Relapse Prevention

Relapse Prevention

“The Hair of The Dog That Bit You – Managing Emotions in Recovery Part 1”

This is the first post of a three part series that examines the connection between emotions and addiction.  We’ll start off by describing how the connection plays out in the life of an addict or alcoholic.  Then, we’ll discuss how 12 step programs address the painful emotions that lead to substance abuse.

A Recurring Theme

Let’s get right to the point.  Addicts and alcoholics have trouble controlling their emotions.  In fact, it’s safe to say that emotions usually control the addict and not vice versa.  Driven by a thousand forms of fear, anger, and self-hatred, he or she is set on a path of disturbing behavior that, if left untreated, can only end in collapse or explosion.

This is certainly true during active addiction.  Think about how weepy or enraged alcoholics can get sometimes.  Or the mood swings of a cocaine or pill addict.  The list could go on and on, but the point is this: the inability to regulate emotions is the defining characteristic of most alcoholics and addicts.

And unfortunately, the problem doesn’t stop when the using does.  Addicts and alcoholics have almost as hard a time managing emotions in recovery as they do when they’re under the influence.  You might even say that the entire recovery process – everything from detox to building relationships and relapse prevention –  hinges on managing emotions in a healthy way.

The 12 Step Approach to Managing Emotions in Recovery

In addition to the support found inside and outside the meeting rooms, the 12 steps themselves are a great way to learn to manage the complex emotions that can lead to relapse.

Take Step One for instance.  One of the most “unmanageable” aspects it talks about are the intense, negative emotions that result (and lead to) substance abuse in the first place.  So right off the bat, we see evidence of the connection between emotion and addiction.

The “moral inventory” of the fourth step deals with painful emotions as well, especially resentment and fear.  The AA Big Book calls resentment “the number one offender.”  It says that fear is an “evil and corroding thread” that influences every moment of the alcoholic life.

At one point, the fourth step tells us that the outside world dominates the alcoholic.  And it exercises this dominance through painful emotions.  The goal of the fourth step seems to be a release of these painful emotions, so that the alcoholic or addict can the peace calm necessary for recovery.

We’ll conclude with a brief summary of how steps 8 and 9 work to relieve the addicted mind of a particularly difficult emotion.  These are the amends steps.  They involve admitting the harms that the addict or alcoholic has done to the lives of those around them.  They also suggest that the 12 stepper approach the people they’ve harmed and do what they can to repair the damage.  The goal is to relieve the alcoholic of the terrible feelings of guilt that accompany their disease.  This is one of the most effective ways to sever the connection between emotions and addiction.