Why Anger Must Be Addressed in Addiction Treatment

Everybody gets angry sometimes. Life brings many frustrations but most people are able to deal with them in an appropriate fashion. Humans have long known that anger is a significant problem, it is considered one of the seven deadly sins by Christians after all and one of the “unwholesome roots” by Buddhists.

For people with addictions, anger is especially nefarious. Persistent frustration is often one of the reasons an individual develops a substance use disorder. Like anger that cannot be managed appropriately, addiction involves a loss of control over certain behaviors.

Anger and addiction tend to reinforce each other. Angry people are more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs for relief of their frustrations. Once the substance misuse escalates and addiction develops, the anger and frustration intensify. Both episodes of rage and substance abuse are frequently followed by feelings of shame.

Self-loathing—anger directed at oneself—is common among people in active addiction as the negative consequences of the compulsive substance use pile up. The addict is caught in a downward spiral of persistent anger and substance use which only treatment can change.

Anger management is part of the addiction treatment at Decision Point Center. In therapy groups, patients learn to recognize the warning signs of oncoming anger and use calming techniques to deal with those situations in a positive manner.

This is important because recovery itself is also full of moments of intense frustration. The first few months of sobriety can be an emotional rollercoaster with extreme highs and lows. After years of suppressing such feelings with chemicals, the patient may feel content one minute but then suddenly have a fit of rage over the slightest provocation.

Such outbursts or internalized anger can jeopardize the entire recovery and lead to a relapse. In a moment of uncontrollable ire, patients may feel they no longer care about their recovery and go back to using drugs and alcohol, or that they want to lash out and punish other people. To counteract this relapse trigger, people in recovery need to develop reliable coping strategies.

At Decision Point, patients learn to identify and manage anger triggers. Among other things they are taught how to keep anger logs and journals, and they role play anger management skills in various scenarios. They also practice relaxation techniques featuring guided imagery and deep breathing exercises. Physical exercise is another excellent way to release pent up frustrations.

Recovery is hard enough. It need not fall victim to anger.