Numbing Emotions with Alcohol: Alcohol Rehab California Explains

Numbing Emotions with Alcohol and Why Alcohol Rehab Can Save Your Life

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Frequently, people turn to alcohol from a desire to escape or forget present-day stressors or traumas from the past. Although alcohol may initially provide a temporary escape from discomfort, emotions avoided or suppressed can worsen over time. Numbing emotions with alcohol can be extremely dangerous and lead down a slippery slope to addiction. For this reason, Ocean Hills Recovery, one of the leading alcohol rehab programs in California, makes it a priority to address all emotional components of an individual.   

Emotional Numbness

Emotional numbness can be difficult to describe; however, those who experience it explain it as a feeling of emptiness or despondency. Several different factors can contribute to emotional numbness, the most prevalent being depression, trauma, and anxiety. Post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be tied to depression and anxiety, has also been identified as a source of emotional numbness as well [1].   

The amygdala in the limbic system of the brain regulates human emotions. During traumatic and stressful events, the amygdala holds the emotional significance of the event, including the intensity and impulse of emotion. In her article on emotional numbness and trauma exposure, Patricia Kerig noted that “traumatized individuals may engage in a process of damping down their emotions in an attempt to cope with distressing experiences.” [2] Substance use can be attractive for those who cannot cope with the physiological and emotional responses as drugs have the potential to create a sedating effect, a fleeting sense of euphoria, or even a complete detachment from reality.

In the most severe cases of emotional numbness, individuals may be diagnosed with Depersonalization-derealization (DD). The DSM-5 categorizes DD as a dissociative disorder assigned to individuals who persistently experience feelings of detachment, either bodily or cognitively, from themselves or their environment. DD impacts between .95%-2.4% of the general population; most often, DD onset begins in young adulthood.[3]

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Numbing Emotions with Alcohol

In many cases, individuals turn to drugs and alcohol with the desire to escape, forget, or cope with past or present traumas. Some of the most common emotional risk factors for drug addiction include:

  • Being subjected to emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Being a victim of domestic abuse
  • Loss of loved one
  • Divorce [4]

As someone utilizes alcohol to numb pre-existing emotional pain, addiction can easily develop as tolerance increases. Eventually, as individual tolerance increases, users must take more and more of their substance of choice to experience the same feeling of euphoria.[4] The once easily obtained sense of relief becomes more and more elusive, and the alcohol addiction begins to spiral out of control. As the addiction develops, that individual loses physical and emotional stability and begins to struggle with coping daily.  

Overcoming Emotional Numbness

Overcoming the feeling of emotional numbness can be difficult; however, with the proper coping strategies and lifestyle changes, recovery from addiction is possible [5]. During the initial steps, your doctor can help you identify and begin to treat the underlying cause.   

  • Reducing stress: minimizing stress can positively impact your body, reduce stress hormones, and help regain emotional feelings.
  • Exercising: the release of endorphins can help improve mood and even relieve symptoms of stress.
  • Identifying triggers: identify your stressors and find healthy ways to cope with the anxiety they bring.
  • Disconnect: unplug from television and social media.
  • Well-balanced, healthy diet: develop a diet that includes essential nutrients to stay healthy and keep the mind sharp.
  • Sleep: being well-rested with at least six hours of good quality sleep can help improve physical and emotional well-being.
  • Find a hobby: take a break from day to day stressors and carve out time to devote to yourself.

Counseling and other therapeutic services can be extremely beneficial in the process of developing healthy coping strategies. Therapists often utilize the following therapeutic approaches when working with individuals experiencing emotional numbness[6]:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Psychodynamic therapy
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Moment to moment tracking therapy
  • Other coping techniques

Alcohol Rehab California: Ocean Hills Recovery

Ocean Hills Recovery is here to help you on your road to recovery to ensure a prosperous and healthy future. There are several treatment programs at Ocean Hills, ranging from detox to residential, to PHP, and intensive outpatient. Using evidence-based psychotherapy, our collaborative team works with each individual to develop a plan for recovery unique to them. At Ocean Hills, we want you to know you are not in this alone — contact us today, and we will start the road to recovery together.  





[2] Kerig, P., Bennett, D., Thompson, M., & Becker, S. (2012). Nothing really matters: Emotional numbing as a link between trauma exposure and callousness in delinquent youth. Journal of Traumatic Stress





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