What is Emotional Regulation and How Does It Affect Addiction?

Emotional regulation and addiction can affect each other. But how does emotional regulation impact addiction? Let’s find out.

Emotional Regulation

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What is Emotional Regulation?

Improving performance at work, enriching personal relationships, and better overall health are benefits of strong emotional self-regulation. In addition, with appropriate emotional self-regulation, individuals can prevent escalation of certain emotions that may lead to regrettable actions.

Emotional regulation relates to addiction, and several experts debate whether it’s a key to addiction prevention. Enhancing emotional self-regulation skills for adults may be helpful to prevent addictive behaviors. Please keep reading to know more about emotion regulation and how it affects addiction.

A Closer Look at Emotional Regulation

Emotional regulation relates to the ability of an individual to use internal and external strategies to influence their emotional reactions. The processes in emotion regulation may help modify the intensity, quality, duration, and recovery from certain emotional experiences.1

Strategies of emotional self-regulation matter as they help organize an individual’s life in a way that increases the probability of positive emotional experiences. It also simultaneously helps reduce the chances of difficulty regulating emotions.

Emotional Regulation’s Effects

With emotional regulation skills, individuals may experience mood improvement, which may also lead to empathy and compassion for people. Emotion regulation helps improve overall well-being and performance, which helps job and academic performance.

Emotional regulation skills can promote stability by improving resiliency when certain emotions are unavoidable. One of the most common theories for emotion regulation follows the process model, which is a four-part sequence of situation, attention, appraisal, and response.

Humans can learn emotional regulation skills through interaction with primary caregivers. In most cases, caregivers help soothe children when they are upset, celebrate with them when they are happy, and validate their emotional experiences.

The Connection Between Emotional Regulation & Drug Addiction

For many individuals, addiction is a way of changing how they feel. Abused substances increase pleasurable feelings and reduce dysphoric feelings. For this reason, individuals may use them for mood management. Intake of substances often serves as a suitable strategy for regulating emotions.

Research proves a connection between emotion regulation and addiction. Individuals with emotional regulation issues are at risk of drug abuse or addictive behavior. The lack of suitable emotion regulation skills makes individuals seek the best way to change their feelings by substance abuse.2

Initially, substance use may serve as an effective method of mood modification. However, the subsequent neuroadaptations due to chronic use reduce the potential for positive reinforcement of the substance. Instead, it increases the need for negative reinforcement by warding off withdrawal symptoms of substance use.

After substance abuse treatment, emotion regulation helps individuals react appropriately to emotionally stimulating situations. It serves as an important mediator for substance use disorder by controlling impulsivity and other emotions common to drug abuse.

Emotional Regulation in Recovery

When dealing with emotions in recovery, emotion regulation plays a big role in managing stress and improving communication. Here’s a detailed breakdown of emotional regulation interventions during recovery:

Managing Stress

In addiction recovery, emotional self-regulation helps in managing stress by exerting control over one’s emotional state. Among other emotional regulation interventions, this method typically involves behaviors like rethinking a challenging situation to avert anger or anxiety. Emotion regulation may also help hide signs of sadness and improve calmness and happiness.

When faced with stressful events, individuals typically don’t passively experience the event and the connected emotions. Instead, they act on them actively to change how they experience an emotional response. For such reasons, emotional regulation proves effective in stress management.

Improving Communication

Self-regulation is imperative in relationships, especially relating to communication. Good communication is a product of appropriate emotion regulation. At times when an individual feels signs of sadness, anxiety, or anger, communicating proves to be good emotion regulation.

Some therapy options like dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) for emotion regulation also rely on active communication. For this reason, DBT is common for treating various mental health or emotional regulation issues like borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Overall, emotional regulation interventions help improve effective communication with self and others, even during difficult conversations.

Emotional Regulation in Recovery

Emotional Regulation After Substance Abuse Treatment

There are two major approaches for emotion regulation after substance abuse treatment. Here’s what to note:

Early-Stage Regulation

After substance abuse treatment, the early-stage regulation involves the following three steps.

One of the first stages of regulation is the identification or detection of the emotion being felt. For instance, individuals become able to identify and become aware of their emotions, like anger, sadness, happiness, and anxiety.

After the identification or detection of emotions, the individual becomes capable of evaluating the experience that is causing the emotion. Events relating to celebration typically warrant happiness, whereas negative or unexpected events cause sadness.

Action describes a state where the individual decides whether or not it’s necessary to implement emotional regulation skills.

