What is Emotional Sobriety? Coping With Triggers in Recovery

Did you know that 10 percent of American adults have Drug Use Disorder?

Of those individuals, 75 percent struggle alone. Their addiction is not treated at a rehab center nor is it addressed in a support group setting.

Furthermore, those who do seek treatment for their addiction become sober in the physical sense. Emotional sobriety is rarely the focus, which may be one reason why relapses happen all too often.

Read on to learn about emotional sobriety and why it’s a key part of successful recovery.

How Emotions Trigger Addiction

The route of most drug use disorders is emotional. If you feel bad about your life, you want to escape to where you can feel better. Drugs are often a quick emotional and mental fix for whatever ails you.

Individuals who try drugs or alcohol don’t mean to become addicts. The path to addiction is something like this:

  • I feel terrible mentally and emotionally.
  • I don’t understand my problem and I’m not sure how to fix it.
  • I want to feel good again.
  • Drugs can help me feel good.
  • Doing this drug is a one-time experiment.
  • Now it’s a once-in-a-while thing.

Eventually, the addiction takes over, and the individual needs their drug of choice in order to exist.

Emotional Triggers Start Early

Emotional triggers that fuel an addiction are sometimes rooted in childhood. Several recent studies link adverse childhood events to addiction in adults.

If you’ve experienced childhood trauma such as an accident or chronic abuse, you may repress the emotions around it for a while. A child’s brain is good at forgetting adverse events; it’s the scientific miracle of self-preservation.

However, those adverse events leave mental scars which later trigger self-destructive behavior like addiction. If you’ve experienced an adverse event in childhood, you might feel drawn to drugs, but you have no idea why.

Why Physical Sobriety Is a Short-Term Fix

When you check into an inpatient drug treatment center, your physical symptoms of addiction are treated first and foremost. You go through a Medical Detox, and a medical team is on hand to help with any withdrawal symptoms.

However, unless you enter into a holistic treatment program, your physical sobriety remains the absolute focus. As long as you are substance-free for a certain amount of time, you are considered sober.

Unfortunately, physical sobriety is just a quick patch for a deeper problem that needs fixing before you can be successfully sober. As of 2020, the national relapse rate for drug addiction is between 40 and 60 percent. This is because people who are considered physically sober often don’t have the necessary resources to stay that way after rehab.

What Exactly Is Emotional Sobriety

On a basic level, emotional sobriety can be summed up in one word: Awareness. When you are emotionally sober, you are aware of:

  • Your own mental strength
  • What scarred you enough to seek out your drug of choice
  • What triggers your addiction
  • The strength you need to stay sober
  • The supports and resources in place to help you stay sober.

Your journey toward recovery from substance abuse is just as taxing on your mental health as it is on your body. So you need access to healing methods that address both aspects of your struggle.

How to Gain Emotional Sobriety

Choosing an inpatient rehab center that focuses on your emotional struggles and mental health is a good start toward emotional sobriety. That said, you need other resources and coping methods to help you stay sober in the long run without having to reenter rehab.

Individual Therapy

Talking one-on-one to a therapist can help you learn more about your addiction and your triggers. It’s tough to talk about your past and current mental struggles, but working through the pain with an objective guide can help you answer some crucial questions:

  • What led me into addiction?
  • What currently triggers my addiction?
  • Who/what are my enablers?
  • How can I cope when I’m about to relapse?

In order to strengthen your emotional sobriety, you’ll want to rely on individual therapy during and after your initial treatment.

Individual Coping Mechanisms

Whether you’re sober for several weeks or several years, you’ll encounter risks of relapse. Reestablishing effective coping mechanisms will help you fight for your sobriety on your own.

For instance, you might learn to go on a jog when stress is threatening your sobriety. Or you might get into the habit of writing in a journal every day to unload your emotional burden. Writing is a scientifically proven coping mechanism for those who struggle with emotional trauma.

Group Therapy

Typically, inpatient rehab programs use group therapy as a way to promote emotional sobriety. Group therapy allows you to share your story with other recovering addicts, and listen to their stories as well.

As a group, you learn to face addiction together through empathy, understanding, and trust. You also overcome your addiction by voicing your struggles in front of people who can relate to you.

A Strong Support System

A successful road to recovery thrives on strength. It’s important that you can draw strength from a select group of people who care about you and your sobriety.

Whether it be family, friends, or fellow recovering addicts, a strong support system can positively contribute to your emotional sobriety. When times are rough and it’s hard to cope alone, your support system is a source of comfort and accountability beyond therapy and other medical interventions.

What Emotional Sobriety Is Not

Emotional sobriety does not mean a constant flow of upbeat positivity. It doesn’t require you to maintain optimism to the point of burn-out.

It does not mean that you ignore the pitfalls of addiction, nor that you should forget that recovery is a constant journey. In fact, emotional sobriety gives you the tools to deal with those pitfalls, and accept that tough days are ahead, and that’s all right.

Here to Help

Are you or a loved one ready to take those crucial first steps toward recovery?

We are here to help you today. Reach out with any questions, concerns, or if you’re ready to begin your life-changing journey toward physical and emotional sobriety.

Clinically Reviewed By

Dawn Masick, LMFT

Dawn has experience dealing with various relational, emotional, and psychological struggles. Dawn’s training has prepared her to work with children, teens, young adults, adults, couples, and families. She has undergone training in DBT, TF-CBT, and Family Therapy.  Other competencies include dealing with ADHD, mood/anxiety disorders, parenting challenges, addiction, PTSD, co- dependency, and relationship issues. I have experience in residential, school-based mental health, children’s community mental health, victims of crime (VOC), and private practice settings.

Dawn has been committed to guiding clients through their trauma, coming alongside them in their healing, and supporting them as they navigate life changes. Dawn’s passion is working with clients struggling with trauma in substance abuse and mental health.