Releasing the First in a New Series Exploring "Substance Use as an Emotional Response"

The spooks, ghosts, and goblins of Halloween are gone. As the collected assortment of candies starts to dwindle, the air of the season shifts to cooler, longer nights, and the turkey and tinsel of the holidays begin to appear everywhere. This can bring about stress and mental health conditions like seasonal affective disorder. Many people respond to emotional distress in many ways, from food to sex to drugs or alcohol. 

When someone has experienced trauma or is in a negative situation, how they react to this will be different for everyone. Some people respond in ways that make matters worse for themselves and the parties involved, and some respond unhealthily, like drinking or misusing drugs.

While retail therapy, like shopping to get your mind off things and cool off, might not be too damaging to your health, responding to stress with substance use is an example of some of the different ways many cope that can be detrimental to emotional and physical health. Research has shown that how we respond to emotional distress is based on our past experiences and genetics, meaning some people are more emotionally sensitive than others. Others are predisposed to specific emotional responses, including substance and alcohol use.

If you’re in recovery from substance abuse or mental illness, it’s essential to be extra careful during this time of year. Many substances, especially some street drugs, are popularly associated with holidays due to their availability and the company they keep. Emotional distress is different for everyone, but there are some commonalities. 

This "Substance Use as an Emotional Response" series discusses ways to respond differently to stress and better regulate your emotions instead of drinking or using drugs.

The "yes, but" barrier, problem-solving, opposite action, and fact-checking will all be discussed as possible means of altering reactive emotions.

The "Yes, But…" Barrier

It may be challenging to take the necessary steps to alter emotional reactions. It takes work, a desire to change, and an awareness of what's best for you. When the intensity of emotions is great, and the individual perceives that altering emotions is the same as acknowledging that their sentiments are invalid, "Yes, but" is a common reaction in attempts to help them. The difficulty is that responding with "yes, but" accomplishes little to alleviate distress or resolve emotional issues. As a result, it's easy to use as an excuse to keep engaging in addictive behavior. 

Opposite Action

If you find yourself experiencing emotions that are out of sync with the facts and learning the truth doesn't help, try behaving in complete opposition to how you're feeling. As the old saying goes, "If you fall off a horse, get right back on." For someone in recovery from drug abuse, this may look like consistently rejecting the idea that giving in to an impulse or craving is the best course of action.


To the extent that your feelings are justified by the available evidence, and yet you still want to alter them, the source of the issue is likely the situation itself. Reducing the frequency of unpleasant feelings and the possibility of turning to substance abuse as a coping strategy due to stress may be achieved with problem-solving. 

Check the Facts

Your emotional responses to a circumstance may be altered by adjusting your beliefs and assumptions to align with reality. This necessitates investigations into the nature of the stressful situation. Like many other treatments, cognitive therapy relies heavily on checking the facts. Don't let your emotions, such as anger or despair, cloud your judgment and cause you to make hasty decisions that might lead to drug misuse; instead, make sure you're taking a good, hard look at the facts before acting.

The skills you’ll learn in this new series will help you maintain your sobriety during the holiday season and be set up for a successful long-term recovery.

Stay tuned for more, or contact our team at one of the best substance abuse treatment centers, Wish Recovery, to find out how you can better regulate your emotions without substances today.

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