Late-Stage Regulation

Late-stage regulation typically involves cognitive change and response modification. As a regulation strategy, cognitive change involves using cognitive skills to modify stimulus. Examples of such cognitive mood regulation skills include perspective-taking, reframing the meaning of certain scenarios, and challenging interpretations.

One of the primary forms of cognitive change during late-stage regulation is cognitive reappraisal. It involves the utilization of cognitive and linguistic processes to reframe and reinterpret stimuli to up or down-regulate emotions.

Difficulties in Emotion Regulation During Rehabilitation for Addiction

During rehabilitation, individuals may experience difficulty regulating emotions and addiction. However, mental health professionals provide solutions to most difficulties. Here are some primary ones to note:

Non-Acceptance of One's Emotional Responses

When an individual doesn’t accept his emotional responses, it signifies an unwillingness to experience negative emotions and accept them. Studies show that roughly 96% of people struggle to accept negative or displeasing emotions at some point in life.3

For individuals struggling with emotional non-acceptance, it’s helpful to remember that self-criticism about the emotion may not help in the long run. Mental health professionals may also advise thinking about emotions the same way one would to a physical sensation. For instance, if a person falls and scratches the knee, such a person wouldn’t say they don’t expect to feel pain.

Difficulty in Adopting Target-Oriented Behaviors

Many times, people may experience difficulty regulating emotions and adopting behaviors oriented to attain good regulation. Inability to engage in target-oriented behaviors refers to the blockage by negative emotions leading to lack of concentration and difficulty in taking actions to achieve personal goals.

Some behavioral improvements may include the need to identify and reduce triggers, engage in positive self-talk when emotions become overwhelming and look for positive emotions.

Speaking to a therapist may help individuals adapt better to target-oriented behaviors. A consistent support system from friends and loved ones may also provide help in adopting target-oriented behaviors. Mindfulness is also helpful to stay calm and avoid negative thought patterns to help with emotional pain. Individuals need to take time to practice and adopt mindfulness.

Limited Access to Regulatory Strategies

Difficulty regulating emotions and identifying the necessary emotional regulation skills for adults is common due to limited access to strategies. Hence, when individuals feel a certain way, they believe there’s nothing they can do to improve their overall well-being.

Some helpful regulatory strategies to teach emotion regulation:

  1. Recognize triggers
  2. Study physical symptoms
  3. Consider emotions
  4. Perform positive self-talk
  5. Choose how to respond
  6. Look for positive emotions

Difficulty in Impulse Control

Impulse control challenges vary from person to person, but they can be significantly difficult to control. Some signs and symptoms that may point to impulse control problems may include cognitive symptoms like trouble organizing, poor concentration abilities, and obsessive behavior.

Lack of Emotional Clarity

One of the major challenges in regulation is the lack of emotional clarity, which refers to the extent to which an individual knows and understands emotions. In some cases, lack of emotional clarity may be due to unresolved trauma and addiction. Meditation may be very helpful in achieving emotional clarity, especially at early stages during rehab.

Lack of Emotional Awareness

Many people often struggle to stay aware of emotions and control feelings. Emotional awareness describes a state of knowing feelings are present and being able to label the feelings with specific words. At the highest level, it also signifies the ability to predict feelings early.

Here are the major levels of emotional awareness to teach emotion regulation:4

  • Knowing the feeling is present
  • Acknowledging the feeling
  • Identifying the feeling
  • Accepting the feeling
  • Forecasting feelings

How to Develop Emotional Regulation Skills to Cope with Addiction

In developing emotional regulation skills to cope with addiction, it’s important to understand emotions and addiction. Here are some tips to help develop proper regulation, even with the emotional effects of drugs abuse:

Accurately identify your emotions

Some of the common types of emotions include amusement, happiness, anger, anxiety, excitement, and fear. Ensure you can identify the emotions you feel.

Do not avoid emotions

Instead of rejecting emotions or avoiding them, it’s advisable to accept them. Accepting emotions helps individuals learn and make better decisions.

Counteract destructive ways of thinking

Break off a negative thinking pattern when experiencing certain emotions due to unresolved trauma and addiction. Take a moment to label thoughts and choose a positive intention after feeling a certain emotion.

Practice mindfulness and other relaxation techniques

Practicing mindfulness means living in the moment by paying attention to what’s happening around. It helps individuals stay calm and averts negative thought patterns.

Utilize healthy coping skills

Some healthy coping emotional regulation skills for adults include naming, recognizing, and validating emotions. Ensure to identify and resolve emotional triggers.


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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