What is Emotional Pain Addiction?

Emotional Pain Can Be Just as Disruptive and Harmful as Physical Pain

Emotional pain can become an addiction to some people. Overwhelmed with feelings like sadness, depression, guilt, shame or fear, these emotions become so common and constant that you may feel like it's a part of you and you can't imagine life without it. 

When you are continually exposed to emotional pain, there are changes in the brain that produces a dependency on those feelings. And while this emotional pain can be significant and debilitating, when it continues on for a prolonged period of time, it also can end up affecting your physical health as well. In some instances, emotional pain can cause physical pain. 

While emotional pain is often dismissed as being less serious than physical pain, it is important that continual emotional pain be taken seriously. In some cases, you may need to see a physician before emotional pain has lasting consequences. 

Here are four common feelings associated with emotional pain that can impact your health:


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Sadness involves bottled-up feelings of grief or disappointment. Choking back those tears takes a lot of energy, leaving you feeling drained, burdened and and even achy or sore. It is common to feel drained or weak, or like your limbs are made of lead.

Sadness should not be confused with depression, which can be successfully treated with properly prescribed medications.

If sadness lasts for more than just a few days and impacts your daily life, it may be necessary to seek out medical intervention. You should consult with your doctor and be completely honest about any alcohol or drugs you have been using to cope and self-medicare.

If you're suffering from depression, becoming abstinent may help improve it, as depression is sometimes caused by alcohol or drug use. Talk to your doctor about whether this is a possibility before taking anti-depressants. 

Unexpressed Anger

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Anger releases adrenaline, which increases muscle tension and speeds up breathing. This is the ‘fight’ part of the “fight/flight/freeze” response. Without being expressed, the anger causes long-term tension, and if not released, can end up exploding in a rage or outburst. 


Woman looking anxious in front of computer
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As with anger, anxiety, worry or fear releases adrenaline. This generally results in jumpiness, a tendency to startle easily, the inability to relax (the "flight" part of the "flight/flight/freeze" response, or a feeling of being immobilized or stuck (the “freeze” part of the “fight/flight/freeze” response).

In some people, anxiety is a symptom of an anxiety disorder, and prescription medication can help. However, some anti-anxiety medication is addictive, so medication is usually prescribed along with cognitive behavioral therapy. Therapy can help teach coping strategies to better manage anxiety symptoms. 

Anxiety can be induced by alcohol or drugs, and quitting alcohol and drugs can resolve the symptoms. Tell your doctor about any alcohol or drug use to ensure you are properly diagnosed and treated.

Shame / Guilt

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Shame and guilt often result in a feeling of “butterflies” or weight in the stomach. Common among people with addictions and chronic pain, shame is worsened by the need for secrecy and the inability to do things for yourself.

If not reduced, shame and guilt can cause nausea and other stomach disorders. 



Caudill, M. Managing Pain Before it Manages You. Third Edition. New York: Guildford. 2009.

Sadler, J. Pain Relief Without Drugs: A Self-Help Guide for Chronic Pain and Trauma. Third Edition. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press. 2007.


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