Anger Management for Addiction
Anger is a universal feeling we all experience, and the extent we experience anger varies greatly. You can be angry to the degree that you feel irritated or annoyed, or you may experience anger to the extent of absolute rage. What is important to keep in mind about anger is that the degree to which you feel angry should match the situation. If your anger seems to be out of control or your anger is overwhelming, this could indicate anger may be an issue for you.
Studies show that those who require anger management also commonly struggle with addiction issues, as drugs and alcohol can be used as coping mechanisms. It’s possible that the user may have trouble dealing with uncomfortable emotions, and thus the substance is used to avoid facing them. However, there are other factors that can contribute to anger issues and substance abuse. The story often goes much deeper than simply an attempt to mask a negative feeling.
Because anger management often coincides with substance abuse, it is important that resources be made known and available to those who struggle with anger specifically. Learning to manage anger can not only help you get and stay sober, but help improve your relationships and lead to a more fulfilling, joyous life.
What is Anger Management?
Anger is a normal emotion to experience, but when experienced chronically and to an overwhelming degree, it can take its toll. The degree to which you feel anger can vary, and the degree to which you experience it can truly impact the quality of your life. If you feel anger too frequently and your response tends to be heightened, it can negatively impact your relationships, career, social life, and more.
Heightened anger, when not managed properly, can lead to increased heart rate and racing thoughts. It can also lead to impulsiveness, arguments, and trouble with the law. Actions made during an angry outburst can damage friendships, ruin employment, and may lead to outward violence.
The same issue can arise if you struggle to express anger, or seem to experience it too infrequently. Anger is a completely normal emotion to have, and should be experienced from time to time. If you haven’t felt angry in some time, it is possible that you have been suppressing the emotion altogether. Suppressed anger can be translated to other emotions, such as anxiety and depression. It can also arise in the form of physical pain and muscle tension.
Anger Management is the process of learning how to deal with your anger effectively. It is not about suppressing the anger, but about expressing it appropriately. This process is typically offered in the format of a course or class. Some mental health professionals may also offer this in therapy. If not, your therapist may still be able to refer you to access this resource.
Who is at Risk?
Explosive anger is something that tends to begin manifesting at a very young age. Children who grow up in homes where anger is pervasive are at a much higher risk to have anger issues in the future. Witnessing high aggression and violence at such a crucial time developmentally affects these children deeply, and as a result, they are more likely to become aggressive and angry themselves.
Children who are exposed to these environments are also likely to experience depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, low self-confidence, and fighting or bullying. They are also more likely to abuse substances because of this trauma.
Intermittent Explosive Disorder
Intermittent Explosive Disorder, or IED, is marked by sudden and repeated episodes of violence and aggression. These episodes are impulsive, violent, and typically seen as a way out of proportion to the event. Signs of IED include domestic abuse, road rage, and violent behaviour such as purposefully breaking objects and property. These can take place without provocation. Young males are the most likely to be diagnosed.
During an episode, the individual with IED may feel racing thoughts, irritability, tightness in their chest, sweating, and heightened energy. After an outburst, the individual with IED tends to feel relief, almost like a giant exhale. But that feeling of relief can shortly turn into feelings of embarrassment and remorse. Drug abuse commonly occurs alongside IEDs, and this may be because it is used in an effort to avoid those feelings of regret and embarrassment.
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates the lifetime incidence of IED to be between 5 and 7%. Those with severe IED experience at least 3 explosive episodes per year. These episodes are so severe that they can lead to physical harm and/or property damage. The individual usually lives with IED for years before they acknowledge the behaviour as a pattern and seek help.
There is no single cause of IED, but there are contributing factors. It is thought that genetics may play a role. The environment can also contribute to this, as children who are exposed to this type of behaviour at a young age are far more likely to develop anger issues in the future. In fact, most individuals who develop this disorder were exposed to the same explosive and violent behaviour as children within the home.
More research is now also being put into potential cognitive contributing factors. It is thought that people with this disorder may actually have differences neurologically from those who do not. In fact, several studies show a link between serotonin production and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. In some cases, medication may be prescribed alongside therapy and/or anger management.
