10 Tips for Managing Emotions in Early Sobriety

person in recovery for addiction speaking with her therapist

Many people turn to drug and alcohol use in an effort to manage uncomfortable emotions.

Anger, grief, depression, and anxiety – it is a cultural norm to have a drink, take a pill, and now, in many situations, to smoke a joint in an effort to feel better.

Unfortunately, while early uses can have the effect of taking the edge off, continued use for this purpose is often ineffective – and ultimately causes even more problems and more uncomfortable feelings.

In early sobriety, the onslaught of emotions after years of numbing can be surprising. Feeling nothing can become normal and go unnoticed during active drug and alcohol abuse, and during detox, all of the unprocessed emotions, plus new ones associated with the process of getting clean and sober, can come up abruptly. To help you feel more grounded as you manage this, here are a few tips:

  • Work with a personal therapist
    Meeting one on one with a personal therapist regularly – even a couple of times a week in the first weeks of recovery – can help you to talk through what you are feeling, ask questions about what you can do to manage specific issues as they arise, and learn the coping mechanisms that will help you to recognize that emotions are fleeting and only as disruptive as you allow them to be.
  • Seek support
    Everything is easier when you have the support of others who are going through something similar. When you meet regularly with others who are also in recovery, you can learn from their experiences and support each other in the process of stabilizing and moving forward in recovery.
  • Connect with appropriate treatment services for co-occurring disorders
    If you are living with a co-occurring mental health disorder (e.g., anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, etc.), then it will make the emotional aspect of recovery a bit more unpredictable and intense. Getting professional treatment to manage those symptoms effectively will have a positive impact on your ability to manage the emotions that often characterize early recovery.
  • Learn coping mechanisms for specific emotional difficulties or situations
    No matter how intense an emotion may seem initially, there are coping mechanisms that will help you to keep things in perspective and react appropriately. For example, pausing with the goal of getting more information and giving the issue time before responding in any manner – and potentially wreaking more havoc in the process – can help you to mitigate the ups and downs of sobriety.
  • Make use of holistic treatment services
    Yoga, meditation, massage and bodywork, regular workouts, healthy nutrition, and good sleep hygiene – all these and more can have a positive impact on emotion regulation.
  • Create treatment and recovery goals
    When you are focused on a goal in treatment and actively tracking your progress, you have the support you need to manage emotional issues as they arise. Also, because you are in constant contact with therapists and a support system in recovery, you have the benefit of objectivity provided by people who may be able to help you recognize patterns, see the signs of an emotional issue ahead, and help you avoid any related problems.
  • Create a personal goal
    Actively focusing your attention on personal goals can help you to keep emotions in check as well. Positive goals associated with career, philanthropy, art, and physical health can expand your horizons in early recovery and demonstrate that a small bump in the road to recovery does not have to be a showstopper.
  • Practice acceptance
    To practice acceptance means to allow things to happen around you, recognize the truth of who you are, and see the people around you without passing judgment. There is no reason to judge something as “good” or “bad” when you practice acceptance. You simply acknowledge that a change has occurred or that something has happened, recognize your initial emotional response without acting on it – and allow both to pass. Though it is a simple concept, it is not necessarily easy. It’s called “practice” for a reason. Just keep at it until it becomes second nature.
  • Practice mindfulness
    When you are present in the moment, you are less likely to dwell on the past or worry about the future. Practicing mindfulness means focusing on nothing but what the person in front of you is saying, the path in front of you, your surroundings, the music you are listening to, your breath, etc. Being actively part of the present moment can limit the amount of time you spend building up past events into emotional issues or creating problems out of concerns for the future that have not yet occurred. It gives you the freedom to simply be here now rather than getting caught up in things you cannot change or control.
  • Stay connected and stay hopeful
    Emotions have a way of growing stronger when one is withdrawn and “living inside one’s own head.” Something that happened years ago can feel huge and overwhelming in the moment – even if it really does not need to impact the present moment or the future in any way. When you plug into a positive support system and a recovery community that is focused on living well in the moment,balance will follow. The more you surround yourself with people who are living the kind of balanced life you are striving for, the more likely it is that your life will be characterized by contentment and sobriety.
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