For many individuals who are dealing with the aftereffects of addiction, learning to cope with anger is essential for leading a healthier, substance-free lifestyle. Many with addiction use alcohol or drugs to cope with anger, and when they can no longer use, they must find an alternate way to let this destructive emotional response go. Anger is associated with a broad range of health problems, including heart attack and hypertension. Those in recovery must also manage anger because it can also lead to relapse.
What to Know About HALT
Anger is one of the four feelings that people in recovery need to avoid. These four feelings — Hunger, Anger, Lonely and Tired — comprise HALT. HALT is a slogan that helps recovering addicts stay in touch with their deepest feelings, the ones that can make using drugs or alcohol more tempting. Recognizing these feelings for what they are makes it easier to use the coping strategies learned in rehab. It also makes it easier to avoid the false relief that drugs and alcohol provide.
For example, imagine a parent who is happy and relaxed. Her child spills apple juice on the new upholstery. She cleans up the juice, with no harm done. Now imagine a parent who is consumed with anger. Her child spills apple juice, but instead of simply cleaning it up, she loses her temper. It’s easy to see that anger — even under “normal” circumstances — can lead to bad choices. For a person who is recovering from addiction, anger can lead to relapse.
The Effects of Anger
Anger is a strong emotion that can have one or more elements. For example, you might think angry thoughts. You might also elevate your anger to include angry behaviors, such as yelling at a loved one, slamming a door or breaking something valuable. The most serious anger feelings cause the fight-or-flight response, which raises your heart rate and breathing.
Some individuals choose to express anger with passive-aggressive behavior. Passive anger manifests itself in several damaging ways — ways that hurt the angry person and those around him. These behaviors include deliberately failing at tasks, obsessive or manipulative behavior, sulking, and other “punishment”-style actions designed to encourage guilty feelings in another person.
Why Anger Can Trigger Relapse
The inability to let go of anger — whether rational or not — can cause a buildup of feelings that can lead to relapse. Drugs and alcohol temporarily relieve stress, but ultimately make overall health and the ability to cope with challenging or angry feelings even more difficult. Using provides fast — but false — relief. When combined with alcohol or drugs, anger is amplified, and the feelings and substances work together to circumvent the normal, rational response in the brain.
Using alcohol or drugs to deal with anger causes several unwanted and unintended effects. Family members and friends who supported sobriety might turn away from a now-relapsed addict. The risk of heart disease skyrockets. Professional and personal relationships suffer. So do sleeping habits. In the most serious cases, an angry relapsed addict may also react to a situation with physical violence or become the victim of physical violence.
When angry feelings surface, try taking a brisk walk around your block or office building to relieve stress. Cardiovascular exercise is a proven mood booster. For regular stress relief, fitness classes such as yoga can help. You can also try calling a supportive friend or family member, attending a 12-Step meeting or worship service, or writing in a journal. Anger is frustrating, but it can also be temporary — and it’s up to you to let it go.
Call 12 Keys Rehab for More Information
Anger is one of the main reasons why people in recovery relapse. For more information about anger and addiction, or to enroll in our substance abuse recovery program, contact us today.