A group of addicts and alcoholics sitting around a circle, lamenting about the absence of drugs and alcohol in their life, crying about their feelings- this is an uninformed, but popular image of treatment. Treatment does involve a lot of crying because the process of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction involves emotional processing and release. For holistic and clinical purposes, embracing, as well as releasing, emotions, is part of recovery.
The addicted brain is addicted to a feeling, the feeling of pleasure. Drugs and alcohol induce the sensation of euphoria in the brain and the body by creating a hyperstimulation of the production of dopamine. A neurotransmitter, which is a small messenger chemical in the brain, dopamine sends thousands of messages of pleasure throughout the brain, most notably to the nucleus accumbens, where the brain interprets pleasure as a reward. Once the brain becomes chemically dependent upon external substances, it becomes chemically dependent upon the experience of pleasure. Anything other than pleasure is perceived as a threat. As soon as something like fear, sadness, or hurt arise, the brain instantly retreats to craving drugs and alcohol in order to get pleasurable stimulation.
Treatment and the prospect of talking about, feeling, and processing emotions is intimidating to those seeking recovery because feelings to them, at that time, aren’t pleasurable. The brain becomes so desensitized to other emotions that it forgets what feelings are. Early phases of treatment and recovery are notoriously educational and explorational. Addicts and alcoholics in treatment relearn their feelings- how to identify emotions beyond sad, mad, and glad. Feeling those feelings, embracing them and owning them, feels foreign. More noticeable to the patient experiencing them, feelings feel uncomfortable. With a high threshold for pleasure, the addicted brain creates a low threshold for discomfort- another threat. Learning to embrace feelings is a means of clinical development as well as a life skill for survival. Humans have feelings and life demands that feelings be felt. Ignoring feelings, avoiding feelings, or turning to external substances to cope with feelings is no longer an option for those who are in recovery. The emotional process is key to long term recovery.
When patients leave the residential treatment programme at Castle Craig in Scotland, they leave in optimum health of mind, body, and spirit. Our programmes are changing lives with proven success records with a proven model. Call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line for more information: 0808 256 7958. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006.
Page last reviewed and clinically fact-checked August 18, 2017