Those unable to handle their emotions will be far more likely to turn to alcohol or drugs to help them cope. One of the effects of alcohol and drugs is the feeling a person gets akin to feeling life is rather numb – like wearing a suit of armour. In the beginning, the individual may suffers less from their emotions because of this ‘protective’ shield, but this temporary numbness comes with a heavy price.
Substance Abuse as Self-Medication for Unpleasant Emotions
It is common for many to begin their path into substance abuse during their teenage years. This can be a time of high-emotion due to hormonal changes and the stress of growing to adulthood. Some people just do not have sufficient coping strategies for dealing with the emotions that manifest at this stage of life. It could feel quite overwhelming, with the result that the individual in question could be tempted to turn to alcohol or drugs as a means of escape – this behaviour is usually referred to as self-medication.
Once alcohol or drugs are used to help cope with life, affected individuals find that their development towards emotional maturity grinds to a halt. The reason this happens is that people develop this maturity is by facing life and overcoming problems, so if a person starts drinking during adolescence and doesn’t stop until hitting middle age, he or she will end up having the same level of emotional maturity as they had during the teenage years as it hasn’t had a chance to develop.
Emotional Immaturity and Relapse
A common reason why many relapse after a period of being sober is that they just cannot handle their emotions. This is because they have not yet developed the necessary tools for dealing with life. It means that when they do give up alcohol or drugs they feel as if they are right back at square one. Unless they can quickly develop some effective coping strategies, the temptation to relapse could be incredibly high.
It is often claimed that relapse is a process and not an event. This is referring to the fact that just getting physically sober is not usually enough for those caught up in addiction. If the person has been using alcohol or drugs to cope with life, it will be vital to replace it within something more effective. One of the benefits of entering a rehab programme, for example, is that it means the person can quickly pick up all the coping strategies they will need to deal with life in early recovery.
How to Develop Emotional Sobriety
Those in recovery usually refer to emotional maturity as emotional sobriety. It is something that people develop by dealing with life on life’s terms – every time they overcome a new challenge they pick up a new, effective coping strategy. This process is often described as building a toolbox of strategies – eventually the individual will have enough tools that he or she feels able to cope with anything; this is what is meant by being emotionally sober.
As long as affected individuals remain sober and start facing their problems, they will start developing emotional maturity. The issue is that in early recovery it could be too dangerous to learn by a process of trial and error. For this reason, it is vital to learn from the experience of others and pick up some temporary coping strategies. This is what all recovery programmes are really doing; they provide individuals with some temporary tools until they feel strong enough to develop their own.