Woman with therapist in substance abuse treatment

Respecting Your Autonomy in Substance Abuse Treatment

When entering addiction treatment, many people fear that freedom goes right out the window. Never to be seen for the duration of time while they’re in treatment. However, at The Ranch Tennessee, we value our client’s autonomy. We recognize that unique strengths exist within each individual who walks through our doors. We approach our clients as humanly as possible, and that begins with encouraging autonomy in substance abuse treatment. 

The desire for autonomy is something that has been welcomed and encouraged in our lives since birth by building and fostering agency and independence. While we may fear giving up control, substance use treatment is another arena where we can practice our autonomy and advocate for ourselves and for a healthier life. But the questions that we can be left with are: What is autonomy? How does our desire for autonomy affect how we choose and interact with treatment? 

What is Autonomy?

According to the American Psychological Association, autonomy can be best defined, but not limited to, as: a state of independence and self-determination in an individual, group or society. More specifically, autonomy is the experience of acting from one’s choice rather than feeling pressured to act in a certain way. 

Autonomy: A state of independence and self-determination in an indiviudal, group or society.

American Psychological Association

The way we view our own autonomy can impact our satisfaction with our relationships, jobs and health. The more we act according to our individuality, the more we will feel better. We perform better in whatever we are focusing on at the moment, substance abuse treatment included. It is important to note that embracing your autonomy does not mean separating yourself from the whole. Rather, you work collaboratively and speak up for your needs and wants. 

How Are Autonomy and Substance Use Connected?

It has been debated by psychologists, philosophers and bioethicists alike that with addiction, the person is no longer in full control of themselves, that they are constantly in a loop of compulsive drug-taking. In this case, being controlled by a substance is the opposite of autonomy. 

However, it has been shown by multiple studies that those living with a substance use disorder can give up voluntarily without ever going back to their addiction. These studies point to a component of self-governance and determination. This helps individuals make a choice to turn away from their addictive habits. That is not to say that these individuals do not struggle with withdrawals or the feeling that they must continue on in their use. But these individuals can let their desire for autonomy lead and stand up for what they want. 

It’s that same independent spirit that drives their resilience in the face of challenges. By treating clients as individuals and encouraging their autonomous spirit, we cultivate an environment where responsibility and accountability are invited. 

How Does Substance Abuse Treatment Foster Autonomy?

Autonomy is cultivated from within and strengthened when we can reflect and evaluate our actions. Some have even found that practicing mindfulness and experiential therapy can increase our own knowledge of why we do the things we do. As we continue to learn more about our view of the world, we can change the way we interact within it. 

We can also learn more about our limits and boundaries that we can later reinforce. This information, in turn, builds the relationships that are close to us and invites healthy new ones into our circle. That way, we can live out the values that reflect what is most important to us. 

Specific Recovery Skills That Can Help Us With Reflection: 

Practicing Mindfulness – 

Mindfulness has gotten largely popular over the years due to the benefits that have been cited, such as stress relief, reducing chronic pain and improving sleep. 

One mindfulness technique to try takes place right when you wake up. Before shuffling about through your day, take some time to slowly rise and sit in bed. Close your eyes and notice the sensations in your body. Are there any aches or pains? Take stock of how you are feeling emotionally. Take three long, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. After this, take some time to set the intention for the day by saying positive affirmations (If I fall, I will get back up again. I can start making small choices that lead to bigger changes). 

Journaling Daily- 

Setting time aside, even if it is just five minutes a day, can have profound effects. Journaling has been documented to help control symptoms, increase autonomy, recognize triggers, increase positive talk and decrease negative talk and thought processes. Also, it has been found that people who journal are more likely to be productive and focus on the important tasks that need to be done. 

If you are having a hard time getting started, focus on these questions: What’s a choice you can make this week based on your needs? How do you recharge? How do you practice self-acceptance?


Many benefits come from meditating:

  • Coping with illness
  • Bringing a sense of calmness and peace
  • Improving memory and concentration while improving psychological balance 

An exercise to try with meditation is finding a comfortable spot and taking a seat or laying down. Set a time limit. When first meditating, it has been recommended to start with a small time frame, anywhere between two and five minutes. During this time, notice your body. (How is your posture? Are you in a neutral, comfortable position?) Notice your breath and the sensation of when you inhale air through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Next, notice when your mind tends to wander. Now, notice the thought for a few seconds and let the thought go, bringing yourself back to your breath.

During the time, be kind to your wandering mind. And practice acceptance if you get distracted by stresses or other demanding thoughts. At the end of this exercise, close with kindness, either practicing another affirmation or noticing if any tension or stress has left the body.  

Gratitude – 

Practicing gratitude can improve your mood and the way you think about stressful situations. Research has also shown that gratitude can open the door to improving relationships and even physical health. 

An exercise you can do to express gratitude would be to choose three different people and write a thank you letter to each of them. Focus on the characteristics of each of the three people and tell the person how this characteristic impacted you in a positive way. 

Substance Abuse Treatment at The Ranch Tennessee

The choice and desire to change is no easy feat. Being able to recognize that we can advocate for ourselves and know what is personally right for us can be overwhelming and, in turn, be disheartening. But once we recognize that we want to change our lives for the better, we can be more authentically ourselves and behave more autonomously to create a more healthy and positive life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, mood or a substance use disorder, The Ranch Tennessee has programs specifically designed for you and your needs.

Give a call to The Ranch Tennessee at 888-317-0697; trained professionals will walk with you as you start your journey and meet you where you are with your healing. No matter the diagnosis, we will stand with you and cultivate healthier and happier life. The ability to advocate and know what is good for ourselves can open up a whole new way we view ourselves and the world around us. Not only will you learn to live in a more autonomously, you will also gain more knowledge and skills than ever before. 

Substance Abuse Treatment: Aftercare and Recovery 

Even after this big step of putting your treatment first and completing either an inpatient or outpatient addiction program, you can also engage in aftercare treatment. At The Ranch Tennessee, your aftercare treatment depends on what you want to get out of your experience. Aftercare focuses on connecting you with outpatient and community-based supports such as 12-step meetings and individual counseling. Not only will you be supported by professional staff, but you will also be supported by peers in the community. Expanding your social network will also increase your autonomy and ability to remain true to abstinence. Not only will you have a strong social network, but you will be given a strong aftercare and relapse prevention plan before completely discharging so that you will have the tools to cope with whatever life throws your way and more.  

Give us a call today. We can help you learn how to love yourself, feel happy again and improve your behavioral, mental, emotional and physical health. 

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