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Coping with Strong Emotions in Early Sobriety

Many men and women suffering from addiction used drugs and alcohol as a way to suppress or control their emotions. When faced with anxiety or depression, we escaped into intoxication as a way to avoid our feelings. Drugs and alcohol numb our emotions, and when we first get sober we may experience a strong “rebound” of the emotions that we had been trying to suppress.

Experiencing strong emotions in sobriety can arise both physically and psychologically. From a physical standpoint, strong emotions arise as the brain is healing from the changes caused by addiction. A 2010 Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration explains, “Chronic substance use causes molecular, cellular, and neurocircuitry changes to the brain that affect emotions and behavior and that persist after acute withdrawal has ended.” Symptoms such as heightened emotional states may persist for weeks or months after acute withdrawal has ended.

The intensity of emotions during withdrawal and protracted withdrawal can be very dangerous for men and women in the early stages of sobriety. SAMHSA explains, “Clients may be affected by less intense versions of the acute signs and symptoms of withdrawal as well as by other conditions such as impaired ability to check impulses, negative emotional states, sleep disturbances, and cravings. These symptoms may lead clients to seek relief by returning to substance use, feeding into the pattern of repeated relapse and return to treatment.”

When emotions return after a long period of time suppressing them with drugs and alcohol, continued attempts to suppress emotions in sobriety can make things worse. Dr. Ira Hyman, in a 2010 Psychology Today article entitled Don’t Think About It: Thought Suppression Causes Behavior Rebound, points to a study examining the effects of thought suppression about chocolate: “First, participants engaged in a task of recording their thoughts. One-third were asked to think about chocolate, one-third to suppress thoughts of chocolate, and one-third to simply record their thoughts with no suggestions about content. Later all participants were asked to rate some chocolate on several qualities related to taste. The issue was not their ratings, but rather how much chocolate they ate. People who had tried to suppress thoughts about chocolate ate more chocolate!” In the same way, when men and women in recovery attempt to suppress emotions and thoughts about drugs, they will ultimately think about them more.

The combination of feeling stronger emotions in early sobriety and attempting to suppress them can be disastrous. Rather than trying to suppress our emotions, treatment is a time when we should confront the emotional factors that exacerbated our addiction and focus on developing healthy coping mechanisms that allows us to experience our feelings in a healthy way.

Your life doesn’t have to be controlled by addiction any longer. Recovery is possible, and you can make the decision to seek help now. Resilient House, locate in beautiful Shreveport, Louisiana, focuses on addressing addiction from ever possible angle to help clients develop all the tools necessary to achieve and maintain sobriety. For information about treatment options, please call today: (833) 242-6431