Anger can be a double-edged sword. This emotion may precipitate your drug or alcohol use—you may abuse these substances as a way to temper the effects of this emotion and other stressful situations (self-medicating)—or this emotion may arise from the drug use itself. As the substance abuse wreaks havoc on your life, you may become angry at yourself and feel responsible for the damage it’s incurring.
Unfortunately for some, this anger doesn’t always go away when a person stops using. Some people may have struggled with this emotion for a large part of their life, whereas for others the emotion may revolve around the lingering effects of the substance abuse—even though they are in recovery, many people still contend with the after-effects and emotional impact of the substance abuse.
For many this is because it is the first time in a long time that they are dealing with their life without the influence of drugs or alcohol, so they’re seeing and feeling things more acutely.
Anger Can Be Harmful For Your Health And Recovery
This is not a harmless emotion, just as it may have driven a person to drink in the first place, it can push a person to the point that it could jeopardize their recovery. In worse case scenarios—as anger can significantly impair judgement—this, at times, debilitating emotion can lead to relapse.
In addition to these risks, anger stresses and damages your body. The American Psychological Association (APA) states “that anger can increase people’s — especially men’s — chances of developing coronary heart disease and having worse outcomes if they already have heart disease. Anger can also lead to stress-related problems, such as insomnia, digestive problems, and headaches.” This is especially worrisome, when you consider the fact that drug use or alcohol can cause all of these issues as well.
Before long the substance abuse is damaging an individual’s life and that of those around them. As they contend with these issues they begin to experience an onslaught of other emotions—shame, blame, despair, fear, or self-loathing—many of which can lead to or further aggravate anger.
A person may be angry that they can’t control their life or addiction, angry that they’re hurting those they love, or they might even be angry at the people they love for not understanding them or hurting them in some other manner. As these situations worsen and as a person avoids dealing with them in a proactive and healthy manner, both anger and the drugs or alcohol used as coping mechanisms take hold.
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The Dangers Of Self-Medicating
Sometimes this happens slowly—a person may not even realize that this is what they’re doing in the beginning. After a stressful or upsetting day or after a confrontation that has unsettled them, a person may pour themselves a drink to relax or unwind. Eventually, for some people, this becomes a habit. They begin to find themselves turning to drugs or alcohol to mute their emotions most every time they arise. They begin to lose the ability to cope with stressful situations on their own. This is a slippery slope and a vicious cycle.
Even after a person achieves sobriety there are certain moments when familiar triggers arise that might make them consider taking the edge off by using drugs or alcohol. For this reason, to avoid the risk of relapse, you must learn how to deal with your anger and navigate around these situations so that you can maintain control over your recovery.
The Anger Might Be Indicative Of Something More
In the case of someone who struggles with a substance abuse disorder and anger, they must realize that in order to have the best outcome—whether it be as they’re striving towards sobriety, or while maintaining their recovery—they must treat any other condition that exists along with their substance abuse.
While anger itself is a co-occurring condition, for some people these inappropriate displays of anger may signal the presence of a deeper issue. Certain mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety, may exacerbate conditions, pushing someone to anger. Others, such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and intermittent explosive disorder are characterized by angry outbursts.
People who struggle with these conditions may at times have little to no control over their emotions. They are also far more susceptible to feeling anger and other emotions in a way that is more intense than your average person. Thusly, the treatment to resolve these issues might also be far more intense.
For these individuals, the ways that other people may treat their anger might not work—or work only temporarily. Working with someone trained in behavioral healthcare can help individuals contend with their mental health concerns while providing them with the skills to approach their recovery with a more sound mind. If you have any mental or emotional health concerns it is important that you make your provider aware of this, so that they can adapt your care to best serve your unique needs.
For these and any other co-occurring disorders, you must be mindful of treating the root of the anger problem, in addition to addressing the anger itself. It is only then, when the proper care and attention are given to all these circumstances, including the substance abuse, that you set the foundation for a strong and lasting recovery.
How To Manage Anger Issues in Recovery
Anger can be a very overwhelming emotion—one, that at times may seem to come out of nowhere, and when you’re overtaken by this emotion it can be very hard to think clearly and rationalize what it is that is happening, or how exactly, you go there. However, just as anger itself may be a trigger for substance abuse, anger has situations that may trigger or precipitate it. This may include people, places, or circumstances. For these reasons you need to be proactive and take steps to combat and control this damaging emotion before it pushes you to relapse.
It can be very helpful to keep a journal. If you begin logging these flare-ups you might start to see patterns. From this, you may be able to ascertain that there are certain stressors that are causing your outbursts. In this way, you will be giving yourself a better perspective on your behavior and allowing yourself a tool by which to better manage it.
Once you begin noticing the things that are setting you off, you can strive to stay away from the people, conversations, or situations that may incite this reaction in you. Keeping this log may also help you realize another thing—that even though there may be these triggers in your life—it may be in greater part how you perceive or internalize these things that brings about your anger. It may be your emotional response or your cognitive thought patterns that are causing the greater burden.
Again, by realizing this, you are allowing yourself a means by which to intercede, change, and take steps towards emotional freedom. Within this journal it can also be helpful to note the practices or mindsets that you use to moderate the situation. This will allow you to see which are more effective and which may have little, or no lasting effect.
For those who suffer from this issue, but in a more moderate sense, there are several steps you can take when your emotions overcome you and you feel the urge to be angry. The more you practice these things, the greater control you will learn to have over your emotions.
- A Repetitive Focus: Counting is a classic approach that works well for many people. You don’t have to stop at ten—take as long as you need by counting as high as you have to until you start thinking more clearly about the situation. Other people may instead choose to repeat a positive or relaxing word or phrase until they calm down, examples are “slow down” or “be calm”.
