The Importance of Emotion Regulation Skills in Addiction Recovery

One set of skills that doesn’t come naturally to human beings upon birth is emotion regulation. As a result, individuals develop their emotion regulation skills over time through practice. 

Emotion regulation skills are vital to a person in addiction recovery. These skills help people in addiction treatment cope with their negative thoughts and emotions. By doing so, emotion regulation skills also help people avoid giving in to addiction triggers. 

This, in turn, helps individuals in addiction recovery maintain their sobriety. Therefore, individuals should make an effort to incorporate forms of addiction therapy into their rehab programs that will help them practice their emotion regulation skills.  

What are Emotion Regulation Skills?

A man is shown with four other versions of himself behind him, portraying different emotionsEmotion regulation skills enable people to manage their emotions and emotional responses to issues. The fact that human beings don’t naturally contain emotion regulation skills is evident in the fact that babies and children exhibit temper tantrums more than teens and adults. This is because people tend to learn life lessons as they age. These lessons teach people how to better deal with their negative thoughts and emotions as they age.

Since humans are always growing and learning, their emotion regulation skills are also always evolving and improving. Unfortunately, though, misusing substances can stunt a person’s emotional growth.

Why People Who Struggle With Substance Use Need to Improve Their Emotion Regulation Skills

Substance misuse stunts a person’s emotional growth because it numbs a person’s negative thoughts and emotions. As a result, that person doesn’t have to deal with his or her negative thoughts and emotions anymore. Substance use even limits a person’s ability to practice regulating his or her thoughts and emotions.

As a result, substance users will never improve on their emotion regulation skills. This is a shame, as many people that suffer from substance use disorders need the practice. This is evident by the fact that substance users have a harder time dealing with negative thoughts and emotions and thus, turn to substances to cope. 

What Are the Goals of Emotion Regulation?

There are many goals of emotion regulation therapy. In fact, according to a Stamford University publication, emotion regulation therapy should aim to do the following things:

  • Identify, differentiate, and describe emotions
  • Increase acceptance and adaptability 
  • Decrease use of emotional avoidance strategies
  • Increase ability to utilize emotional information in identifying needs
  • Behavior, managing one’s own interpersonal relationships and other contextual demands 

By achieving these goals of emotion regulation, substance users can learn to use their emotions to their advantage rather than to their detriment. This is because emotion regulation therapy teaches individuals how to identify and accept their emotions in a way that gives them insight into themselves rather than having their emotions rule them. 

Emotion Regulation Therapy (ERT)

It’s believed that the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, came up with the theory behind emotion regulation therapy (ERT). This theory is that substances provide emotional relief to people. Therefore, people that develop substance use disorders stop learning how to manage their emotions on their own. 

To regain a sense of emotional maturity, individuals that are sober from alcohol and drugs must also practice emotional sobriety. Through the practice of emotional sobriety, individuals taking ERT will no longer depend on substances to cope with their emotions. Instead, they will learn to face their emotions head-on and deal with them. That way, they can turn their emotions into a powerful tool that can strengthen them and give them self-insight. 

During ERT, individuals will also develop emotion regulation skills to help them manage their emotions and use them to their benefit. It can be overwhelming to deal with all of the emotions that were once numbed by substance use. This can even cause people to give in to their addiction triggers and misuse substances again to cope. That’s why learning emotion regulation skills through ERT is a vital part of addiction treatment. 

The more skills a person learns in emotion regulation therapy, the less likely that the person will succumb to addiction triggers and relapse. Not only that, but emotion regulation therapy can help improve a person’s mental health. This is also very important in addiction treatment and recovery as mental illness is often the reason why people start misusing substances in the first place. 

Other Forms of Addiction Therapy That Will Help With The Development of Emotion Regulation Skills

There are some other forms of addiction therapy that help teach individuals some of the same emotion regulation skills that ERT does. The two classic forms of addiction therapy that can help individuals manage their emotions are cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches individuals how to change their negative thoughts, emotions, and behaviors into positive ones. Thus, CBT, in a way, helps people manage their negative emotions. There are two main parts to cognitive-behavioral therapy for addiction: functional analysis and training.

During the functional analysis part of cognitive-behavioral therapy, therapists help people in addiction treatment identify the cause of their negative thoughts and emotions. This part of cognitive-behavioral therapy aligns with emotion regulation therapy in that one of the goals of ERT is to identify, differentiate, and describe emotions. 

The second part of cognitive-behavioral therapy for addiction is skills training. This part of cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches individuals positive coping mechanisms. In fact, during the skills training part of CBT, addiction treatment patients will actively practice using their learned coping mechanisms. This is because such coping mechanisms can be used to help individuals manage their addiction triggers. 

The skills training portion of CBT aligns with the emotion regulation skills goal that talks about behavior changes by managing one’s interpersonal relationships. It also aligns with the thought that emotion regulation skills develop over time through practice. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) teaches individuals how to accept their negative thoughts and emotions so that they don’t cause them to develop negative behaviors. DBT is arguably the closest form of addiction therapy to emotion regulation therapy. This is because DBT forces individuals to meet nearly all of the emotion regulation skills goals. For example, DBT helps individuals identify, differentiate, and describe their emotions. It can also help to increase one’s acceptance of their emotions which, in turn, increases their adaptability. 

As a result of the first set of DBT emotion regulation skills that are accomplished, addiction treatment patients also decrease their emotional avoidance strategies. Additionally, individuals can increase their ability to utilize emotional information in identifying needs. Finally, DBT enables people to change their behaviors in a way that helps them manage their addiction triggers and relationships. The fact that all of these DBT emotion regulation skills are also goals of emotion regulation therapy, shows that DBT is the best substitute for ERT, followed by CBT. 

Emotion Regulation Skills for Addiction Recovery

Ultimately, the ability to regulate one’s emotions provides individuals with what they need to sustain sobriety while in addiction recovery. This is because emotion regulation skills help individuals accept their negative emotions and change them into positive ones. 

By learning how to manage their negative emotions, and ultimately addiction triggers, without the use of substances, individuals in addiction recovery who’ve gone through emotion regulation therapy are also able to mature emotionally. This is necessary, as chronic substance use previously stunted the emotional maturity of addicts. 

Furthermore, developing emotion regulation skills while in addiction recovery helps individuals maintain a healthy mental state. This ultimately helps prevent people in addiction recovery from relapsing. This is because mental illness is often the main reason why people choose to start using substances. 

Therefore, not only can individuals incorporate emotion regulation therapy into their addiction treatment programs, but they can also incorporate them into their dual diagnosis treatment programs. 

Receive Emotion Regulation Therapy At Grace Land Recovery

Woman transforming from sadness to happinessGrace Land Recovery is a dual diagnosis treatment center near Memphis, Tennessee. Here at Grace Land Recovery, we offer a wide array of addiction therapies and clinical schedule groups, including emotion regulation therapy. Therefore, Grace Land Recovery patients that are looking to take their addiction or dual diagnosis treatment programs to the next level so that they can sustain lifelong sobriety can learn emotion regulation skills. 

Not only do we offer emotion regulation therapy, but we also offer cognitive-behavioral therapy. That way individuals that don’t get the opportunity to be a part of our emotion regulation group can still learn some emotion regulation skills. 

Some of the other addiction therapies that we offer here at Grace Land Recovery include experiential therapy and rational emotive therapy. On top of that, some of the other clinical schedule groups that we encourage our patients to engage in include those for mental health, anger managementtrauma, and relapse prevention

To learn more about Grace Land Recovery and the different addiction treatment, therapy, and services that we offer, contact us! We would love to answer any questions that you may have!