Emotional sobriety is a key element in the process of long-term recovery. It moves an individual from simply abstaining from addictive behavior to creating a lifestyle that reaches deeper emotional balance. Without emotional sobriety, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to maintain long-term recovery from addictive substances and patterns1.
Sobriety from drugs and alcohol is the beginning of true life in recovery. But, learning how to manage the underlying emotions (emotional sobriety) which drove the addictive patterns demonstrates a higher level of self-mastery. Therefore, emotional sobriety is key to preventing relapse2.
Emotional Sobriety in Relation to Addiction
Bill Wilson, the developer of the legacies which form the foundation for Alcoholics Anonymous, developed the concept of emotional sobriety in relation to addictions. Bill believed that those with addictions can be severely emotionally dependent on how other people view them. As a result, individuals need to develop emotional maturity, which requires becoming less reactive to other’s thoughts/opinions, to be able to handle situations that may typically result in drug or alcohol use3.
The concept of emotional recovery revolves around an individual’s ability to learn to regulate the negative feelings and emotions that can lead to discomfort, craving, and ultimately, relapse.
Emotional sobriety typically includes:
- Building a healthy, emotionally balanced life
- Accepting the present as it is
- Seeing struggle and grief as natural parts of life that offer an opportunity for personal growth
- Refusing to dwell on the past
- Not letting other people’s limited perceptions or expectations define your self-esteem or negatively impact your behavior3
Reframing Thinking in Relation to Emotional Sobriety
Emotional sobriety requires dedication to reframing one’s current thinking and cultivating a new way of addressing and responding to difficult and unexpected times. For an individual previously faced with addiction, emotional addiction recovery requires rethinking all the people, places, and triggers that have previously led to relapse2. Although there are numerous characteristics that increase the likelihood of continued sobriety, resiliency, self-control, balance, and freedom are key elements to obtaining emotional sobriety.
When our skills of self-regulation are well learned during childhood, they feel as if they come naturally, as if we always had them. When they are not well learned, we may reach to sources outside of ourselves to provide a sense of calm and good feeling that we cannot achieve on our own or to recapture that sense of calm. Some of our society’s common self-medicators are drugs, alcohol, food, work, technology, and money4. It is not these substances or behaviors in and of themselves that create problems, but our relationship to them, how we use or abuse them.
Addiction Recovery as a Process
Working towards emotional addiction recovery is a process and may look different for each individual. A solid treatment program will include several strategies and techniques to help individuals learn to regulate feelings and develop emotional sobriety. These strategies include:
- Behavioral therapies: Focus on practical strategies for becoming more aware of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in the present and taking steps to change or cope with those that are negative
- Reappraisal: Confront milder negative emotions and reframe them to make the issue more positive
- Mindfulness practices: Being aware of feelings, not dwelling too much on the past or future
- Social connections: Having a strong social network is another good way to manage negative feelings
- Distraction: Finding activities or hobbies that occupy an individual’s time and energy to prevent them from reverting to previous behaviors when stressors occur4
Emotional recovery involves a reprogramming; where addiction stalls development, emotional sobriety lets the learning begin again and promotes long-term recovery. Ocean Hills Recovery is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center aimed at addressing all areas of effective treatment. Our specialists aim to provide everyone with the tools and resources to acquire long-lasting rehabilitation.
Programs offered at Ocean Hills include:
- Detox Services;
- Drug Treatment Programs;
- Alcohol Treatment Programs;
- Inpatient/Resident Treatment;
- 12-Step Recovery;
- Sober Living;
At Oceans Hills Recovery, your freedom from addiction begins here. Contact us today for more information or to get started with your recovery.
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About the author:
Nicole earned her doctoral degree in Psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy at California School of Professional Psychology. Her doctoral thesis was a grounded theory study exploring the role of alienation and connectedness in the life course of addiction. She specializes in treating addiction and trauma. She is certified in DBT and EMDR, two of the most highly regarded evidence-based methods in psychotherapy. Dr. Doss is a strong LGBT advocate and provides open and affirming support to her LGBT clients.
Dr. Doss’s earlier education included graduating cum laude from the University of California, Irvine in June of 2007 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. While there, she received honors recognition by Psi Chi and Golden Key honor societies.
Nicole has been working with alcoholics and addicts in our California drug and alcohol rehab center as an advisor and counselor for many years. She is passionate about providing quality counseling and care to her clients. Her main focus is on integrating the 12 Step and disease models of addiction with experiential therapeutic theory. She is married to Greg; they have two adorable sons together and an energetic yellow Labrador Retriever.