Assuming that certain problems are going to disappear after getting sober is a classic mistake that you might make before or after addiction treatment or going through a rehab program. This is no less true regarding anger and how you cope with it after getting clean from drugs and alcohol.
In fact, despite any outward expressions of anger we see intoxicated people displaying, anger can become even more intense or disruptive to life without the numbing agents of drugs and alcohol. Outward expressions of anger are seen as more common in men, but both men and women commonly struggle with feelings of anger whether drinking is a frequent habit or not. That said, men and women may often have different behavioral consequences.
Not finding effective, healthier ways to deal with anger might be a worst case scenario, because it could result in your substance use disorder never being under control. However, anger—especially as it relates to substance use or drug addiction—can also be difficult to keep at bay. Trying to suppress anger is not advised either, because it leads to eventual outbursts, tension, and even physical pain.
Previous trauma or occurring disorders in all likelihood led to seeking out substances to ease the pain and buffer negative thoughts or feelings. This idea becomes another hugely important factor in “treating” anger, because ultimately anger is a natural human emotion and not always avoidable. The issue lies when the behavioral consequences or relationships with friends or family members become disastrous or toxic.
What Lies Beneath Anger
The core of an angry feeling that arises within us can be different from what we think. This is because anger or irritation can be overwhelming and often demands an immediate action from us, even if that resulting action doesn’t look like a typical temper tantrum. The bodily sensations or rush of hormones, mental planning, and eventual (or immediate) action of anger tend to distract us from what else might be going on.
Anger is more complex than it usually appears. Very often, anger is tied to and precipitated by other, more primitive emotions like shame, grief, or fear. For example, jealousy is often intertwined with anger but ultimately is rooted in deeper thought processes related to the sadness of feeling unworthy, excluded, or betrayed. Indeed, these emotions could have meant situations leading to a death sentence for humans much earlier in history.
Newer studies are also finding an intimate connection between anger and sleep that some of us might already know well. That is, anger tends to lead to poor sleep, and poor sleep results in more irritation and anger.
Coping with Anger Sober
Managing your anger can begin by noticing it when it arises and not immediately responding, though this is of course easier said than done. Not turning to drugs and alcohol may seem extremely difficult at first, but there are ways you can productively deal with your anger and even change your life so that you become less of a “hothead” over time.
- Know your triggers: Understanding what might lead to your anger and its negative consequences is important. Some situations and feelings that can lead to anger include
- Feeling hopeless, helpless, or worthless
- Pain (physical or emotional)
- Feelings of injustice or betrayal
- Judgment from others (whether real or perceived)
- Acknowledge your anger: You might be used to using drugs or alcohol to ignore feelings or put them off, but trying to dismiss the anger will likely just lead to resentment and emotional or physical pain. An intelligent first step in dealing with anger is to recognize it, not pretend it’s not there or push it away.
- Use your senses or a distracting activity: Though this may seem contradictory to the previous tip, it’s essential to get past the worst of the anger, especially if it’s to the point that you feel you may hurt someone physically or emotionally. A common tactic is to use your senses and focus intensely on what’s happening with them.
- A fairly easy activity to remember is naming five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, and two things you can smell (if applicable). Focusing intensely on the task can help until you’re ready to manage the anger in a productive way. If you can’t remember or don’t think that option will work for you, taking a walk can also help. The key is to be immersed in the action, whatever it might be.
- (Side note: studies show that “getting out your anger” in a highly agitated manner like punching or smashing objects doesn’t actually work. It could also result in breaking something expensive that you then have to deal with, leading to more anger.)
- Distance yourself (literally and figuratively): Related to distraction, it can be helpful to put some physical or mental distance between the person or thing making you angry if possible. It’s key to be able to procrastinate your action plan slightly (see below) to after the worst of the animosity has passed. Use the distance and distraction tactics as long as you need to before moving on to the action phase.
- Think of action plans (then determine the best one): Once you’ve calmed down slightly or distracted yourself enough to think clearly, you can think of how you will respond to the situation in an effective way. Is having a conversation with the person appropriate in order to begin to work through the problem? If not, is more time and distance applicable?
- Maybe the circumstances can’t really be changed, and you eventually have to accept what’s going on and possibly remove yourself from the situation or relationship. There may not be a perfect solution, but ultimately you’re the expert on what the best approach is.
- Talk: It’s not uncommon to hear that “all hurt feelings are due to miscommunication.” The overgeneralization can make some cringe, but it’s not far from the truth in most situations. When you have calmed down somewhat and don’t feel like you will say something hurtful, talking to someone can help you better determine the cause of the aggressive feelings and make a compromise if needed.
- Know your formal treatment options: Keep in mind that support group meetings such as Anger Management (AM) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are very effective if you continue having trouble with your anger despite your best efforts. Medication-assisted treatment may also be an option for persistent anger.
- If you know that you do in fact need more help, realize that you have a level of self-awareness that many people have not developed. Don’t give up on getting treatment services if needed and creating a better, more peaceful life for yourself.
Are you looking for alcohol treatment centers in Virginia, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania?
Seeking addiction treatment doesn’t have to be a hardship during an already difficult time.
You have treatment options for substance use disorder. Addiction Treatment Group is available 24 hours a day to help you or your loved one get their life back. Make your recovery the top priority by calling us today at (888)-972-8513.