Anger and Addiction: Drug-Free Ways to Manage Feelings of Anger

anger issues and substance abuse

Both anger issues and substance abuse can wreak havoc on your entire life, from work relationships to family life and your social circles. Oftentimes, people won’t seek help until they hit rock bottom or receive an ultimatum from their family or employer. Drug and alcohol addiction can lead to domestic abuse, verbal anger and erratic behavior, causing loved ones to fear for your well-being, as well as their own safety. It can be especially hard to repair relationships after things become violent. People may become afraid of you and avoid you altogether.

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In this article, we’ll take a look at the signs of anger problems, and how that might play out when drugs are part of the equation. Additionally, we’ll explore some drug-free ways to ease feelings of anger as they emerge and channel that energy through positive outlets.

Defining Dysfunctional Anger

Anger goes well beyond feeling upset about the usual things, like getting passed up for a promotion, being undermined by a colleague, or feeling frustrated by a spouse that won’t pull their weight around the house. It’s normal to feel angry from time to time, but it should be a fleeting emotion.

anger evolutionary response

Anger is actually an evolutionary response to threats — a biological response that allows us to accomplish tasks and escape someone who encroaches on your security. People with anger management issues have dysfunctional patterns in the way they process feelings of anger, sadness or humiliation. Dysfunctional anger is the expression of anger in an inappropriate way, which involves acts of destruction to oneself or others, often through violence or threatening language.

Anger manifests in a variety of ways, all of which drug use can exacerbate. Here’s a breakdown of some of the more common expressions of anger:

  • Behavioral aggression. This refers to anger that is expressed in a physical way toward other people, or perhaps by the destruction of property. Behavioral aggression is what we generally tend to think of when we think of an angry outburst. People who experience intense anger may not know what to do when they feel so overwhelmed by anger, so they may break windows or get into physical altercations with others such as fistfights, domestic disputes, driving altercations or road rage. This is the most dangerous expression of anger, and it often leads to jail time due to dangerous or even deadly consequences.
  • Verbal abuse. Though verbal abusers tend to avoid lashing out physically, they instead tend to bully, shout at or manipulate others. This can leave emotional damage on spouses, colleagues, and children. This behavior often results in divorce, losing a job, or breaking ties with friends and loved ones who simply can’t take it anymore. Fortunately, many verbal outbursts in the workplace lead to confrontations with HR, which can lead to help for anger problems. If you have both anger and addiction issues, you’ll have to address the addiction before taking a deeper dive into the anger.
  • Repressed anger. This manifestation of anger generally affects those who are often afraid to speak up in uncomfortable situations, or stick up for themselves. These people repress feelings of anger, rather than discuss them. As a result, they keep them bottled up inside. Some people who experience repressed anger bottle it up until the point of explosion, or they abuse drugs to avoid feeling angry. Additionally, some people with repressed anger look inward and take anger out on themselves. They may feel unworthy of a caring ear and can be susceptible to self-destructive behavior.
  • Obsessive anger. Another form of anger is obsessive anger, which manifests itself as persisting feelings of jealousy, rage or humiliation, wreaking havoc on one’s sense of self. While much of obsessive anger is suppressed, it can lead to angry or violent outbursts, or even health conditions.
  • Rage. Rage is an extreme form of anger, expressed as physical violence. It’s an uncommon response for most people, but those with anger management issues may be prone to violent outbursts, like fistfights or property destruction. Rage takes over the body and mind, and normal social judgment ceases to exist.

Anger May Drive People to Self-Medicate

addicts struggle with emotions

Many addicts have trouble dealing with stress or difficult emotions in a healthy and appropriate way. Similar to people dealing with anxiety or depression, persistent lingering emotions can cause people to use drugs or abuse alcohol, chasing a sense of relief or peace of mind.

Oftentimes, anger can play a key role in one’s decision to use drugs again. Without the right tools to manage emotions in a healthy way, it can be tempting to return to using alcohol or prescription drugs to numb any feelings that begin to surface. A person who can’t express negative feelings in a healthy may end up drinking excessively or using addictive drugs as a coping mechanism to hide powerful emotions, which leaves them in a cycle of self-destruction.

