Recovery isn’t always about rehab, detoxification, and simply remaining sober. In fact, a key part of any long-term recovery journey is emotional sobriety – but what exactly is emotional sobriety? How do you know if you’ve begun to develop emotional sobriety? And more importantly, how can you achieve emotional sobriety?
Although simply avoiding alcohol or drugs is the key goal of any addiction treatment, relapse prevention isn’t always the only way to recover from addiction.
Becoming emotionally sober is an integral part of long-term recovery. This typically involves addressing and managing negative emotions associated with addiction.
Learning how to manage emotions can not help to prevent relapse, but can benefit many aspects of your life. It was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, who coined the term ‘emotional sobriety’ – stating that recovery is about more than just abstaining from alcohol.
On this page, we will delve into more detail about emotional sobriety, so read on to learn all about emotional sobriety and its part in the alcohol addiction recovery process.
Physical sobriety is essentially the act of being physically free of the substance, whether it be alcohol, drugs, or tobacco. Alcohol can influence your brain chemistry, affecting your brain and your nervous system. It can also impact your organs, causing a range of physical health issues.
As you develop a physical dependence on a substance, your body begins to need alcohol to function properly.
Without it, your body will likely experience a variety of unpleasant effects. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and sometimes even dangerous.
An alcohol detox aims at dealing with the physical addiction – but it doesn’t deal with the psychological, behavioural, and social aspects of addiction.
However, this is something that addiction therapy can address. Alcohol detox is usually the first step of rehab treatment, but a quality addiction treatment plan will involve therapy and secondary care too, to help you achieve emotional sobriety.
Detoxification alone will rarely help you to achieve emotional sobriety. Emotional sobriety is something that is achieved over time, with dedication, support, and a lot of effort.
Physical sobriety, however, focuses on the immediate basic needs – simply abstaining from alcohol and being physically sober.
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It can be a difficult task to achieve both physical sobriety and emotional sobriety – both involve not drinking alcohol, and both require practice and discipline.
If you wish to move forward on your recovery journey, you should spend time working on both. However, emotional sobriety is seen as a more long-term outcome of alcohol addiction recovery.
Depending on the severity of the addiction, certain people may find it harder to achieve emotional sobriety. However, a stable support network and learning valuable techniques can help you to deal with setbacks more effectively.
Like with physical sobriety, it’s important to remember that emotional sobriety is not linear. Chances are, you will encounter setbacks and obstacles along your journey – how you cope with them determines emotional sobriety.
Read on to find out some key signs that you’ve begun to develop emotional sobriety, as well as how you can achieve emotional sobriety – whether it be with professional help or via the support of friends and family.
Your journey to emotional sobriety only usually begins once you have become physically sober. To streamline your recovery and make the most out of a sober life, you should make steps towards emotional sobriety instead of simply breaking the physical addiction.
Being emotionally sober can help prevent relapse, and if you do relapse, helping you get back onto the right track.
But how do you know when you have reached emotional sobriety, or that you’re making progress toward achieving emotional sobriety?
The definition of emotional sobriety generally involves being able to handle your emotions – for example, being mindful and reacting better to setbacks or obstacles.
As emotional sobriety is a process, it can be difficult to know whether you’re making progress. Here are some key signs that you’ve started to develop emotional sobriety.
One of the main indicators that you’re beginning to develop emotional sobriety is that your mental health is improving.
This can involve therapy, counselling, and addressing trauma. You may receive treatment to work with emotional regulation and to teach you how to cope with negative feelings.
Whether you have mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder or not, it’s important to take care of your mental health whilst in recovery.
Addiction therapy can teach you valuable coping mechanisms, and teach you about yourself and your addiction – for example, your addiction triggers, or any root causes of your addiction.
If you notice that the mental health struggle is easing over time, and your life appears to be getting easier after addiction, then you are achieving emotional sobriety.
Part of emotional sobriety involves gaining control over strong emotions – particularly any negative emotions you may experience. This doesn’t mean that you won’t feel negative emotions such as anger or sadness – it’s healthy to let yourself feel negative emotions.
However, if you are emotionally sober, you will understand and process emotions as you’re feeling them and attempt to control them instead of drinking alcohol to ease the negative feelings.
You’ll begin to notice that you experience milder negative emotions and begin dealing with them in a healthy way instead of ‘numbing’ the pain with alcohol.
