Addiction is an emotional disease. You may have turned to drugs or alcohol as a way to run away from your emotions. You may have found your emotions too painful or difficult to handle. Substances promised an easy escape.
However that escape ended up causing more emotional problems than it solved. Drugs didn’t make your life any better. They didn’t erase any emotions, and even if they buried them at first, they stopped doing so a long time ago. Sobriety is as emotional as addiction, but sober emotions are productive. They help you express yourself, process your experiences, and move forward in life. Substance use only takes you backwards. Sobriety isn’t about erasing emotions, as that is something no one can do. Sobriety involves learning to manage your emotions and to grow and become stronger as a result.
How Emotions Lead to Drug Addiction
Emotions lead to substance use. You may struggle with depression, anxiety or another mental health concern. You may face dramatic life changes or serious physical health issues. You may simply not know how to deal with everyday feelings. This is okay. You don’t have to know how to manage your mental health issue. You don’t have to know how to cope with the challenges that arise in any and every life. You just have to know that drug use isn’t the right answer. You have to reach out so you can learn. As Scientific American explains,
“Recovery programs teach these fundamental principles of emotional regulation because addicts do not know them intuitively.”
If you struggle with addiction, you most likely struggle with managing emotions. This is normal. Treatment teaches emotional regulation skills for just this reason. You can learn how to healthily process thoughts and feelings.
How to Manage Emotions in Recovery
Managing emotions begins with learning how to do so. As mentioned above, treatment exists for just this reason. Therapists help you recognize unhealthy responses to feelings or situations. They help you develop positive processing and coping methods. This doesn’t mean you get to avoid emotions in recovery. You’ve tried doing that already with drugs or alcohol, and it doesn’t work. Managing emotions means learning how to experience them, accept them, move forward, and feel better. Treatment typically first teaches you distraction techniques. Distraction is not a permanent solution for emotions, but it helps you pause before having to process them. This puts time and space between you and potentially triggering thoughts or situations.
The Association for Psychological Science shares, “Disengagement at an early stage can successfully modulate low- and high-intensity emotional information before it gathers force.”
Delaying–not avoiding–emotions helps you take the power out of them. It helps you keep emotions at a manageable level and to avoid impulsive reactions such as reaching for a former drug of choice. Treatment helps you develop an array of distraction techniques that will work for you. This gives you time and space to avoid relapse and manage your emotions rather than react to them.
Some techniques for immediately managing emotions include physical activity or listening to music or watching a show. You can call up a friend or therapist and talk about how you feel or instead talk about anything but that. Consider doing the opposite of what you feel: forgiving someone if you are angry, telling a joke if you feel sad. Distraction and delaying are good ways to manage emotions and maintain sobriety. Avoidance is not. Distraction works so that you can reexamine emotions when they are less powerful, when you are more in control of your thoughts and behaviors.
At this later time, you can acknowledge how you feel or felt. You can feel embarrassed, cheated, lonely or even happy. Once you acknowledge your emotions, you can do many things to keep them from taking over your life. Notice the thoughts that go along with these emotions. If they are negative, challenge them with something more positive. Tell yourself that your feelings will come and go and that feelings are a normal part of life. The more aware you are of your emotions, the better you can experience them, let them go, and move forward. You can remove their influence and keep your sobriety.
 https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-nuts-and-bolts-of-emotional-sobriety/. “The Nuts and Bolts of Emotional Sobriety.” Scientific American. 1 Mar 2012. Web. 21 Mar 2017.
 http://people.socsci.tau.ac.il/mu/galsheppes/files/2016/10/Sheppes-G.-Scheibe-S.-Suri-G.-Gross-J.J.-2011.-Emotion-Regulation-Choice.pdf. “Emotion-Regulation Choice.” Association for Psychological Science. 29 Sep 2011. Web. 21 Mar 2017.