Addiction is a Feelings Disease

When someone is suffering from addiction, it’s common to see spouses, family members, friends and colleagues become emotional as they witness someone they care about the struggle.

However, what people might not consider is that many of the same emotions loved ones and families feel watching someone struggle with an addiction issue are the very same emotions someone battling an addiction feels, too.

People fighting addiction may feel disappointed, a sense of failure or that they are struggling to live up to expectations.

They may also be feeling sad about missed opportunities or failed relationships, similar to how those people around them may be feeling.
Just as someone suffering from addiction might, as a consequence, feel some negative emotions, negative emotions can also drive a person to addiction in the first place.

When someone experiences negative feelings of guilt, depression, anxiety or upset, they often reach for the abusing substance as a way to feel better and ‘drown out’ the negative emotion.

Therefore, negative emotions are often the cause and consequence of substance abuse and addiction. This is why addiction is often referred to as the ‘feelings’ disease.

What is Emotion

Here are a few tips on how to better regulate your emotions if you’re struggling from an addiction or substance abuse:

Emotion can be defined as “a psychic and physical reaction (such as anger or fear) experienced as a strong feeling.”  Essentially, emotions are ‘feeling’ states based on the emotional history and the context of the situation and the person suffering. It’s both the emotional history of an individual and the context of the situation which determines the ‘feeling’ state and level of motivation felt to act on the emotion or urge.

Five Emotions People with Addiction Feel
Although there are many emotions and ‘feeling’ states, someone with addiction may be prone to feeling shame, helplessness, sadness, fear and guilt the most.

These emotions can’t be felt either before action starts (causing the addiction to begin) or as a consequence of the addiction.

1. Shame
Shame is defined by social scientist Brene Brown as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of the belief that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging”. These unwanted and unhealthy beliefs lead to a feeling of shame, and they go hand in hand with addiction. So many people still see substance abuse and addiction as a flaw or weakness, subsequently making them feel shameful and too embarrassed to seek help.

2. Helplessness
Anyone suffering from an addiction is bound to experience feelings of hopelessness. Many forms of addiction are due to depression, anxiety and trauma, and in an attempt to solve these issues, people often turn to substances.
Once doing so, they find themselves in deeper forms of depression and anxiety; and the never-ending, often hopeless cycle continues.

3. Sadness
It won’t be a surprise to anyone that people suffering from addiction will experience feelings of sadness. Loved ones also feel sad watching the person suffering struggle and having their hopes and dreams de-railed.
Often, once the person suffering acknowledges that their addiction causes sadness in others, it either encourages them to seek help or simply makes them increasingly low and sad.
This is often the make-or-break point for many people suffering from addiction.

4. Fear
Being addicted to any substance is a very dangerous thing for both the mind and the body. Addiction holds a whole host of things to be scared of and makes you fearful of.
This includes losing your life, losing the support of loved ones, financial issues, incarnation and a range of increasing mental health strains and issues.
These fears are also experienced by the family, which can sometimes be the main topic of conversation between the person suffering and their loved ones.
However, more often than not, the person suffering from addiction can sometimes be more shortsighted; with their biggest fear sometimes being about where their next fix is going to come from.

5. Guilt
While under the influence, it’s common for people suffering from addiction to not feel guilty. However, during periods of sobriety, their addiction, behavior and actions sometimes weigh more heavily on them.
Some of the typical behaviors of an addict include lying, manipulating loved ones, cheating and stealing.
These actions often result in making those around them, especially close family and friends suffer resulting in a sense of guilt and low self-esteem.

What is Motivation?

Motivation and emotion often get confused as one or the same thing. However, motivation is actually the response from an emotion felt. In other words, emotion drives motivation.
When someone experiences a negative emotion like any of the above, this often drives an equally negative behavior, motivation, and action. For someone experiencing negative emotions or turmoil in life, the negative emotions felt may motivate them to act out in an attempt to make the negative emotions ‘go away.’ This often includes self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.
It is because of these negative emotions and motivation that addiction gets dubbed the ‘feelings’ disease.

How to Control Your Emotions
It’s well-researched that the ability to regulate and control your emotions leads to greater success and happiness throughout your life. A lack of emotional regulation has been considered to be one of the main factors that increase the likelihood of risk behaviors. These behaviors include things such as gambling, internet-related disorders and substance abuse. However, you are able to learn how to better regulate your emotions at any point in your life.


1. Think about the Impact of your Emotions

Not all intense emotions are bad emotions. They can often help to motivate you to create change. 
However, if you’re experiencing negative emotions that are contributing to substance abuse then it may be helpful to think about the impact your emotions have – both on your life and the lives of the people around you. 
Your addiction and emotions may be leading to relationship breakdowns, trouble relating to others, difficulty at work or school, physical or emotional outbursts. 
It’s important to acknowledge this and to understand how this is affecting your life and others. 
It’s likely that this will have a large and lasting impact on your future, even after recovery from addiction.

2. Regulation over Repression
Whilst someone suffering from addiction might believe that they’re incapable of controlling their emotions and urges, everyone is capable of trying to better regulate them.
People suffering from addiction often suppress their emotions in an attempt to protect themselves from painful feelings and reality. This can’t either be a conscious decision (suppression) or an unconscious decision (repression).
Instead, try to regulate your emotions by understanding that healthy emotional regulation involves finding a balance between extreme overwhelming emotions and urges and none at all.
Try to achieve a healthy balance, and remember that not everything has to be in extremes, including your emotions.

3. Identify Your Exact Emotions
Understanding exactly what emotion you’re feeling can have a major impact on gaining control over your emotions and urges, especially as an addict.
We’re taught as children about basic emotions; sadness, happiness, angriness, fear. However, humans experience a large range of emotions that are often intertwined with one another.
These emotions include being overwhelmed, disrespected, vulnerable, and humiliated.
When suffering from an addiction, it’s important for the addict to understand exactly what emotions have contributed to their addiction and what emotions have occurred as a consequence of their addiction.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an addiction then it’s important to understand that any addiction is driven by emotions. It’s important that these emotions are identified, and regulated and that the consequences of suppressing emotions are understood.

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