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What You Need to Know About Emotional Sobriety

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Overcoming addiction isn’t just about quitting a substance. Emotional sobriety means fundamentally changing the way you engage with and express your emotions, breaking old patterns that reinforced your substance abuse and building new healthy ones.

Moving from addiction to a sober lifestyle is a profound life change, one that has the potential for numerous benefits to a person’s health, relationships, and overall quality of life. As addiction is a disease that significantly impacts both the brain and body, transitioning into sobriety requires not only a physical shift away from the dependency, but a rewiring of the mind to break problematic patterns that reinforce substance use and promote unhealthy ways of coping with stress and trauma. Understanding the critical importance of emotional sobriety in fully embracing a life free from addiction can help you know what to expect as you enter rehab and continue your long-term treatment. 

What is Emotional Sobriety?

Emotional sobriety is a mental state in which you are able to successfully regulate your emotions. This doesn’t mean numbing yourself or reacting without emotion, but rather being able to feel emotions like anger or sadness without being overwhelmed by them, or out of control of how you respond. Emotional sobriety can look like:

  • Being able to put criticism in perspective, and to take from it only that which you feel is constructive
  • Receiving bad news and reaching out to a friend to talk it through, or going for a long walk to help calm your emotions
  • Feeling yourself getting heated in an argument, and using breathing exercises to help manage your response
  • Understanding your emotional response to people or events

For some people, addiction may be the primary reason behind their inability to emotionally regulate. However, many who begin a journey towards emotional sobriety find that they may have lacked the skills necessary to manage their emotions even prior to their addiction. This stunting of the emotional development process can stem from a variety of circumstances such as childhood abuse or neglect, trauma, or the presence of other co-occurring mental health disorders. 

Why is Emotional Sobriety Important?

Emotional sobriety encompasses a set of skills needed to truly shift away from an addiction mindset. These significant changes in patterns of thought and behaviour are necessary to effectively manage addiction as a chronic disease, and fully engage with life. 

Some who enter treatment will be successful in abstaining from the substance they are addicted to, but will retain many of the other problematic patterns of behaviour that limit their growth in sobriety and could potentially result in relapse, or becoming addicted to something else. This is colloquially known in treatment circles as “dry drunk syndrome.”

What is Dry Drunk Syndrome?

When someone is physically sober, but has not achieved emotional sobriety, this is known as dry drunk syndrome. Despite no longer using substances, people with this syndrome will continue to rely on problematic coping habits to deal with stress, leaving the door open for relapse and limiting the ability to evolve further in their journey towards a full recovery. People who are struggling with dry drunk syndrome may show symptoms such as:

  • Needing to be the centre of attention
  • Calling sobriety “boring” or “pointless”
  • Mood swings
  • Playing the victim; refusing to take accountability
  • Resentment towards those who encouraged sobriety
  • Fear of change
  • Romanticising, downplaying or boasting about past substance abuse
  • Troubles effectively communicating with others
  • Refusing to listen to others; believing only you know what’s best

These symptoms are strong indicators that further professional support is needed to dig into the psychological patterns upholding the addiction, and to set new goals towards achieving emotional sobriety.

How Do You Achieve Emotional Sobriety?

As evidenced by dry drunk syndrome, emotional sobriety isn’t automatically attained once you stop using a substance. It is typically achieved through long-term work together with a mental health professional, rigorous self-examination, and openness to areas of challenge and of potential growth. 

Many people benefit by identifying aspects of their emotional response that they’d like to change and focusing on how to gradually alter their conscious thought and build in new, healthy coping skills. This may involve goal-setting with a therapist, beginning with some foundational objectives for emotional sobriety such as:

Goal 1: Effectively manage emotions and moods

The ability to step back and critically assess what you are feeling and why you are feeling it is a key part of emotional sobriety, and an essential skill in managing stress. Your therapist will work closely with you to help you learn to identify your emotions as they arise, and to be able to pause and consider how to respond to them. Rather than immediately succumbing to your moods and feelings, or trying to numb them, you’ll learn healthy skills to help calm your emotions so that the logical part of your brain can activate and guide a measured response.

Goal 2: Stay rooted in the present

Mindfulness is a key element of emotional sobriety. Learning to ground the self in the present moment rather than continually returning to the events of the past or being plagued by anxieties about the future is an important step forward in recovery. Accepting that we can’t change what has happened in the past allows us space to determine what we can do with our lives right now. Recognising that we can’t be sure about what the future holds helps us remember that our fears about it aren’t certainties, and there is ample space for opportunity and joy. 

Goal 3: Build resilience

Think of resilience not as stony stoicism, but an ability to roll with the punches. It’s a combination of outlook, flexibility, wisdom and understanding of yourself. Life’s bound to throw some challenges your way, but cultivating an ability to manage your response to them and activate your support network will fundamentally change how you live your life. 

Goal 4: Recognise problematic thoughts or behaviours

Emotional sobriety isn’t a state of perfection, and there will be periods where you struggle with old patterns of thinking or behaving. Being able to identify when this is happening, and to take steps to get yourself back on track, is an important goal of emotional sobriety. This is also closely tied to relapse prevention, as staving off a return to an addiction mindset is essential towards maintaining sobriety.

Goal 5: Take things as they come

When you’re living with addiction, you are constantly putting off dealing with the emotions related to what you are experiencing. Numbed by substances, denial, and avoidance, problems get shoved aside but their effects linger and build over time. Therefore, a goal of emotional sobriety is to deal with problems as they arise, using a combination of healthy coping skills and reliable networks of support to help you manage as you find a solution.

Attaining Emotional Sobriety at The Dawn Rehab Thailand

beautiful, relaxing residential facility

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand understands that addiction is a complex disease that requires comprehensive, compassionate treatment. At our beautiful, relaxing residential facility, we work closely with each one of our clients to uncover the root causes of addiction, understand triggers, and develop positive coping mechanisms to successfully handle life’s challenges and build a sustainable, lasting recovery. 

Addiction Rehab in Thailand

The Dawn is located on a serene riverside just outside of the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand. Internationally accredited by the American Accreditation Commission International and nationally licensed by the Thai Ministry of Health, The Dawn is a world away from the stressors and triggers of home where you’ll be able to fully relax and focus completely on your recovery. Our experienced, international team will work closely with you to develop a personalised treatment plan that encompasses total healing of your mind and body. 

If you’re struggling with addiction, call The Dawn today to learn more about our programming and how we can help you get on the road to recovery.

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