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What is Emotional Sobriety: A Beginner’s Guide to Emotional Recovery

emotional sobriety
emotional sobriety

Emotional Sobriety 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Emotional Recovery

If you’ve ever grappled with intense negative emotions, you understand the value of emotional stability. Struggling to manage emotions can cast a shadow over life, affecting relationships, work, and overall well-being. For those on the path to recovery from addiction—whether it’s alcohol, drugs, gambling, or other substances—emotions often lie at the heart of the matter. Often, the inability to manage emotions in a constructive way is rooted in traumatic childhood experiences. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at how different types of trauma experienced in childhood affected a person’s adult behavior patterns. The study found strong links between childhood trauma and adult depression, anxiety, addiction, and relationship difficulties.

Enter emotional sobriety—a critical step in healing. It transcends mere abstinence from substances and delves into the realm of emotional regulation. Let’s explore this concept:

What Is Emotional Sobriety?

  1. First introduced in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), emotional sobriety has become a cornerstone of addiction recovery. It extends beyond abstaining from the substance of choice.

  2. Emotional sobriety addresses the feelings that may have fueled the desire to drink or use drugs initially.

It signifies maturity—a positive way of managing emotions.

According to an article in Scientific American by Wray Herbert, there are two main ways of regulating emotions, both of which play a role in the journey toward emotional sobriety. In the early stages of recovery, the focus is on cognitive disengagement, a strategy that involves distracting the mind from thoughts of substances and cravings. This approach is succinctly summarized by the recovery maxim, “Don’t think and don’t drink.”

As the individual progresses in their recovery journey, a second approach comes into play. This involves a more thoughtful, engaged method of emotional regulation, where individuals begin to rethink their relationship with the triggers that could potentially cause them to relapse. 

This strategy involves acknowledging negative thoughts and emotions and working on ways to reduce their impact. Finding a balance between cognitive disengagement and cognitive engagement is part of the process of achieving long-term emotional sobriety.

The Journey to Emotional Sobriety:

  • From a young age, we mature emotionally alongside our physical growth.

  • Adolescents and adults often turn to alcohol or drugs as a recreational escape. Initially, it might seem like harmless fun, but the numbing effect can become alluring.

  • When substances are used to soften feelings—whether consciously or subconsciously—the emotional maturation process slows or halts.

  • But fret not! Healing and transformative living are within reach.

Embracing Emotional Sobriety:

  • Emotional sobriety involves shedding immature coping mechanisms (like numbing out with substances) and replacing them with healthier approaches.

  • Instead of pouting, screaming, or shutting down, emotionally sober individuals learn to sit with their feelings, process them, and then release them.

Behavioral therapy is a cornerstone of most treatment programs aiming to foster emotional sobriety. It encompasses several types of therapeutic treatments where the common thread is a focus on identifying and changing potentially self-destructive or unhealthy behaviors.

The premise behind behavioral therapy is the assumption that all behaviors are learned and that unhealthy behaviors can be changed. It is a solution-focused approach that deals with the individual’s current problems and strategies, rather than focusing on past experiences.

There are several types of behavioral therapy, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), among others. All of these therapies can help an individual reach physical and emotional sobriety. 

This is why many drug and alcohol rehab facilities offer dual diagnosis programs, which treat addiction and mental health simultaneously. Dual diagnosis is the epitome of both physical and emotional sobriety because both the addiction and the psychological underpinnings are addressed.

Recovery requires:

  • Building a healthy, emotionally balanced life

  • Accepting the present as it is

  • Seeing struggle and grief as natural parts of life that offer an opportunity for personal growth

  • Refusing to dwell on the past

  • Not letting other people’s limited perceptions or expectations define your self-esteem or negatively impact your behavior

Remember, emotional sobriety offers more than mere abstinence—it grants freedom and genuine happiness. 🌟

For additional inspiration, here are some recovery quotes to fuel your journey:

Feel free to explore these quotes as you continue your path toward emotional healing and sobriety. 🌿🌼

Learn more



I Can Help in Developing A Plan For Self Care

Do you want to help develop a self-care plan that works for your own busy schedule? Do you want accountability in implementing a self-care plan? If you or someone you love is struggling to maintain optimal mental and emotional health, consider reaching out to Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. We are a Metro Atlanta, Conyers Georgia area. We are a coaching and counseling practice with empathetic, skilled counselors and recovery coaches who can help you set goals, develop a self-care routine, and move forward to build a more fulfilling life. Our team would be happy to work with you either just for a couple of sessions to develop and implement a Self-care plan or longer term to work toward overall better mental health within our membership site or other programs.

Dr. Nikki LeToya White
Dr. Nikki LeToya White

About The Author:

Dr. Nikki LeToya White MSEd-TL, Ph.D. RHN is the founder, director, and full-time board-certified trauma-informed nutritionist, folk herbalist, and wellness consultant at Spiced Life Conversation Art Wellness Studio and Botanica. She created Spiced Life Conversation, LLC Art Wellness Studio, and Botanica to provide the Metro Atlanta area with counseling and coaching services where clients are carefully matched with the right program for healing abandonment and childhood emotional neglect trauma that cause codependency, emotional eating, financial stress, and imposter syndrome as it relates to the fear of success and being abandon. We help you begin your emotional healing journey with ease. Recently, we have expanded to include an online membership site so we now provide support to people living all over the world. All of our recovery coaches provide at least one evidence-based treatment to assist in your recovery. Dr. White is a big proponent of self-care and helping people live a fulfilling life! She has been in full remission with both codependency and emotional binge eating disorder since 2016. In living a life in recovery from sugar addiction. I love my low-sugar balanced lifestyle.

Best Regard

Dr. Nikki LeToya White


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