Emotional Reactivity

Emotional Reactivity

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Written by: Patrick Randolph, Ph.D.
Date updated: 6/10/2019


Emotional reactivity is a part of our selves that may become easily upset and then may have trouble recovering quickly. It plays a significant role in the onset and treatment of substance abuse disorders. Here’s how emotional reactivity is related to substance abuse:

Individuals high in emotional reactivity are more prone to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, and stress. They may turn to substances like alcohol or drugs as a way to cope with or escape from these overwhelming emotions. This can lead to the initial use and development of substance abuse disorders.

Emotional reactivity is associated with impulsivity, which can lead to impulsive decisions, including trying substances without considering the potential consequences.

People with higher levels of emotional reactivity tend to be more sensitive to stressors and may use substances to self-medicate and temporarily alleviate the emotional discomfort caused by stress.

Genetic predispositions can contribute to both emotional reactivity and susceptibility to substance abuse, making individuals with higher neuroticism potentially more vulnerable to substance abuse.

Emotional reactivity may be associated with poorer treatment outcomes, having more difficulty regulating emotions during treatment, which can hinder progress.

Emotional reactivity often goes along with other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Treating substance abuse in individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders can be more challenging.

Effective substance abuse treatment often involves addressing the emotional triggers that contribute to substance use. People high in emotional reactivity may need specialized treatment that focuses on emotional regulation, delaying gratification and developing coping skills.

Individuals with high emotional reactivity might be at greater risk of relapse if they are unable to manage their emotional responses effectively, as emotions can trigger substance cravings and use.

It’s important to note that while emotional reactivity can be a risk factor for substance abuse, it is not certain that it will cause substance use disorders as many other factors, such as genetics, environment, and social support, also play critical roles. Effective treatment should be tailored to the individual’s unique needs and should consider their emotional reactivity as part of the overall treatment plan.

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