Why Addicts Often Have Trouble Managing Their Anger

Anger and addiction are, unfortunately, very closely linked. Many programs dedicated to sobriety like Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous give advice to newly sober people, hoping to help them avoid becoming lonely, angry, tired or hungry. These feelings are associated with relapse, as it can be tempting to give into the urge to use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to eliminate feelings that can be hard to tackle head on. Additionally, aggression and anger can be symptoms of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD or disorders like borderline personality disorder.

addicts suppress feelings

Many addicts suppress their feelings surrounding a traumatic event, such as a past physical abuse, sexual assault or the loss of a close friend or relative. These feelings can build up over time when covered up by an addiction, and ignoring them by not processing past traumas can lead to a buildup of resentful feelings or rage. This can lead to big explosions that are often violent or upsetting to others. Additionally, people with drug or alcohol dependence are hindered by their addiction, and never have the opportunity to channel their anger through appropriate outlets.

Anger and rage may help an individual cope with childhood traumas or abuse — an outburst can help someone who feels like they lack control gain some leverage in the face of a conflict, making them feel heard or powerful.

Some addicts may primarily direct their anger inward for past failures or feelings of inadequacy. They sometimes blame other people for their problems and bottle up their feelings by leaning on substances to dull any lingering anger. While they likely won’t be violent, this type of behavior is very dangerous, as it can lead to self-harm.

Anger Caused by Drug Use

substance abuse cause anger issues

People often use drugs to dull feelings of existing anger, but in many cases, drug or alcohol abuse can be the root cause of anger issues. If you have both issues coming to the surface, you may believe you have an anger management issue, which isn’t incorrect, but the cause of that anger is actually excessive amounts of substance abuse that have impacted the brain in a negative way. Plus, the more a person uses drugs or drinks alcohol, the greater the adverse effect on the brain.

There are many problems resulting from excessive drug use, but anger can be a symptom of the withdrawals a person will experience if they run out of drugs. When this happens, the person using drugs might take out their anger on their family or harm someone else, as a result of the chemical change taking place in the brain.

Anger management alone is often not effective for someone who is angry and, as a result, is using drugs, alcohol or both. If drug or alcohol use is causing the anger, a substance abuse program, rather than anger management is likely the better choice for treatment. Only when someone has been sober for at least two weeks can they begin to take on the other underlying issues — whether that’s anger, past trauma, anxiety, self-loathing or anything else affecting their ability to process emotions in a healthy, productive way.

process anger to stay sober

In some cases, angry feelings may resolve after someone with addiction issues has complexly detoxed, while others may find that they need to go to anger management therapy as well. In any case, learning to process anger is a positive step in the right direction. Even if you don’t have full-blown behavioral anger, helping to process anger will improve your chances of staying clean and sober.

It’s often a challenge to separate the symptoms of a serious drug addiction from those of mental illness or serious behavioral issues. Some of our clients are diagnosed with both mental health issues, as well as behavioral problems, and it can be a challenge determining which of these are the root cause of the anger, the addiction, or both. In any case, drug rehabilitation is an excellent starting point. It’s often the start of the journey in determining the root causes of explosive anger.

How Do Drugs and Alcohol Affect People With Underlying Anger Issues?

Different drugs affect the body differently, and they affect people in different ways, particularly if there’s a behavioral issue involved. Drugs like meth, cocaine or other stimulants can lead the user to experience paranoid feelings, become easily aroused or even violent. Anger and rage emerge easily from those with addictions to stimulant drugs. With an underlying anger issue, there is a heightened risk of death for those with a serious addiction. These addicts are susceptible to violent outbursts, which can sometimes lead to physical altercations or even dangerous, violent behavior.

It’s common for a person with a serious addiction to stimulants to become paranoid. He or she may feel like they are being followed or spied on, especially if they’ve been awake for long stretches of time due to the high.

The following stimulant drugs can cause outbursts of anger and violence:

drugs that cause anger and outbursts

  • Cocaine
  • Crack
  • Amphetamines
  • Methamphetamine
  • Bath Salts
  • Synthetic Marijuana (also known as Spice)

Additionally, depressants affect people with anger management issues in other ways. Marijuana can sometimes lead to psychosis or violent outbursts of anger. While this effect isn’t common, those who use very heavily will experience an increase in angry feelings and outbursts. Some people with anger issues will try using marijuana in hopes that the drug will alleviate feelings of anger. Marijuana has a reputation as a substance that calms the user, but over time anger levels can heighten in frequent users.

Alcohol has long been known to exacerbate any existing anger issues, as well as make them surface in people who are otherwise mild mannered. People who have an alcohol problem are prone to violent outbursts, blackouts and self-destructive behavior.

Additionally, some hallucinogens may cause a person to have an angry outburst or become violent. Hallucinogens can create paranoid behavior and fear. Drugs like LSD and PCP are particularly dangerous. PCP users often experience a dulling of pain, which can lead to serious injury because they may not understand their physical limitations.

