Addiction is a Feelings Disease

Addiction is called a feelings disease because it's a disorder that is ruled by emotions. Recovery means you must learn how to manage your feelings.

Addiction, as the saying goes, is a feelings disease. Whenever I used to find myself feeling a certain way, say depressed, angry, upset, etc., I would find a way to use some kind of chemical to alter my emotion. In the end, it didn’t matter how uncomfortable I felt. I knew that all I had to do was to get high, and voila, that would do the trick. Addiction, a feelings disease, begins in part by being uncomfortable with what you're feeling.

Emotions Ruled My Feelings Disease and Addiction Ruled My Emotions

There were times in my active addiction when I acted out to deal with my feelings. Whenever I couldn’t get my way I would get upset and bitch and yell, either until I got my way or became exasperated. Then I'd go isolate. Either way, it wasn’t a pretty picture.

When I was using I would also stuff my feelings and brood when I was angry. Unable to express how I felt, I decided that I would just not talk. “Yeah, that’ll show them,” or so I thought. In the end, I only hurt myself.

Learning to Manage Emotions in Recovery From a Feelings Disease

As I entered early recovery, I found that managing how I felt was not an easy task. There were times when I felt depressed and discouraged. I had no clue as to what to do. It was during this time that I was in outpatient treatment and I was, fortunately, able to have a venue to work through my emotions. I also was able to participate in 12-Step recovery which also taught me how to process my feelings.

For me, it all begins with identifying how I feel. In any given day, I can go through any number of feelings in a 24 hour period. What is important is that I not allow my feelings to adversely affect my behavior. This can be especially difficult but it can be the key to working a successful recovery program. When I am able to manage my emotions I am less likely to resort to using drugs or alcohol to deal with my problems.

Learning to work through one’s emotions can be challenging for someone who is dealing with addiction or not. The difference is that when I am clean and sober, I am more capable of processing my feelings. And that’s the beautiful thing. When I am able to face life on life’s terms and not let my feelings get the best of me, then I can experience life as it was meant to be.

How do you deal with your feelings?

APA Reference
Shallowhorn, K. (2012, June 25). Addiction is a Feelings Disease, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 22 from

Author: Karl Shallowhorn, MS, CASAC

June, 30 2012 at 1:40 am

Great article Karl!

February, 2 2013 at 3:20 am

I am a recovering alcoholic. I originally thought when I entered AA and the 12 step program all I had to do was quit drinking and I would be fine all fixed up and ready to take the world on sober. I soon realized that quitting drinking was the easy part. What about all the emotions, feelings, character defects that I had? They are all still there but the key is I have a clear mind and a spiritual base from which to deal with these emotions and feelings on a daily basis and my life is so much more fulfilling and manageable and for that I am so very grateful.

June, 10 2014 at 9:45 am

Pain. When overwhelmed by emotions, pain do the trick: somking too much til my lungs burn, getting drunk too much tip hungover is deadly. I had a phase where I would pierce my ears, nose, eyebrows, tongue... until I had no more suitable places to pierce... I've get over it now, but from time to time, selfdestruction still tries to seduce me...

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