What Is Emotional Sobriety?

Emotional sobriety is vital to the recovery process. Being emotionally sober means having the ability to actively confront and cope with all the unhealthy emotions that were neglected during substance abuse. These are the feelings that may serve as triggers for relapse, so managing them is critical to recovery and for sustaining long-lasting sobriety.

The Concept of Emotional Sobriety

Emotional sobriety is an idea that began with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the most famous 12-step support group program for those who struggle with alcoholism. People who participate in AA work through a dozen steps to attain long-lasting abstinence.

The last step urged that members spread the AA message to others, while also practicing the steps daily and following AA principles in every aspect of one’s own life. This step also refers to emotional sobriety and that those who have successfully completed the program should also assist others to achieve it. The concept of emotional sobriety is not confined to AA, however – it is beneficial for anyone suffering from an addiction to substances.

Beyond Physical Sobriety

Before modern, evidence-based treatments were employed, the founders of AA acknowledged that merely discontinuing use of a substance and preventing relapse is not sufficient for those with a substance use problem. Although this is the first vital part of recovery from any addiction, it is also critical to address all the unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that were suppressed and neglected during substance abuse. Only when these are faced and managed can a person say they have truly attained both physical and emotional sobriety.

Among the most valuable reasons to confront adverse emotions and to learn to manage them is to avoid relapse. Negative thoughts and feelings are frequently triggers for substance abuse, and if they are not managed, a relapse may be unavoidable. The less apparent but equally important reason to strive for emotional sobriety is that it promotes overall mental well-being and quality of life.

Emotional sobriety is a complex idea and perhaps somewhat difficult to fully explain. In general, it is characterized by the ability to experience, face, and accept all emotions – even the ones that cause pain.

It does not mean being constantly panglossian (marked by or given to excessive optimism, especially in the face of unrelieved hardship or adversity). But, it does mean fostering a constructive relationship with one’s own emotions and using healthy strategies to deal with those that are negative. It is a complicated and often a lengthy and potentially arduous process to achieve emotional sobriety.

On Achieving Emotional Sobriety

The ways in which a person works toward emotional sobriety are a bit different for everyone. Some approaches are more useful for some people than others, and the time it takes to effectively regulate emotions may differ depending on the person and their circumstances.

Currently, comprehensive treatment programs for addiction include several techniques for assisting individuals to learn to manage their feelings and develop emotional sobriety over time. There are also some essential strategies that anyone may use to establish an improved (but never perfect) emotional balance.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), center on practical strategies that patients use to become more conscious of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in the present and take actions to change or deal with those that are unhealthy. Such therapies provide people with tools that can be used in everyday situations outside of therapy to face and cope with negative feelings more positively and constructively.


Research has found that those with healthy emotional coping tools commonly make use of a reappraisal strategy to confront mild or moderately unwanted emotions. They face the feeling rather than avoid it and reframe it to make it positive. For instance, experiencing anxiety over an upcoming job interview, an individual might identify the anxiety and mitigate it by focusing on the positive outcomes of landing a new job.

Mindfulness Meditation Practices

Emotional Sobriety | Harmony Ridge Recovery Center

Becoming emotionally healthy includes being cognizant of feelings as they are experienced, and not dwelling too much on the past or future – also known as being mindful. It is possible to develop and effectively practice mindfulness through time-tested techniques such as meditation and yoga.

Social Connectedness

Possessing a solid social network is another great way to control adverse feelings. Being able to have conversations with a trusted someone is an important factor in facing and dealing with troublesome emotions. A person does not have to possess numerous social connections, but for the ones they do have, they ought to be meaningful and significant, rather than trivial and shallow.

Getting Help for Addiction

Harmony Ridge Recovery offers comprehensive, evidence-based addiction treatment programs that provide the resources and support that clients need to stop abusing drugs and alcohol and enjoy long-lasting wellness and sobriety.

Using a combination of behavioral therapy, counseling, group support, and alternative techniques such as art and music therapy, we teach patients how to become emotionally sober, avoid relapse, and improve their mental health and overall well-being.

Contact us today and discover how we can help!