One essential, yet often overlooked, aspect of recovery is emotional sobriety. Individuals overcoming the mental health challenges associated with their substance use disorder may struggle to identify and process their emotions. This inability to work through challenging feelings can lead to relapse and other mental health issues.
Fortunately, professional treatment teaches individuals how to achieve emotional sobriety through evidence-based practices. Therefore, you don’t have to juggle challenging feelings while learning how to live a sober life alone.
The Relationship Between Emotions and Addiction
Individuals using addictive substances often struggle to manage their emotions. This can present in a variety of ways including:
- Struggling to regulate intense negative emotions like anger
- Acting out impulsive or dangerously when emotionally challenged
- An inability to maintain intimate relationships with others
- An inability to handle spontaneous changes or problems
This inability to manage emotions constructively is in part linked to traumatic or adverse childhood experiences. How children are taught to process and respond to stressors in combination with different types of trauma affects their behavioral patterns in adulthood. As a result, childhood trauma has been linked to anxiety, depression, and addiction.
Children who grow up in a traumatic environment tend to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms because they aren’t exposed to crucial emotional regulation practices. This is what often leads to the relationship between mental health problems, addiction, and emotional dysregulation.
Studies show that individuals who struggle with emotional dysregulation have a higher risk of turning to drugs or alcohol to cope with overwhelming emotions. Over time, self-destructive behavior patterns paired with drug or alcohol use can lead to dependence and addiction to these substances.
In some cases, substance abuse can lead to emotional dysregulation. Drugs and alcohol can cause temporary mood swings and outbursts. However, prolonged substance abuse can impact someone’s overall mental health. Moreover, addiction can worsen underlying mental health issues which can intensify drug or alcohol use without emotional sobriety.
What Is Emotional Sobriety?
Physical sobriety means that you abstain from drugs and alcohol, and while it’s an important aspect of recovery, it’s not the only one. The term emotional sobriety was coined by the 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous, and refers to constructively regulating your emotions to maintain recovery.
Addiction goes beyond the physical aspects of substance abuse. Your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors also play an active role. In recovery, you no longer rely on drugs on alcohol to cope with unwanted emotions. You may feel like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster as you’re faced with difficult feelings you used to avoid. Therefore, to achieve emotional sobriety, you have to learn to work through these feelings constructively.
After individuals complete detox, they begin working on their emotional sobriety through treatment. Eliminating the drugs and alcohol from your system allows your body to balance out, but you most likely don’t feel emotionally balanced yet. This is when the work to achieve emotional sobriety begins. However, it takes time to find ways to constructively regulate your emotions.
What Does Emotional Sobriety Look Like?
Emotional sobriety looks different for everyone. However, it’s an indication that you’re able to regulate your thoughts and feelings when confronted with challenges in your life. Facing unprocessed or overwhelming feelings is often a trigger for relapse. But if you’re emotionally sober, you can work through triggers and intrusive thoughts without turning back to drugs or alcohol.
Emotional sobriety can include:
- Feeling emotionally balanced
- Living in the present moment
- Being self-confident
- Not allowing others to influence your thoughts and behaviors
- Following habits and routines to manage your mental health
- Having control over your emotions
In early recovery, some individuals may seek out ways to mirror the unhealthy cycle of their addiction. For instance, staying in toxic relationships, having unsafe sex, or gambling are ways that individuals who are physically sober but not emotionally sober may cope. However, those who are working on their emotional sobriety will turn to healthier coping mechanisms.
Practicing emotional sobriety helps newly sober individuals avoid what is known as pink cloud syndrome. This refers to the feelings of joy and even euphoria that individuals may experience in early recovery. Although these positive feelings feel good at the moment, they can quickly lead to unrealistic expectations of recovery and can be impacted by post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
How to Practice Emotional Sobriety
Developing emotional sobriety doesn’t happen the moment you decide to get sober. Emotional sobriety is a choice that requires you to live in the present by feeling what you feel. What that means is that you allow yourself to experience difficult feelings, no matter how uncomfortable they are, rather than avoiding them.
With that said, emotional sobriety doesn’t mean striving for constant happiness. Sometimes emotional sobriety can be tolerating unpleasant emotions without trying to force them away. In this case, many people take this time to practice mindfulness techniques. But no matter what you do, it means maintaining physical sobriety.
Practicing emotional sobriety involves a variety of activities which can include:
- Processing emotions as they happen using healthy coping mechanisms
- Journaling or other activities that help you to reflect on your feelings
- Committing to a healthy diet, exercise routine, and sleep patterns
- Building honest relationships with family members and other loved ones
- Discovering hobbies and other meaningful activities to manage stress
- Practicing daily mindfulness and gratitude
It’s important to remember that breaking old habits isn’t easy. Therefore, you should be patient with yourself as you enter new phases of recovery. As you make it through the ups and downs of sobriety, you will gradually notice the positive changes. Emotional sobriety requires dedication, but you don’t have to do it alone when you seek help from a professional treatment center.
How Springbrook Behavioral Hospital Can Help
Maintaining emotional sobriety is a daily practice. Although you learn about it at the beginning of treatment, you should continue to apply these sobriety techniques after you complete treatment. With that said, emotional sobriety begins when patients begin dual diagnosis treatment to address their addiction and co-occurring mental health disorder.
Not all treatment centers are equipped to treat the complexity of dual diagnosis. However, Springbrook Behavioral Hospital provides treatment programs that help adults struggling with co-occurring disorders maintain long-term sobriety. Here, patients can benefit from our residential or partial hospitalization program, depending on their needs.
Through a combination of these evidence-based treatment methods, individuals can begin their emotional sobriety journey:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Group therapy
- Family Counseling
- Medication evaluation and management
- Discharge and aftercare planning
- Relapse prevention
While some individuals can remain sober without continual treatment, many struggle to do so. As a result, ongoing treatment can help you remain in lifelong recovery. You may not need the intensive treatment you receive when you started recovery, but utilizing some of the resources and treatment methods can help you maintain long-term sobriety.
You may benefit the most from continuing therapy or joining a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous. These options help you remain accountable as you work through obstacles that could tempt you to compromise your recovery. Moreover, they can provide you with new skills and a safe space to practice them as you get further into your emotional sobriety journey.
Work Toward Emotional Sobriety Today
Springbrook Behavioral Hospital can help you achieve physical and emotional sobriety one day at a time. If you have questions about how our dual diagnosis treatment center can help with your emotional sobriety, call us at 352-600-3288 or submit a confidential contact form. Our team is here to help you overcome recovery obstacles with patience and ease.