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The Potential Damage of Bottled-Up Emotions

The Potential Damage of Bottled-Up Emotions

Bottling up one’s emotions can seem like a temporary fix to emotional trauma

Although an often overlooked cause of addiction, emotional trauma lies at the heart of many types of various addictions. This recognition is not new and since the 1970s, treatment professionals have understood the role emotions play in the development of substance abuse disorders and relapse. Numerous studies have found that a history of childhood neglect, sexual, physical, or emotional abuse is a common factor in those suffering from addiction. [1]

Due to the intensity of these bottled-up emotions and many individuals’ inability to properly heal from a possible past trauma, it’s common to look towards self-medicating, such as drug use and abuse.  A Commonly sought narcotic is opioids, which are pain relieving medications made from opium, derived from the poppy plant. The high produced by opioids can be extremely intoxicating and gives users a brief moment of numbness, where they can escape their emotions. However, this high is often short lived and as one’s addiction progresses so does the dangerous side effects of it. [2]

Physical and Mental Impacts

Trauma can stem from a number of root causes, including abuse or neglect, sudden life changes, near death experiences, car accident, or the death of a loved one, whether experienced firsthand or witnessed.  Emotional difficulties can also occur from growing up in a home where drug use and abuse occurred or any other environment where children were taught to bury or hide their feelings and emotions. Individuals who grew up with these experiences will typically feel intense moments of fear or helplessness, which can lead to serious and long-term struggles with depression, anxiety, and even addictive or impulsive behaviors. Included in the following are some examples on some of the physical and mental impacts one can expect when bottling-up emotions:

  • Relationship struggles
  • Health issues
  • Development of a mental illness
  • Addiction
  • Financial instability
  • Isolation

Whether individuals have experienced a trauma or have difficulties expressing themselves, keeping all their emotions bottled-up can cause devastating effects. These effects can differ from individual to individual and ultimately can cause one’s quality of life to decline drastically. If the individual is not ready or is unsure of how to seek treatment for her emotional state, she will often look to forms of self-medicating to help her cope or even alleviate her symptoms even if it’s for a brief moment. For many, this means experimenting with drug use, which ultimately leaves them addicted to at least one substance.

Whatever drug the addict chooses, what began as one problem, the unresolved trauma or inability to effectively communicate, has now turned into an additional complication by adding the second serious problem of substance abuse. That is until, of course, the coping mechanism itself becomes so disruptive that the addict must seek treatment.

Often times, addicts are not aware that they used drugs to help them cope with their symptoms of trauma and may have little to no recollection of the experience until they get older and begin to notice problematic patterns in their life that they can’t seem to resolve. Those who specifically enter a drug rehab program only may get stuck in an endless cycle of chronic relapse or develop additional addictions since the underlying problem behind their addiction remains unaddressed.

To prevent any additional harm and to help guard against relapse, it is up to the treatment professionals to recognize the trauma and lack of effective communication, routinely screen for symptoms, and help deliver effective treatment for the possibly co-occurring disorders. While in treatment, recovering addicts can learn skills to help them effectively communicate their needs and feelings to others. Breaking down the barrier of effective communication can help the addict set healthy boundaries and truly enforce a new life style of recovery. Because recovery is a lifelong process, learning new communication skills can greatly improve one’s recovery efforts in the long run.

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[1] Sack, D. (2012). Emotional Trauma: An Often Overlooked Root of Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 4, 2016, from

[2], Painkillers, Narcotic Abuse, and Addiction, Jennifer Robinson, M.D., 03/04/2016, 04/26/2015.