• Scott McClure

Emotional Distress Tolerance: How It Helps Keep Us Sober

A study published by the US National Library of Medicine elaborates on how two factors, namely; a lack of emotional distress tolerance and experiential avoidance can be closely linked to cravings. To make things simple, experiential avoidance is the desire to alter one’s experience changing it to something other than what it currently may be.

Emotional distress tolerance can be described as ones capacity to cope with and navigate feelings and psychological states which may be more on the negative end of the spectrum. We’re going to be focusing on this attribute that we all share and how it helps with sobriety over the course of this blog.

Emotional Distress Tolerance: A Gift We Must Hone

We are all blessed with a degree of emotional distress tolerance that we may build on or lose as we get older and as our lives progress. As with any other skill or talent, we can work to increase the amount of emotional distress tolerance we possess.

Before we get to how to improve EDT (emotional distress tolerance) we’re going to examine how a lack of the same relates to addiction and addictive behavior.

The Link Between Low EDT and Addiction

Emotions we associate with the negative include sadness, guilt, anxiety, anger, stress/worry and so on. At the same time, it is unrealistic to imagine that anyone can exist without experiencing one or more of these feelings at varying intensities at some point or the other.

It isn’t the feelings that are the problem, rather the ability to deal with them or lack of. Someone with higher EDT might know how to continue functioning and progressing despite the weight of whatever negative emotions or states are being experienced.

Someone with low EDT on the other hand may attempt to alter the way they might be feeling as opposed to staying with whatever is being felt. This compulsion to distract one’s self from the distress being experienced or felt is what may lead to behaviors which often include substance misuse.    

EDT Post Rehabilitation

When you go through a rehabilitation program, one of the things it may help you develop is your EDT. That said, it’s not like EDT is something you can suddenly develop over a forty to ninety day period! It’s something you need to keep at even after you’re done with your primary detoxification.

Here are some things that may help you develop your EDT.


Meditation unlike what many believe does not always make you feel good. Certain types of meditation actually trigger and bring up a lot of stuff and can leave you feeling quite awful. That said, there are many who insist that it was through meditating, connecting with difficult emotions and staying with them, they were able to increase the EDT they possessed.

This translated to ease navigating day to day life and the ability to experience less pleasant emotions without craving to use their previous substance of choice.


Therapy is also a great way to build emotional distress tolerance. Not only must you sit with your feelings in the presence of your therapist for about fifty minutes, you also need to stay with what comes up when you’re done.

Luckily therapists provide emotional support as well as guidance and techniques to help you build on your EDT.


Sometimes we don’t need drugs to run from what we’re feeling. We may simply distract ourselves with other people. We’ll worry about our kids, ask our siblings about their lives or engross ourselves in some social work. Again – anything to get away.

If this is the case, taking some time off to focus on yourself is a good idea. You can take a month to live at a sober living home or just go to a place where you will have the time and space to stay with whatever comes up and nothing distract you in an unhealthy way.

Sometimes, a period of solitude or reduced contact with people can do wonders when it comes to EDT.

Winding Down

Working on improving your emotional distress tolerance makes a real difference when it comes to your ability to stay sober. The higher your EDT, the lower your tendency or compulsion to abuse substances.  

If you’re looking for a sober living home or facility and are located in Houston, TX or someplace nearby, give us a shout and we’ll help move things forward! In any case, good luck!    




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