Why Emotional Intelligence Is Crucial for Addiction Recovery

Why Emotional Intelligence Is Crucial for Addiction Recovery

There’s a lot more to addiction recovery than just abstinence. In fact, people who try to stop using drugs and alcohol through sheer willpower are often miserable and don’t stay sober for very long. A really solid recovery is based on changing the way you think, living a healthier lifestyle, and building a strong social support network. Improving your emotional intelligence is the foundation of all of these. The following are the main characteristics of social intelligence, why they matter for recovery, and how to develop them.


Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness. The better you understand yourself, the stronger your foundation for the other aspects of emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, self-awareness is probably the hardest aspect of emotional intelligence to master. The reason is that we only know ourselves indirectly, based on our interactions with the world. We have unique access to our own thoughts and emotions but our inner lives bear little resemblance to how others perceive us. We have blind spots and biases that warp how we see ourselves. Real self-awareness is challenging and requires deliberate effort.

Self-awareness is crucial for addiction recovery because substance use is almost always about what’s going on inside your own head. We all have emotions we don’t like and sometimes behave in ways we don’t understand. To gain control of these emotions and behaviors, you first have to be aware of them.

Much of the process of addiction treatment and recovery is about building self-awareness. Individual and group therapy are probably the most valuable tools for building self-awareness, at least initially. Your therapist and group can ask questions and give you feedback that helps you see your own problems and patterns more clearly. As you progress beyond treatment, you can learn to analyze your own behavior better and seek feedback from people you trust.


As you become more aware of what’s going on inside your own head, the next step is to do something constructive with it. Self-regulation is the ability to manage your emotions and behavior. Self-regulation keeps you from lashing out when you get angry or pouring a drink when you’ve had an exceptionally bad day. It can help you tolerate and possibly resolve challenging emotions so they don’t make you so miserable. The more you are able to regulate your own emotions and behaviors, the less likely you are to hurt yourself or others and the happier you are likelier to be in general.

This is why treatment also emphasizes self-regulation. A major focus of therapy, especially cognitive therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, and dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, is to teach you ways to strategies to manage your emotions and behavior. These often have to do with identifying and correcting distorted thinking, such as catastrophizing or overgeneralizing. They may involve strategies to tolerate strong emotions so you don’t act impulsively. Lifestyle changes are also important for self-regulation. For example, regular exercise and adequate sleep are among the most effective ways to improve focus and emotional regulation.


Motivation is the next facet of emotional intelligence. Motivation is simply the ability to do things you may not feel like doing. It’s the ability to defer immediate gratification so you can achieve long-term goals that align with your values. It’s the ability to keep working on something important after your initial excitement wanes. 

This skill is one of the most important for recovery because recovering from addiction is an ongoing process. There are many times when you feel like it’s not worth the effort and you would rather just enjoy the immediate comforts of drugs and alcohol. Staying sober requires being able to motivate yourself to persevere through those tough times.

Motivation is complex. It’s partly about keeping an eye on something more important to you than immediate comfort. Perhaps you want a better relationship with your family or a more fulfilling career and those long-term goals keep you from drinking. It’s also about remembering how bad things can get. After several months of sobriety, there’s often a danger of remembering the good times of active addiction while forgetting the terrible times. However, motivation isn’t entirely internal. Who you spend your time with matters. Supportive people–family, friends, follow 12-step members–can help you keep going when your motivation is low.


Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s place and having some understanding of their wants and needs, even if they’re very different from your own. Empathy is useful in recovery for many reasons. It helps you let go of resentments and help you be more patient with others as you rebuild your relationships. It helps you connect with others and find meaning outside of your own needs and desires. 

Building empathy is not that hard, assuming you can temporarily set aside your own point of view. There are many opportunities in treatment and recovery to build empathy, including family therapy, group therapy, and 12-Step meetings. The most important thing is to listen to others and try to see things from their perspective. 

Social skills

Social skills include skills like communication skills, the ability to motivate others, the ability to persuade others, and the ability to compromise and resolve conflict. Social skills allow you to nurture healthy relationships and minimize stress from interpersonal conflict. 

You can build social skills in recovery by participating in group therapy and 12-step meetings. Social skills and empathy are closely linked and it’s especially important to listen and understand other people’s positions. Improving your social skills is largely a matter of practice. You just have to engage, make mistakes, and make adjustments.

At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or Info@PatrickHartConsultants.com or explore our website for more information.

AUTHOR: Patrick Hart Consultants