Inappropriate anger outbursts and drug use are both tools that can be used to cope with uncomfortable emotions. Anger management can help address IED, as well as many coexisting issues, and help the person manage emotions effectively.
How Does Anger Management Help with Addiction?
Anger management issues are often related to mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, addiction, and more. They may also be related to past physical, mental, and emotional abuse. Any of these factors, including extreme anger, could be a contributing factor to substance abuse. Substance abuse is a way of coping with anger. Not only does it not always work, but it doesn’t manage the anger in a healthy way. It can also lead to additional problems compounding the stress, depression, and anxiety that led to the outburst in the first place.
Some individuals start having anger management issues and use alcohol or drugs to cope. Conversely, other individuals actually begin with a substance abuse issue, and it is the abuse of the substance that leads them to anger. In this way, anger and substance abuse can become a vicious cycle, and that cycle can be difficult to break.
A person may feel anger and use drugs or alcohol to cope, which actually leads to further anger. Thus, the cycle continues. Whether the substance abuse or anger came first, anger management can still be helpful in breaking this toxic cycle.
By utilizing anger management, the individual is able to address one contributing factor to their addiction. It educates the client on what anger is, how it can affect them, and how to express it properly. Anger management also provides the skills to deal with difficult situations and allows the individual to learn how to deal with this emotion in a healthy, adaptive way.
In general, people diagnosed with IED have the potential to benefit greatly from getting help. One study showed that after 12 weeks, participants in therapy had improved in terms of reducing anger and depression. After a three-month follow-up, those improvements were still apparent. Getting help to manage the condition itself can genuinely improve the quality of life.
How to Know if You Need Anger Management
Deciding if anger management is right for you can be difficult to determine. It may be difficult to assess how you are dealing with anger, without the help of an outsider’s perspective. There are some ways to gauge whether or not you are dealing with anger effectively. Anger management may be an effective tool for you if you’re angry…
- Impacts your relationships (family, friendships, significant others) negatively
- Hurts your career
- Has led to legal issues or arrests
- Leads to violent behaviour
- Leads to self-harm
- Doesn’t match the situation (in terms of severity)
- Negatively impacts the quality of your life
If your anger often leads to or motivates your substance abuse, then anger management can only benefit you. Once you learn how to deal with your anger effectively, the degree to which it triggers you will diminish. You will have the tools and the knowledge to channel that energy productively.
Quick Tips for Anger Management
Anger management courses and classes are a great resource to take advantage of. There can be so much to learn about expressing emotions properly, and it can take some time to make these adjustments.
There are also some quick tips you can use to help you in expressing your anger.
- Breathe deeply down into your stomach, and exhale completely, as far out as you can.
- Close your eyes and imagine a peaceful place
- Leave the situation. A change of environment can help reset your perspective
- Use humour to diffuse – find something funny about the situation if possible
- Use exercise as an outlet
- Journal your emotions, or use another creative way to express your emotions
- Repeat calming phrases to yourself, such as “it’s okay”, “just breathe” or “we can relax now”
When these tips fail, logic is often a tool that can prevail. When anger takes over, it is easy to be driven by what we are feeling in the moment. Try to look at your beliefs from an outsider’s perspective. Being able to assess the situation from the outside looking in may help reduce your anger, and give you a chance to rethink your response.
Hire a Professional
There are small things you can do on your own to help manage your anger, but if anger has been impacting your life negatively for a long time, you may benefit from hiring a professional. Some addiction counsellors are trained in anger management, but if you can’t find a therapist able to provide that, you can always continue counselling and attend an outside anger management course.
A professional will not only be able to guide you through the steps and help you learn, but also support the ongoing process of you learning new ways of approaching difficult emotions. When dealing with mental health issues and addiction, having all of the resources you can on your side can be really beneficial.
In the grand scheme of all that an individual face in addiction, this step may seem small. After all, there are so many other avenues of resources to explore. However, if dealing with anger is holding you back from pursuing a healthy, happy life, then anger management is worth pursuing.