- Relax: There are certain methods or practices that can help release tension and relax you by curbing both the physical and emotional characteristics of anger. These include: breathing exercises, positive imagery (picturing a peaceful scene or positive memory), stretching, yoga, taking a warm bath or shower, birdwatching, gardening, or listening to relaxing music.
- Distract Yourself: Try to turn your thoughts away from the situation that inflames you. For some this may be as simple as thinking of something else, whereas others, in more severe situations might need a more concrete distraction, such as exercise, playing a sport or game, or reading a favorite book.
- Replace It With A Different Emotion Or Experience: There are certain things that clash with anger, things that may actually give rise to another emotion that can replace either fully, or in part, the anger. Do something that makes you feel good: hugging your partner or a friend, telling a joke or taking time out to interact with your family pet. As awkward and fake as it might seem to do these things when you’re struggling to suppress your anger, they have the potential to help you diffuse things before they get too bad.
These practices may help someone with more severe anger as well, in fact, many of them may be something a therapist encourages you to integrate into your life. It can be beneficial for those that suffer from more severe forms of anger to go beyond these self-help practices and seek the assistance of someone trained in behavioral health.
Seeking Help Through Therapy For Your Anger Issues
Sometimes, your reaction is so deeply rooted in circumstances and thought patterns that you alone may not be able to ascertain the root of the behavioral or cognitive behaviors that lead to your anger in the first place. Having a professional that is skilled and trained in behavioral health therapy work with you, speak to you, and even look over your journal may shed light on your behaviors.
For example, you may associate an unhealthy perspective or unrealistic expectation to certain circumstances, but because it is something you have done for so long, it may be hard for you to see. You may even be able to justify or rationalize why you do this, and in turn you may use these things to justify your anger. A therapist can put these things in perspective and illustrate to you why these thoughts and behaviors are unhealthy and how they may in fact be a catalyst to the anger.
Fortunately, there are numerous, successful options for people that struggle with anger. Anger management therapy can include either individual or group therapy or support groups. Regardless of the form it takes, anger management will help you with your:
- Communication skills
- Impulse control
- Self-awareness and mindfulness
- Identification of illogical thought processes
- Problem-solving skills
- Healthy avoidance and removal of triggers
- Frustration management
- Ability to forgive, both yourself and others
There are innumerable methods that can help you manage your anger. It is important to have an open and honest dialogue with your therapist about your history, including the anger, any co-occurring mental-health disorders that may precede or aggravate it, and your substance abuse. This will help them to determine the best approach for your anger management therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Psychology Today describes CBT as “a form of psychotherapy that treats problems and boosts happiness by modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts…CBT focuses on solutions, encouraging patients to challenge distorted cognitions and change destructive patterns of behavior.” CBT is not a singular approach, rather it encompasses numerous therapeutic techniques; the bottom line is that this theory believes that it is our perception that influences our emotions rather than external things. It helps you to reevaluate negative and harmful thought processes and replace them with new and healthy ones.
This has shown success in the practice of anger management. The APA cited a study that illustrated how “cognitive-behavioral therapy improved people’s control of their anger and reduced their hostility, aggression, and depression.”
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT): This method was used primary with people that struggle with Borderline-Personality Disorder; however, it now is utilized to treat a variety of situations that may cause anger. This is similar to CBT except, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) “it emphasizes validation, or accepting uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and behaviors instead of struggling with them.”
The therapist is a conduit for this change, directing the patient in this practice so that they can become more mindful of these things as a means to better cope and progress through situations that might make them angry. NAMI cites the following benefits to this methodology:
- It helps decrease the frequency and severity of dangerous behaviors
- Uses positive reinforcement to motivate change
- Emphasizes the individual’s strengths
- Helps translate the things learned in therapy to the person’s everyday life
Biofeedback: An article published in the journal Mental Health in Family Medicine states that “biofeedback is a mind–body technique in which individuals learn how to modify their physiology for the purpose of improving physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.”
There are several methods by which this may be employed, but all essentially help you to train yourself to overcome an issue—in this case anger—by modulating the physical symptoms that accompany it. To do this you are hooked up to equipment, typically by electrodes that regulate and display your physiological reactions to anger.
These factors include: your blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory functions, sweat glands, or temperature. You witness these things under the influence of anger and get immediate feedback as you try to control this emotion allowing you to see the comparison in real time. This can help you to control the anger by learning how to temper these reactions by different relaxation techniques.
The University of Maryland Medical Center says that “most people who benefit from biofeedback have conditions that are brought on or made worse by stress.” Stress-related incidents are one of the greatest causes of anger. In 2002, the FDA approved the nonprescription sale of biofeedback device called RESPeRATE which some people report to help with their anger management.
Remember, though you might be ashamed about your inability to control your emotions, it is crucial that you do so to maintain your recovery. Don’t let embarrassment keep you from getting the help that you need. It is important during therapy to be as honest and forthright as you can be with your therapist so that they can help you get the full benefit out of your sessions with the greatest impact.
Don’t Let Your Anger Get The Best Of You
Obtaining sobriety and maintaining your recovery require a lot of hard work and determination. If you’re fearful that anger or any other harmful emotions may be getting in the way of a healthy drug or alcohol-free lifestyle by bringing you to relapse, reach out before it goes that far. We’re here to help. We have a patient and considerate staff that is standing by to help you get the support you need to stay steady in your recovery.
Contact us today at Vertava Health and start on a healthy track to recovery.