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Roger Watts, Ph.D.Roger P. Watts, Ph.D.
A blog about alcohol and other drug addictions and how to obtain lifelong recovery.

Emotional Pain Management in Recovery From Addiction

Roger P. Watts, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 7th 2013

One of the things that is interesting about healing from addiction to alcohol or other drugs is that a person has the ability to pick the type and level of emotional pain they want to go through when in recovery.

woman in painThe alcoholic or drug addict lifestyle is marked by pain. It is long-term emotional pain that is carried over from the tendency to avoid dealing with the people, places, things, and situations that ordinarily occur in life. In effect, the active alcoholic or addict makes a deliberate attempt to get around problems, get over on situations, or otherwise avoid dealing with the short term pains of life. They refuse to deal with a troubled relationship. They find ways to get around the law. They lie, cheat and steal their way through life. They rely on instant gratification of their needs by accepting short-term gains. And they postpone the inevitable pain that stems from this behavior. That long-term pain comes in the form of guilt, shame, embarrassment, lack of productivity, poor relationships, and other negative consequences that dog a person for a long time.

Rule of thumb: Short-term gain leads to long-term pain.

In recovery, people flip the script of the active alcoholic or drug addict lifestyle. Instead of going for short term payoffs, they will often deliberately set themselves on a course to actually experience and work through the tougher things of life. They do not avoid the pain that comes from confronting another person over how that person may be hurting them, or the regret for avoiding the wedding where they know there will be an open bar, or the discomfort of having to go to a 12-Step meeting instead of bowling with the team that night. Recovering people welcome the short-term pain of life's normal course and learn how to cope and endure the discomfort that often comes from having to make the hard choices. They reap the harvest of delaying gratification, putting up with annoyances, and doing the hard work of recovery. For this, these people enjoy the benefits of long-term gain. They feel capable, productive, confident, and often very serene. They remain clean and sober. They stay in recovery.

Rule of thumb: Short-term pain leads to long-term gain.

That's how it is that recovering people can pick the level of pain they want to endure. They are able to choose between the long-term pain of ever-present sadness, guilt, shame, loss of self-esteem, and problem relationships. Or, they can go through the short-term pain of being exasperated, disturbed, discomforted, annoyed, frustrated or pained. They can choose to feel the short-term blast of pleasure and feelings of temporary gain by avoiding. Or, they can select the long-term gains of serenity, joy, happiness and sobriety that are caused by being engaged.

Sometimes it is not easy to make this choice. "Getting over" behaviors are ingrained in many alcoholics and drug addicts who are in recovery. These inappropriate and sometimes illegal behaviors are meant to take advantage of other people and situations. This is sometimes driven by childhood insecurities or powerlessness, or learned from other people. Sometimes, this behavior is as automatic as the addiction was.

To correct his thinking it is necessary to first learn how to be self-observant, or what is called mindful, of attitudes and behaviors that might be causing the need to take the quick fix, short term gain approach. New behaviors and skills need to be built on a new self-concept that is tied to new personal goals. In that way, a person can learn that they do not need to get over in order to get ahead.

The short-term gain leads to long-term pain, and short-term pain leads to long-term gain formula for healthy thinking leads to sustained recovery from addictions of all kinds.


Roger P. Watts, Ph.D.

Dr. Roger P. Watts, Ph.D., a psychologist and licensed alcohol and drug counselor, operates and currently provides substance abuse counseling to dozens of alcoholics and addicts. He has 23 years experience delivering health care to hundreds of patients through individual, group, and online counseling services. He has been in recovery himself for 24 years. He lives and works in Saint Paul MN, and can be reached at

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