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Emotional Sobriety

What is Emotional Sobriety?

Emotional sobriety is a practical approach towards addiction recovery. It is a lifelong journey that signifies the ability to keep a balanced life. It’s about self-control and learning how to manage your emotions in a healthy way. 

Achieving emotional sobriety can be challenging for addicts. It requires skills, support, and resources to maintain recovery even after leaving an addiction treatment facility.


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Physical Sobriety vs. Emotional Sobriety

These are two traits of living an alcohol-free life. However, they are entirely different from each other.

Physical sobriety is the practice of not drinking or using alcohol. It is crucial, but not enough for full addiction recovery. Achieving physical sobriety can be decisive. It requires strength and self-control that is hard to attain.

Emotional sobriety protects against relapse. It strengthens self-esteem to handle other areas of life with wisdom and grace. It requires self-control, greater resiliency, and balance in life which in turn helps to stop drinking.

Connection Between Addiction and Emotions

Emotions define the feelings and dynamic responses of a person. They make an impact on how a person feels and acts in various situations. Depression and anger can make both negative and positive impacts on choices and behaviors.

Addiction grows on emotions. When people are happy, they feel positive and make healthier choices. But, with negative emotions like anxiety, guilt, or anger, the risk of addiction increases. 

It affects everyone in an addict's life, including the loved one who also goes through emotional regulation. The emotional impact of addiction on families is incapacitating, powerful, and overwhelming. It creates emotional complications for everyone it affects.

Man meditating at home

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How Does Addiction Affect Emotional Development?

Addiction to substance use affects mental health in the long-term. The brain can even develop a physiological dependence on the substance.

The human brain needs to maintain a balance of chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, to function properly. Substance use and misuse can disrupt this fine balance while disturbing the natural equilibrium of the brain.

For example, drinking occasionally gives a relaxed feeling to users. It happens due to the chemical changes that alcohol causes in the brain. But, addiction increases the impact on brain functioning and affects mental health.

Addiction can have multiple long-term health risks, such as:

  • Digestion problems
  • Heart and liver conditions
  • Immune system weakening
  • Cancer
  • Sleep disturbance

It can also lead to emotional problems like depression and anxiety. A person with anxiety can feel relaxed with one drink. But in the long-term, it can affect emotional balance and develop psychological symptoms, such as feeling anxious or agitated.

Addiction can be responsible for depression. However, defining the cause and effect of addiction on depression is difficult. Alcohol addiction can affect several nerve-chemical systems within the body that are essential for regulating mood.

Therefore, practicing and developing emotional sobriety is crucial to get rid of addiction even after leaving an addiction treatment facility.

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6 Ways to Develop Emotional Sobriety

Quitting is only the first step in achieving sobriety. It takes dedication, a significant amount of work, self-reflection, and continuous practice to develop emotional sobriety.

However, with a balanced lifestyle of mind, body, and spirit, it becomes easy.

1. Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapy is a practical approach towards treating addiction. It can be applied via a wide range of techniques that focus on reinforcing desirable behaviors. Unlike psychoanalytic and humanistic therapies, behavioral therapy is based on actions.

The purpose of behavioral therapy is to teach users new behaviors while minimizing the issues. There are multiple behavioral therapies to get rid of addiction, including:

  • Applied behavior analysis
  • Cognitive-behavioral analysis
  • Exposure therapy
  • Motivational enhancement therapy
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy
  • The twelve steps facilitation
  • Addiction recovery program

2. Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness practices are mental training approaches that help ease the mind. It allows users to let go of negativity and calm their minds and body.

It is performed as a combination of meditation and mindfulness to improve mental health. There are many forms of mindfulness practices, but only evidence-based helps to develop emotional sobriety. For example, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) helps relieve stress.

Such practices have proved to be successful in reducing anxiety, depression, and other syndromes. Recent studies have shown that users who meditate over the long-term attain sobriety quickly.

3. Learn How to Control Negative Emotions (Reappraisal) 

Emotions take control over the mind and make individuals do things that they don’t want to. During the initial recovery journey, it feels like putting all the problems behind. But this feeling only lasts unless the negative emotions start displacing the positive ones.

