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The Connection Between Fear of Emotions and Addiction: Understanding the Link

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Emotions are inherent part of human experience, shaping our perceptions, decisions and overall well-being. However, for some individuals, emotions can be sources of distress and discomfort, leading to fear of experiencing and expressing them.This fear of emotions can have far-reaching consequences, with one of the most prominent being addiction.

Understanding Fear of Emotions

Fear of emotions can be defined as an aversion or avoidance of experiencing and expressing emotions. It is often characterised by difficulty in recognising, understanding and managing one’s own emotions, as well as discomfort in witnessing and responding to the emotions of others. Various factors contribute to the development of this fear, including traumatic experiences, childhood upbringing, societal influences, and individual temperament. People with fear of emotions may resort to emotional suppression or numbing as a way to cope, further exacerbating their difficulties in emotional regulation.

The Cycle of Addiction and Fear of Emotions

The fear of emotions and addiction often become intertwined in a cyclical pattern. Individuals with a fear of emotions may seek ways to escape the discomfort and distress associated with emotional experiences. Substance abuse and addictive behaviours can serve as a temporary relief from these intense feelings, providing numbing effect. This self-medication strategy, aimed at avoiding emotional pain can lead to a dangerous cycle of addiction. Furthermore, individuals struggling with a fear of emotions are more susceptible to developing co-occuring mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, which further fuel the addiction cycle.

Neural Mechanisms and Fear of Emotions

Neurogically, the fear of emotions and addiction involve overlapping brain regions and neurotransmitter system. The amygdala, a key structure involved in emotion processing and fear responses, plays a significant role in both phenomena. Individuals with fear of emotions may have an overactive amygdala, leading to heightened emotional reactivity and difficulty in regulating emotions. Additionally, alterations in neurotransmitter systems, such as dopamine and serotonin, can contribute to emotional dysregulation and reinforce addictive behaviours.

Treatment Approaches

Addressing the fear of emotions is essential in preventing and treating addiction. Several evidence-based treatment approaches can be effective in helping individuals overcome their fear and develop healthier coping strategies:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on identifying and challenging maladaptive thought patterns and behaviours associated with fear of emotions. It helps individuals develop healthier coping skills, enhance emotional regulation, and reduce reliance on addictive substances or behaviours.

  • Mindfulness-Based Interventions: Mindfulness practices cultivate present moment awareness and non-judgmental acceptance of emotions. By learning to observe and regulate their emotions without judgment or avoidance, individuals can develop healthier responses and reduce the need for addictive substances and behaviours.

  • Holistic Approaches: Complementary techniques like yoga, meditation and physical activity can contribute to emotional well being and stress reduction. These practices promote self-awareness, emotional resilience and overall physical and mental well-being.

Fear of Emotions and Addiction. Iremia Counselling


Garland, E. L., & Howard, M. O. (2018). Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of research. Addiction science & clinical practice, 13(1), 14.

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