Negative emotions in recovery: Fear, sadness and everything inbetween


We all have our go-to negative emotions. For many of us it’s sadness, for others it’s fear. In my experience these are the two primary negative emotions with other negative emotions being contained in the continuum between them. Feelings of hurt, jealousy, desperation, disappointment, boredom, irritation- they all contribute to a sense of being on the emotional seesaw. Tip it too much toward one end and the feeling builds up and becomes overwhelming.

When you have a substance use problem emotions are not your friend. Abusing substances really is the elusive antidote to negative emotions. But it backfires. The sadness and fear build; sadness is transformed into depression and fear into anger. It’s no wonder that depression and antisocial behavior often go hand-in-hand with drinking and drug use.

In my view, when people go into recovery they are not only making a conscious decision to stop using drugs and/or alcohol but, whether they know it at the time or not, they are also committing to encountering their emotions fully. This is very courageous. Imagine how hard it would be to face years, and sometimes a lifetime, of misplaced emotions. For many, it really is almost too much to bear.

Consequently, accepting and expressing emotions are as much a part of recovery as not using. These skills are learned with time through developing self-awareness. In the end, the goal is emotional maturity.

So the next time someone you know stops using drugs or alcohol, treat them with tremendous respect. They are not the product of their past anymore. They are facing the past in the blinding light of their present, alone and vulnerable. All they want and need is your understanding and support.

For some practical strategies on how to cope with negative emotions the following link is extremely helpful:

This information is for educational purposes only and should not in any way be considered a substitute for professional help. If you feel that you need immediate assistance please call your local psychiatric emergency services.

8 thoughts on “Negative emotions in recovery: Fear, sadness and everything inbetween

  1. I really like this article. Expressing ones emotions without inhibitions give fulsomeness to life. Now people are looking more for EQ rather than IQ, cannot be blamed because keeping your emotions intact is really difficult. Most addictive people claim that what is so attractive about alcohol and drugs is that, they reduce the inhibitions and make them bold and expressive. What they didn’t realize is that they are getting a pseudo feeling of courage and bliss, which is not going to last at all!! I once shared a discussion from about the substance abuse, please follow this link…

    1. Hi Gay Bodhi,
      Thanks for reading. I agree with you, the feelings may be powerful when you are using drugs or alcohol but they are fleeting. People who can drink socially seem to be able to enjoy the experience and not get carried away but there are those among us who fall down the rabbit hole of excessive use. It is easier if you never start using drugs or alcohol at all but here, in the US, drinking is somewhat of a rite of passage and social lubricant. Marijuana use is becoming more prevalent also. Other drugs- well I think I’ll write a post on that…

  2. Kathleen, everything you say is so true. I have a son that has just completed one year clean and sober from Meth and Alcohol. He really struggles at times with his emotions but when he does you can see his true inner spirit and who he really wants to and can be. I can see through him how tough it is to replace fear, rejection and desperation with courage, determination and self respect.

    1. Jay, it seems that your son is very lucky to have a father who understands his struggle. The transformational power of recovery is not to be underestimated….

  3. Expressing emotions or even identifying what type they are can be very hard, it takes a lot from someone to really want to know oneself in order to do this. I hope this article can open more minds in trying to get centered more.

    1. I agree Adelina, it is difficult. People have the opportunity to learn about themselves every day; they just have to choose to take it.

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