Nearly everyone experiences feelings of anger now and then, but for some, unresolved anger can lead to addictive or compulsive behaviors as well as cause or contribute to relapse once in recovery. Addressing anger issues with anger management during treatment for a substance use disorder is essential for successful long-term recovery.
Anger almost always involves feelings of perceived injustice. If you feel mistreated or frustrated about something, the emotional response may be anger. The American Psychological Association points out that different people handle their anger differently. While some people swear, shout and throw things, others may be chronically cranky. Still others may sulk, withdraw or even become physically ill when their anger gets the best of them.1
Regardless of how it exhibits, anger issues typically stem from a low frustration tolerance, which means that some people have trouble taking things in stride, and it takes very little provocation for them to become angry.
Why Anger Management is Essential in Recovery
Excessive or aggressive anger can lead to devastating consequences, including alienating friends and family and increasing your risk of heart disease, job loss or being a victim or perpetrator of violence.
An important part of recovery is moving from anger to forgiveness, and the goal of anger management is to help you learn to keep your emotions in check and reduce the physical symptoms of anger, such as an increased heart rate and muscle tension.
Unresolved anger in early recovery is a common relapse trigger, particularly if it was anger that led to the substance abuse and addiction in the first place. Built-up frustration and outright anger can make it difficult to stay on the road to recovery, but a lapse itself can cause even more anger and frustration. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
What Anger Management Teaches You
A number of anger management strategies have been found effective for helping those in recovery move away from anger and toward acceptance and forgiveness. Identifying what triggers your anger and developing strategies to cope with those triggers is a large part of anger management.2
Relaxation techniques like deep breathing or exercise are used to help you learn to calm your body’s physiological responses to anger, and removing yourself from your immediate surroundings when anger strikes can help calm out-of-control emotions.
Cognitive restructuring is another effective way to manage your anger. By learning to change the way you think about your emotions and the things that rile you up, you can effectively stave off anger. Replacing catastrophic thinking—”Everything is ruined!”—with rational thoughts—”This situation is inconvenient, but it’s not the end of the world.”—helps you remain calm in the face of adversity and solve the problem at hand rather than lash out, which is rarely productive.
Cognitive restructuring also involves learning to be okay with not getting your way every time. You may still feel disappointed or frustrated, but it won’t escalate to anger.
Developing better communication skills can also help you effectively manage your anger. By learning to listen to and evaluate another person’s words without becoming defensive or angry, you’ll be less likely to jump to inaccurate conclusions, say things you’ll regret later and lose control over your emotions.
It’s Not Always Easy
It’s not easy to change deeply ingrained habits, especially when heightened emotions are involved. But just as treatment can help you change your way of thinking about drug or alcohol abuse in order to overcome an addiction, anger management can help you change your way of thinking about the things that cause you frustration and distress in order to live a calmer and happier life.