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Emotional sobriety is a cornerstone of successful recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction. It goes hand-in-hand with physical sobriety in a person’s effort to stay sober.

The Origin of the Term Emotional Sobriety

The concept of emotional sobriety originated in 1953 in a letter written by Bill W., the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). After maintaining his sobriety for twenty years, Bill W. was suffering from depression and was distressed that AA was able to help him with his drinking but not with his depression. Explaining this in the letter to his friend, he concluded that emotional sobriety was what he needed. He defined it as “freedom from unhealthy dependencies on people and circumstances.” Today the twelfth step of 12-Step support groups talks about emotional sobriety.

What Is Emotional Sobriety?

An important aspect of recovery from a substance use disorder, emotional sobriety means having the ability to confront and cope with negative emotions. During active addiction, people ignore negative emotions. Being able to deal with all kinds of emotions is essential for successful long-term recovery. Left unmanaged, these feelings often act as relapse triggers. When an individual has fully developed their emotional sobriety, they feel less vulnerable and more confident.

Some people think that emotional sobriety means being happy while being sober. They believe that if they work the program, they will achieve physical sobriety and also become happy. This is far from the truth. People can attain physical sobriety and still have negative emotions such as feeling sad, angry, confused, afraid, etc. Negative emotions are part of life. An article in Psychology Today explains that emotional sobriety is not about bad or good feelings. It is about the ability a person has to feel their feelings in the present moment without judging them or letting them determine behavior. It is about learning to accept and manage your feelings and remaining clean and sober regardless of how you are feeling. It also means:

  • Building an emotionally balanced, healthy life
  • Accepting life’s struggles as an opportunity for personal growth
  • Not allowing other people to define you or have a negative influence on you
  • Not dwelling on the past

Why Is This Concept So Important?

Just because a person with a substance use disorder stops actively using drugs or alcohol does not mean they will stay sober. They are not magically “cured” of their addiction. They must identify and address the negative emotions and behaviors that are interconnected with their substance abuse or addiction. Then they must manage those emotions and behaviors. Being able to do this is just as important as attaining physical sobriety.

When a person is in recovery, their emotional sobriety is their emotional well-being. If they are not emotionally sober, they will continue being unable to resolve distressing or negative emotions they experience. Without emotional sobriety, they keep jeopardizing their psychological and physical well-being by their actions.

How to Develop Emotional Sobriety

Just as everyone is different, the process of attaining emotional sobriety is different for each person. Certain strategies may work better for some individuals than others. The length of time it takes to successfully learn to manage emotions will be longer for some people and shorter for others.

Here are five strategies and practices that help to develop emotional sobriety.

  1. Get therapy – After rehab, it is important to continue outpatient therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, to process life’s challenges.
  2. Practice mindfulness meditation – During this type of meditation, the person only focuses on the present moment. They must be totally aware of what they are feeling or sensing at the moment, without judgment or interpretations. This type of meditation can also incorporate guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and other practices that help to reduce stress and relax the mind and body.
  3. Keep a recovery journal – Journaling helps you closely examine your feelings, behaviors, and experiences. It helps you notice improvements as you chart your progress. This can help to remind you of how far you have come in recovery.
  4. Practice good self-care – By adopting a healthy lifestyle, practicing good nutrition, getting enough sleep, and exercising, you will improve the overall quality of your life.
  5. Attend 12-Step meetings – Having a strong support system is important for recovery. Taking part in a recovery community provides peer support and fellowship in a safe place. Spending time with people who are emotionally sober is both motivating and inspiring.

Do You Need Help?

If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, help is available. You are not alone. At Canyon Vista Recovery Center, located in Mesa, Arizona, caring professionals will use a combination of medical, clinical, psychiatric, and holistic treatments to provide you with the tools you need to live a clean and sober life. Give us a call and learn how to begin your journey on the road to recovery.

Looking for Mesa drug and alcohol help? Learn more about programs offered at Canyon Vista Recovery Center.
Contact us at
(888) 979-1840