How to Manage the Emotions Threatening Relapse Prevention

Author - JD Meints | April 25, 2016

In the past, you might have learned to have a drink when you're feeling uncomfortable in your skin. Perhaps feelings of shame or embarrassment were washed away with a couple glasses of wine. Or perhaps your anxiety felt like too much to handle and you decided to use drugs to feel more calm and in control. If in the past, emotions were the trigger for drinking or drug use, then in recovery, learning how to manage those emotions will be crucial towards relapse prevention.

The following is a list of common feelings that have led to cravings for many people. These are the kinds of feelings that many people might want to escape from through drinking or drug use.

  • --anger
  • --resentment built up over time
  • --feeling the need to lash out verbally or physically
  • --guilt for lashing out or guilt for feeling angry
  • --anxiety, worry, or stress
  • --boredom
  • --missing the excitement of using when you've experienced it and enjoyed it
  • --feelings of emptiness, sadness, or depression
  • --feeling hopeless about the future
  • --feeling guilty about what you have put your family or others through
  • --not feeling attractive, smart, or financially stable enough
  • --feeling a deep sense of shame about who you are
  • --feeling like no one loves you
  • --feeling incapable of loving others
  • --feeling heavy criticism around you
  • --feeling hurt or left out
  • --feelings of sorrow about losing someone you love
  • --deep regret about the past
  • --shame about who you are

Sometimes, these feelings are so deeply woven into a person's experience and view of themselves and others that it may be hard to identify. You might not yet have the self-awareness to recognize that shame or resentment is leading you to substance use. However, in recovery, this will be necessary. Developing emotional awareness can strengthen your ability to say no to cravings when they arise as a result of certain feelings.

If you're used to turning to drugs or alcohol when a certain feeling comes up, then you might have developed an association between substance use and anger. The goal for relapse prevention is to become aware of these associations in yourself. You might ask yourself the following questions:

  • --What are the thoughts that trigger emotions?
  • --What are the emotions that trigger a craving?
  • --What can I do instead of drinking or using drugs when feeling uncomfortable feelings?
  • --What internal and/or external circumstances lead to feeling a certain way?

The first step is to become aware of the answers to these questions. Once you're aware of what you're doing and why, you can change it. The next time you're feeling angry, for example, you might replace drinking alcohol with going for a walk. Or the next time you're feeling regret you might replace getting high with talking about your feelings with a friend you trust. The point is to do something different. Instead of using drugs or drinking when you're feeling these emotions, choose a new behavior.

If you need assistance with developing awareness, relapse prevention or answering the above questions, contact your sponsor, drug counselor, or mental health provider for support.

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