Guide to Emotional Sobriety

Studies show a strong link between drug addiction and emotional imbalance. This insidious connection can be so subtle at times, that it is often overlooked. Yet, it is not uncommon for people struggling with emotionally generated problems and poor stress management skills to turn to drugs or alcohol as a soothing mechanism.

Historically, the use of psychoactive drugs has been shown to induce maladaptive patterns of behavior. Some scientist postulate that emotions prior to consuming alcohol or drugs determines the ability of the individual to control the amount of these substances that they use.  For instance, research outcomes indicate that if the emotion before drug or alcohol consumption is negative, it is more likely that the individual will have less control over the amount consumed if they were trying to self-soothe.  On the other hand, if the person’s emotions were positive, they typically had better control over their drug or alcohol use.  Based on this hypothesize, emotional sobriety for people that have experienced addiction develops as a result of understanding how their emotional state impact substance use behavior.

Guide to Emotional Sobriety

Scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) offer some of the following as emotionally drive reasons people initially use drugs such as:

  1. to feel good
  2. to feel better
  3. out of curiosity
  4. To fit in with their peers or in a social environment
  5. To drown out emotional pain caused by loss such as separation, divorce or the death of a loved one.
  6. Because of a mental disorder that causes emotional distress; or to
  7. Mitigate the misery of post-traumatic stress disorder or unresolved childhood trauma that creates severe emotional imbalance.

Based on these issues, people initially use mind altering substances to escape situations that cause emotional pain.  Since most drug use is emotionally driven, stress plays a significant role in beginning drug use and continuing drug abuse that leads to addiction and cause people in recovery to relapse. However, NIDA Director Nora Volkow points out that addiction occurs as a result of the effects of chemicals on the brain that ultimately impact the mechanism of choice.  As such, emotional control or development is hindered as long as addiction is occurring.  The guide to emotional sobriety therefore depends heavily on halting drug use so that neurological functions can be restored.  

Effecting these brain changes however, occur slowly.  For this reason, people in early recovery are still vulnerable to emotional triggers.  Until brain functions normalize, avoiding relapse is not determined by emotional resonance but through ongoing support and reminders of the unpleasant conditions presented by addiction.  Experts suggest that emotional sobriety can be developed by improving the individual’s coping skills and resilience through relapse prevention education and training and solid support systems.  

A greater understanding of the role emotions plays in addiction coupled with appropriate treatment and education, help to prevent people in recovery from being hijacked by emotions. Just as chaos is a major characteristic of addiction, mental, physical and spiritual balance determines emotional sobriety. Signs of emotional sobriety is the ability to control behavior, cope with stress, develop and maintain healthy relationships and sustain a positive perspective during unpleasant or painful experiences.  Like recovery, developing emotional sobriety is a progressive evolutionary process. 



If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.