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The Role of Emotion-Focused Therapy in Addiction Recovery

Emotion Focused Therapy

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic, relapsing brain disorder. It is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences. An individual that struggles with addiction will prioritize satisfying his or her drug cravings above all else, which can cause an array of unwanted (e.g., physiological, social, emotional, financial, occupational, etc.) outcomes. Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) plays a significant role in addiction recovery by addressing the emotional issues and underlying traumas that often contribute to addictive behaviors. The premise of EFT is that emotions play a substantial role in the human experience and impact essential relationships. 

Emotion-focused therapy is an empirically based humanistic approach that draws from principles of cognitive behavioral, person-centered, and Gestalt therapies. It is designed to help people better accept, regulate, understand, and express their emotions. According to the Encyclopedia of Mental Health, the goal of EFT is to “help clients enhance their emotional processing which, in addition to resolving pain and suffering, promotes a type of emotional competence as it allows individuals to live more vitally, guided by their adaptive emotions, and in turn assists in developing more secure relationships.” EFT approaches healing from the belief that a person’s emotions are strongly linked to his or her identity and self-concept. In other words, emotions play a significant role in personal preferences, decision-making, and thought processes. As WebMD explains, EFT assumes that:

  • Lack of emotional awareness is harmful.
  • Avoiding one’s emotions can lead to negative outcomes in one’s life.
  • Over time, ignoring or avoiding one’s emotional response may alter one’s ability to later process emotions.

Many people who struggle with addiction began abusing drugs or alcohol to suppress or cope with unwanted emotions (e.g., grief and loss, anxiety, depression, trauma, etc.). EFT aims to bring awareness to these emotions, develop healthy coping strategies to manage those emotions, and improve social, familial, and intimate relationships. Additionally, the need to rely on drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism can be eliminated though gaining control over one’s emotions and learning to effectively regulate them in a healthy way. In addiction recovery, EFT can be a powerful tool when integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan, as it empowers individuals to build emotional resilience, reduce vulnerabilities, and establish a strong foundation for lasting sobriety.

For Information and Support 

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous and can result in severe short and long-term consequences. If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone, and we are here to help. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. We are available anytime via telephone at: 213-389-9964, or you can always email us at:

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