Mental Health

What Is Emotional Sobriety?

Emotional sobriety has been a buzzword thrown around for many years, but what does it mean? It is about self-awareness, not just about self-control. Learning to control your feelings and emotions is only half of the equation. The other half accepts and acknowledges that certain feelings might be trying to tell you something. Identifying when you’re feeling frustrated, angry, or hurt, can prevent blows to a relationship or situation that would have otherwise been uncontrollable.

What Does Emotional Sobriety Look Like?

Emotional sobriety is a process of self-realization. It’s a way of taking responsibility for your feelings and actions rather than blaming others. It also involves being honest about what you’re feeling and why, rather than hiding from your emotions or acting out in destructive ways. 

The concept of emotional sobriety was first introduced by the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program. Many people find that they can benefit from learning how to practice emotional sobriety in their own lives, regardless of whether or not they struggle with addictions.

It is the ability to manage your emotions and recognize that they are not necessarily a reflection of reality. Emotions are feelings that cause us to act in specific ways. Some emotions are good, and some are bad, but all affect our behavior. Emotions can make us do things that we regret later on, but they can also motivate us to do great things.

The most important thing about being emotionally sober is knowing when your emotions are taking over and influencing your behavior in negative ways. If you find yourself consistently acting out of anger, jealousy, or fear, you’re not as emotionally sober as you could be, and there’s room for improvement!

Questions to Ask Yourself to Identify if Emotional Sobriety Applies to You

If you’re not sure whether or not emotional sobriety applies to you, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do I have a problem with my emotions?
  2. Am I aware of my emotions?
  3. Am I able to express them appropriately?
  4. Do I feel comfortable talking about my feelings with others?
  5. Do people close to me know when I’m upset? Or do they only know when something is wrong because it’s too late?
  6. Do I react impulsively rather than thoughtfully when someone upsets me?
  7. Can I keep my emotions from affecting my judgment and decision-making abilities?

Emotional sobriety is admitting that you have a problem with alcohol or other drugs when it comes to addiction. If you’re not sure whether this applies to you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I drink or use it more often than I intended?
  • Do I use alcohol or drugs even though it causes problems in my relationships?
  • Do I want to stop using but can’t seem to get past my cravings?
  • Have I lost friends or family members because of how my drinking has affected them?
  • Am I lying to people about how much alcohol I’ve been consuming?
  • Am I using drugs to cover up the emotional pain caused by my addiction?

If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then emotional sobriety may be for you.

How Do You Practice Emotional Sobriety?

The first step in emotional sobriety is learning to see yourself as you are. This means facing the truth about your life, including the parts that are working and those that aren’t. It means admitting your flaws, accepting them, and taking responsibility.

The second step is learning how to live in the present moment. This may sound simple, but it’s challenging for people using drugs or alcohol to cope with their lives. When you’re high or drunk, you’re out of touch with reality; you’re detached from your feelings and unable to deal with whatever situation you’re in. So when people begin practicing emotional sobriety, they often feel uncomfortable being present in their lives.

The third step is learning how to accept yourself as you are without judgment or criticism. All human beings make mistakes — part of being human — so there’s no reason to beat yourself up over every little thing that goes wrong in your life. If we learn to accept ourselves just as we are, we can stop judging ourselves so harshly and begin making positive changes in our lives instead of staying stuck in a rut of negativity and self-loathing.

5 Signs You’re Developing Emotional Sobriety

Emotional sobriety looks different for everyone depending on their unique experiences and personal needs. It requires us to accept responsibility for our feelings and actions, separates ourselves from the past, and continue to grow emotionally. Here are eight signs that you might be developing emotional sobriety in recovery:

  • You can identify your emotions and the physical sensations you feel in your body when you experience a trigger event.
  • You can connect your feelings to an event that occurred in the past.
  • You can name any negative beliefs you may have about yourself or others and how they are connected to your behaviors.
  • You can identify when you are feeling triggered and how it affects your behavior.
  • When something triggers you, you don’t act out on it immediately. Instead, try to put some distance between yourself and the situation to calm down first before reacting in any way that would harm yourself or others around you.
  • Your relationships with others have improved because of less drama and intensity due to less reactivity from both parties involved (i.e., fewer drama queens!).
  • You are no longer self-medicating with drugs or alcohol when something triggers an emotional response from within yourself (because now you know how to cope with these emotions without having to numb out).

Emotional Sobriety vs. Codependency

The similarities between emotional sobriety and codependency are striking. Both terms refer to a person’s ability to maintain their mental health and well-being in the face of stress, trauma, or abuse. They suggest that there is a way to live a life that is more productive and less destructive than what is currently being practiced by most people in our culture.

The most significant difference between the two is that codependency is one person’s addiction over another. A relationship addiction often leads to codependent relationships with parents, siblings, friends, and romantic partners. On the other hand, emotional sobriety refers to individuals’ ability to maintain their mental health even when they have no relationship with anyone else.

Codependents generally have difficulty maintaining their self-esteem because they rely on others for their sense of self-worth instead of relying on themselves. They need others to feel good about themselves because they don’t believe they can do anything independently without help from someone else. Emotional sobriety means learning how to be happy regardless of whether you have another person in your life or not at any given time.

Final Words

Emotional sobriety means you can handle negative emotions, keep your character defects in check, and save yourself from obsessing over your problems. They can be toxic if left unchecked. If a person is still trying to work on their emotional sobriety and needs help, they should seek professional help.


  • Herbert, W. (2012, March 1). The nuts and bolts of emotional sobriety. Scientific American. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from

Hi, I am Happy. I'm a professional writer and psychology enthusiast. I love to read and write about human behaviors, the mind, mental health-related topics, and more.