change by being more right. This same logic applies to our own minds. We may be right, but at what cost.

In ACT, the yearning for a sense of coherence and understanding underlies the process of cognitive defusion. When we are fused to our thoughts, we are entangled with them, unable to make space for potential alternatives. We create rigid versions of reality, supported by unconscious rules about the way things ought to be. Rather than genuinely meeting our need for coherence, we become further frustrated by a reality that refuses to conform to our expectations.

Stepping back from our thoughts requires opening up to a space of uncertainty in a way that allows for more practical ways to choose one’s path forward. My article on How to Stop Living in Your Head delves more into common thought patterns, in addition to offering some helpful exercises.

We need a sense of orientation 

The need for orientation gives us a sense of place in the world. When suffering from a chaotic past, it is common to lose this sense of orientation, taking us out of the present moment. Constant thoughts of the past or worries about the future occupy our attention as we try to gain a sense of security in the present.

The more we live in the past or the future, the further we get away from the present, amplifying a sense of disorientation and disconnection. We may dwell on why something happed in the past, what we could do better in the future, and how it’s not safe to focus on the present moment because getting out of our head might result in some kind of danger.

In ACT, this yearning for orientation is based on the process of present-moment awareness. Mindful attention to the present moment allows us to meet our need for orientation because we can more effectively attend to actual events in the here and now rather than getting caught up in rumination.

The GPS metaphor is helpful to make sense of this underlying need. Imagine you are driving with a GPS and it tells you that you will need to turn right up ahead. Rather than looking at your current location on the road, you fixate on the GPS screen, missing all of the events happing around you in real-time. When you look up, you fixate on the rear-view mirror, analyzing all of the things you nearly hit while you were distracted. Realizing that turn is coming up, you turn your eyes back to the GPS screen, focused on the exact distance left before the turn.

Although it is useful to plan for the future, like using a GPS, and consider the past, like using a rear-view mirror, it can take away from genuine orientation by taking us away from the present moment, making us less effective as we navigate our path in life. My article on The Benefits of Meditation for Addiction delves into the power of mindfulness practice.

We need a sense of feeling 

Our final underlying desire is the need to feel and experience life. Sometimes we feel pleasant emotions while other times we feel unpleasant ones. When the desire to avoid unpleasant ones takes over, we avoid situations that could potentially evoke discomfort. This means also avoiding pleasant situations.

For example, a person may avoid the joy of close relationships due to avoiding the potential pain that might result if the relationship fails. A person who values social connection may avoid the pleasure of connecting with others due to the risk rejection and the resulting disappointment.

In ACT, this yearning for feeling underlies the Acceptance process. A helpful metaphor includes having a tug-of-war with your unhelpful emotions. You may tell yourself, “Don’t feel anxious… Don’t feel anxious… Don’t feel anxious….” As you engage in this fruitless struggle, you become more anxious. Rather than choosing to do a particular meaningful task, you decide to avoid it, fearing these feelings will get out of control.

Avoiding situations reinforces the potential danger to your mind, strengthening its association with a fear response. Your mind says, “If you’re avoiding this situation, it must be dangerous.” Like an addiction, avoidance offers the temptation of a short-term gain at a long-term cost. Genuinely meeting one’s need to feel joy requires a sense of openness to feel painful emotions.

An openness and willingness to experience discomfort does not mean resignation or masochism. Instead, it means dropping the rope in the metaphorical tug-of-war, letting the uncomfortable entity stay where it is, and deciding to pivot toward a valued direction. Discomfort may come and go, but your ability to choose your way forward remains unchanging.

Summary

When considering the underlying factors driving addiction and other mental health issues, it is crucial to keep these needs in mind. Without considering a person’s unmet needs, we only see the symptoms of these unmet needs. Trying to treat the symptoms rather than the underlying needs does not get to the root cause of the problem.

A person can be supported in stopping an addictive substance or behavior, but they may still act in ways that a destructive to themselves and their relationships. When underlying needs are not attended to, a person attempts to fulfil these needs in ways that are ineffective, leading these needs to be even further unmet.

Here is a summary of the information conveyed in this article, describing the ineffective and effective ways one may attempt to meet each underlying need:

The need for belonging and connection

Ineffective approach: Constructing ego identities to demonstrate your superiority and receive external validation.
Effective approach: Noticing you are having self-critical thoughts rather than identifying with these thoughts.

Meaning and self-direction

Ineffective approach: Following what you think you “should” be doing, according to social standards. 
Effective approach: Asking yourself what you value and what you want your life to be about.

Competence

Ineffective approach: Procrastination to avoid failure, protecting a perfectionistic ideal of your envisioned future self. 
Effective approach: Building habits of committed action, developing skills over time, despite short-term setbacks.

Coherence and understanding

Ineffective approach: Engaging in rigid debates, focused on being right.
Effective approach: Stepping back from your thoughts/ judgments, flexibly attending to the present moment.

Orientation

Ineffective approach: Analyzing past situations and worrying about the future.
Effective approach: Mindfully bringing your attention to the present moment.

Feeling and experience

Ineffective approach: Avoiding painful feelings and the situations that may evoke them. 
Effective approach: Being willing to experience painful feelings and the situations that may evoke them.

Resources

For an in-depth exploration of these underlying needs in the context of the six processes of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), you can check out my article How to Improve Psychological Flexibility. In that article, I share more metaphors and exercises designed to help you meet your underlying needs more effectively.

If you are interested in taking a deep dive into ACT, I highly recommend the online ACT Immersion course by Dr. Steven Heyes, the founder of ACT. This course has been an invaluable resource for me personally and has informed many of the explanations provided in this article. If you are serious about learning ACT, this is the course for you. Check it out here for more information.

The Big Book of ACT Metaphors is another great resource I would recommend. It is a highly practical book full of explanations, metaphors, exercises, and ACT worksheets, ready to use in your everyday practice.

ACT Made Simple by Dr. Russ Harris is another excellent resource, offering an easy-to-read summary of ACT. This book has recently been updated to include an ACT understanding of self-compassion and trauma, translating complex ideas into simple language.  

If you would like to connect with a specialized ACT therapist, view the directory on the official ACBS website here