Negative feelings like frustration, anxiety, fear, and depression make it hard to achieve emotional sobriety, as per AA Grapevine Journal. Thus, learning to control negative emotions is crucial.

There are various strategies to control negative emotions, such as:

  • Take negative emotions as an opportunity to step back and reevaluate the situation
  • Learn the difference between negative feelings and negative thoughts
  • Share feelings with someone to relieve negative emotions
  • Use meditation to ease anxiety and sadness
  • Take part in relaxation techniques like yoga, breathing exercises, etc.

4. Learn How to Overcome Challenges (Instead of Running Away)

Most users who want to achieve emotional sobriety often find it more challenging than expected. If getting rid of addiction was easy, everyone would have done it. But, it’s crucial to learn to face the challenges and overcome them.

When people start developing an addiction, they think they can quit whenever they want. It takes willpower, self-esteem, and much more to overcome addiction. For most users dealing with addiction, the toughest part is recognizing their addiction and making the change.

To overcome challenges during addiction recovery, follow strict guidelines. Stick to the decision of changing while understanding the recovery process. 

Keep track of drug usage. Think about the important things, like family, friends, or career. With strong determination and dedication, anyone can overcome challenges.  

5. Build Social Connections

Building social connections is one of the crucial components of developing emotional sobriety. It helps in living a healthy and longer life. However, while developing emotional sobriety, users feel lonely. They find it challenging to build social connections.

There could be many reasons behind this: experiencing a sudden change, not having the resources, etc. Loneliness can impact health in multiple ways and take users away from their goals, as per alcoholics anonymous.

Building social connections helps in getting rid of loneliness. There are various ways to build social relationships, such as:

  • Engage in support groups activities or social gatherings
  • Communicate with the people who are recovering from addiction
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Try changing your perspective about things around
  • Go to public gatherings to meet new people
  • Create and follow a schedule for every day

Building social connections helps in recovering quickly. It even improves health and lifestyle.

6. Journal About Recovery

Writing a journal can be very beneficial for individuals. It acts as a mindfulness practice that keeps users distracted from negative feelings. It offers the opportunity to get thoughts out of the head.

While writing a journal, identify the areas that lead to weak emotions. Later on, practice coping with these emotions with productive techniques.

How to Know if You’ve Achieved Emotional Sobriety

According to Alcoholics anonymous, co-founded by Bill Wilson, analyzing a user’s emotional sobriety is easy with the following signs:

  • Maintains a positive attitude towards every situation
  • Enjoy living in the present moment without thinking much about the past or the future
  • Being self-protective rather than relying on others
  • Accepting things the way they are
  • Developing deeper and meaningful relationships with other people
  • Substance usage to the extent that causes problems
  • Having a positive perspective despite the problems in the life

How Can You Tell if Someone Hasn’t Achieved Emotional Sobriety?

People who don’t achieve emotional sobriety struggle with the dry drunk syndrome. It means even if they quit drinking, they deal with negative and destructive emotions.

According to Alcoholics Anonymous, dry drunk syndrome makes a negative impact on the recovery process. Users dealing with dry drunk syndrome find their life miserable. This is why learning the symptoms of the dry drunk syndrome is crucial.

The following signs helps analyze incomplete addiction recovery:

  • Struggle to maintain a positive behavior
  • Find it difficult to deal with the challenges of life
  • Don’t live in the present moment and find themselves caged
  • Have anger and negativity about recovery
  • Feel antipathy towards friends, family, and loved ones
  • Develop jealousy towards sober friends
  • Experience negative thoughts against positive aspects
  • Find it challenging to build healthy relationships

More than 95,000 people die every year from alcohol addiction in the United States.

National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), March, 2021
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Updated on March 24, 2022
7 sources cited
  1. Drug Misuse and Addiction, National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2020 
  2. Emotions Revisited: The Addiction Connection, US National Library of Medicine, 2016
  3. Early-life Stress affects drug abuse susceptibility, National Institutes of Health, 2020
  4. The Benefits of Meditation and Mindfulness Practices, National Institutes of Health (NCBI), 2020
  5. Treatment and Recovery, National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2020 
  6. Strategies to Promote Social Connections, US US National Library of Medicine (NCBI), 2020
  7. Alcohol Use in the United States, National Institute of Alcohol and Alcoholism, 2021

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