If you are beginning to gain more control over your emotions (to the point that you rarely experience extreme emotions), and you feel a sense of tranquillity regardless of your surroundings or external circumstances, then you’re on the path toward total emotional sobriety.
Being emotionally present can be difficult, especially when recovering from alcohol addiction. It takes work and discipline to become more emotionally present – but it can benefit your life in numerous ways once achieved.
Recovery can be difficult, and it’s far too easy to get caught up in the future or the past. During early recovery, you may have had a shaky sense of direction – but becoming emotionally present can help to put things in perspective.
Once you’ve started to become emotionally aware and emotionally present, you’re closer than ever to reaching emotional sobriety.
Being emotionally present involves living in the here and now, as opposed to thinking about the past or future too much.
There are many ways you can become emotionally present – for example, mindfulness and medication can be helpful when trying to focus on the present moment.
One of the key signs that suggest you’ve begun to develop emotional sobriety is that you no longer have the desire to drink alcohol.
If, after the alcohol cravings have subsided, you no longer have any desire to drink alcohol or take mind-altering substances, then you are becoming emotionally sober.
Likewise, if you accept that alcohol can be damaging and that you have an addiction, you are taking steps toward becoming emotionally sober.
Realising that alcohol isn’t contributing to your happiness – and is likely actually contributing to negativity in your life – is an important first step towards emotional sobriety.
Opening up to loved ones about your alcohol addiction can be beneficial – it allows you to develop a support network. Having people around you that want you to succeed can encourage you to remain sober, and promote emotional sobriety.
Likewise, attending support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous can be a great way to meet like-minded individuals in a similar situation yourself. Support groups and recovery cafes can provide a supportive environment to talk about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Some places also have guest speakers that share helpful tips and coping strategies that can help you become physically and emotionally sober.
Mindfulness can be effective too. Checking in with your thoughts and feelings, and becoming more emotionally aware and emotionally present is key to becoming emotionally sober.
Practising mindfulness regularly helps you gain more control over your emotions, and ultimately react better to negative thoughts and situations.
If you have more control over your emotions, and ultimately your behaviours, you’ll be less likely to go back to drinking alcohol.
Knowing how to deal with negative emotions – for example, shame, guilt, or anger, is essential if you want to remain sober and avoid relapsing. Therapy, mindfulness, and support groups can help you to accept emotions, recognise them, and manage them.
Most rehab clinics and addiction treatment centres offer behavioural therapies. Usually, addiction therapy is part of a larger treatment plan, following detoxification. Read on to learn more about rehab, including detox, therapy, and aftercare.
Before achieving emotional sobriety, it’s important that you focus on physical sobriety. At Help4Addiction, we are in contact with reputable rehab clinics around England and Wales and can find a good program for you to treat your alcohol addiction.
Likewise, we can help to find the right treatment plan for you if you have a drug addiction, whether it be prescription drugs, illicit substances (for example, cocaine addiction or heroin addiction), or other addictive substances.
The three main types of rehab are inpatient rehab at a residential rehab centre, outpatient rehab, or quasi-residential rehab. Regardless of which option you choose, the important thing is that you receive the help you need.
Rehab typically begins with detox. Detox aims to cleanse your body of the addictive substance, which means you’ll have no access to drugs or alcohol during this stage.
If you have a severe addiction, you’ll likely benefit more from a medical detox. During medical detox, you may be given detox medication as well as medical supervision. This can help to manage withdrawal symptoms.
Once you’ve completed alcohol detoxification, you may move on to addiction therapy. Some forms of therapy in rehab include CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), one-to-one counselling, DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy), group therapy, family therapy, interpersonal therapy, and other talking and behavioural therapies.
Different clinics will have different options – if you have a particular preference, let us know and we can find the right place for you.
Therapy in rehab can not only improve your mental health but give you an understanding of yourself and your addiction. Therapy can also teach you valuable coping mechanisms that can be beneficial when trying to achieve emotional sobriety.
Staying sober can be tough, which is why many people in recovery opt for secondary treatment.
Also known as aftercare, secondary treatment aims at providing you support once you finish rehab and return to your everyday life. IT can ease the transition from rehab to recovery, and help to prevent relapse.
Some forms of aftercare can include counselling, group therapy, and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. However, some people avoid Alcoholics Anonymous as they have a preconceived notion that it is a cult. However, this isn’t the case – click here to learn more.
Contact our friendly team today to talk about the options available to you, and to get the ball rolling on your recovery journey.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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