Signs You May Have an Anger Problem

Though one might argue that anger and aggression are mental disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) actually has no official way of classifying them. The manual, which functions as the official guide to psychiatric disorders from all ends of the spectrum, classifies issues like anxiety, another strong emotion, as a psychiatric disorder in its own right.

anger symptom of other condition

Anger and aggression are considered when evaluating other disorders, but they are generally thought of as a symptom of another condition, like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The lack of a systematic classification for these issues makes it challenging to tackle problems associated with anger, especially as a standalone problem.

Here are some signs that it may be time to seek professional help for anger:

  • Acting aggressive when you feel angry. Acting out against others, whether that’s pushing, punching or hitting to get rid of angry feelings, is a sign you need help.
  • Threating violence or emotionally blackmailing others. Making threats or emotionally blackmailing those close to you can be a terrifying experience for those on the receiving end of this behavior.
  • Fantasies of revenge against those you feel have wronged you. If you find you are planning detailed ways to teach someone a lesson, it could be a sign of an anger problem. It’s normal to want to get someone back if they’ve wronged you, but if those vindictive feelings lean more toward the violent side, it may be time to seek professional help.
  • Avoiding painful issues and repressing anger. Often, this leads to explosive outbursts or other health issues. Repressed anger builds up, manifesting itself in a variety of ways like drug addiction or alcohol abuse.

Healthy Ways to Deal with Anger

There are many strategies to help alleviate feelings of anger without leaning on drugs to quell feelings of despair, inadequacy or anxiety. Keeping busy, whether that’s through finding a new hobby, regular therapy sessions, or whatever else gives you a sense of relief is paramount, especially in the first stages of your newfound sobriety.

If you want to stay clean and realize that anger is a problem, you need to learn some anger management techniques. Here’s a list of ways to help alleviate feelings of anger:

go on a long run

  • Exercise. Try picking up a sport or channeling anger into a regular visit to the gym. Going on a long run will help tire you out, as well as create feelings of euphoria in the brain. If you find yourself getting angry, engage in a healthy physical activity. At 12 Keys, we offer access to all kinds of physical activity from fishing and horseback riding, to kayaking, swimming and paddle boarding.
  • Yoga. Nothing quite calms the mind and body like regular yoga practice. Download some videos to help guide you from the comfort of your home, or venture out to a studio for regular sessions. You’ll learn breathing techniques that you can use both on and off the mat, which will help you keep your cool no matter what life throws your way.
  • Art. Even if you don’t think you’re a great artist, pick up some paints, pens and pencils and express yourself visually. Giving yourself the space to think of your anger in the abstract can help you feel calm, and break down why you’re feeling upset. Many people find that making some kind of art, whether it’s watercolors or basket weaving, is soothing and helps maintain a calm state of mind.
  • Writing. Like art, writing down your feelings in a journal can help put them into perspective. Write down your feelings when you start to feel angry, or when certain resentments begin to surface. In any case, it’s nice to have an outlet where you can process your emotions, as well as track the progress you’ve made over time.
  • Ongoing Therapy. After you’ve gotten clean, there is still much to do. Self-improvement is an exercise in constant upkeep. Schedule regular sessions with a therapist, and talk through any feelings of anger that might be lingering. Therapy is especially important if you were suppressing anger from past traumas and haven’t fully addressed them. Additionally, therapy can help with communication skills.

deep breathing exercises

  • Breathing Exercises. Deep breathing exercises can help alleviate any feelings of anger as they start to surface. Start by breathing in deep through your diaphragm, so you feel it in your stomach. Simply breathing through your chest won’t do much in terms of stress relief. Try repeating some calming words to yourself or visualize yourself in a peaceful environment.

Contact 12 Keys Rehab

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing anger and addiction concurrently, we recommend contacting 12 Keys Rehab for a free consultation, anytime, day or night. Our licensed staff is trained in helping people with addiction, as well as behavioral and mental health issues. Our low client-to-staff ratio allows us to hone in on the client’s unique challenges and adjust treatment as needed. Many of our staff members are former addicts themselves and can approach the situation with compassion and empathy — never judgement.

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When you’re ready for treatment, it’s important to be patient. It may take some time to reveal the true cause of the anger, as well as the addiction. In order to separate the two, you’ll have to first detox. Your personal history of drug use will reveal information about whether your addiction stemmed from an existing mental illness or behavioral problem, or if the addiction was the cause of other issues. Once you’re clean and sober for a while, we can start to work on anger and addiction recovery.

To start your recovery today or receive more information about our programs, call 800-338-5770 to speak with a counselor.

The Addiction Blog