Coping with an anger management issue is already a complex and arduous struggle, but when combined with substance abuse, it feels impossible. Whether anger led to your addiction or addiction led to your anger, the two fuel each other in a dangerous cycle. You can’t address one and not the other, but learning to overcome your anger while in addiction recovery doesn’t come easily.
Fortunately, there is hope for a sober and happy life — and this guide aims to lead you to the path that’s right for you.
We’ll first discuss the relationship between anger and addiction so that you may better understand how the two interact and affect each other, and then we’ll help you find healthy ways to live both substance- and rage-free. Whether you’re facing this journey yourself or seeking to better understand the situation of a loved one, read on to discover how to regain control of anger, sobriety, and life.
Though many don’t realize it, substance abuse often co-occurs alongside anger, aggression, and violent tendencies. In some cases, it’s anger that comes first and leads to addiction:
In other cases, substance abuse preludes and leads to anger:
It’s important to note that the presence of anger in general isn’t the issue — all of us feel angry, sometimes even enraged, at one point or another. It’s an unavoidable fact of life, and quite common in addiction recovery. When that fury lasts for days at a time, reemerges frequently, escalates into violent behavior, and/or consumes a person completely, however, that is when it becomes dangerous.
Perhaps the most alarming part of the anger and addiction relationship is that many don’t even realize they have an underlying anger issue; it tends to be written off as only a symptom of their substance abuse, and assume that once they’re sober, their anger will fade away. For some, like those with only mild anger issues, that might be the case. But for those with a true anger disorder, it isn’t that simple. To truly heal your body, mind, and spirit in recovery, you must address your anger as a separate — and equally important — issue.
Just as no one’s path to addiction recovery is exactly the same, overcoming anger in sobriety looks different for everyone. Whether you choose one coping mechanism or a combination of many, don’t be afraid to try something new. Remember: old patterns are what created your issues, so break free of them now that you’re sober.
Anger and resentment can sneak up on you in recovery. When things are going well, it’s a lot easier to reaffirm your choice to be sober. It’s the times that stress pops up — a long day at work, arguments with loved ones you’re trying to rebuild relationships with, lingering financial problems from old habits — that it’s hard not to feel angry over all that you’ve lost. Just because you know drugs and alcohol aren’t the solution doesn’t change the fact that they used to be your crutch amid life’s many struggles, and looking ahead to brighter, sober days can feel frustratingly overwhelming.
Meditation is all about focusing on the present moment — not your regretful past, not your sober future. It allows you to stop and really let go of your worries, even if it’s just for a few moments. Best of all, it can be done just about anywhere at any time, no special skills needed.
There are endless online options for guided meditations for anger management, but don’t be afraid to conduct your own meditation sessions. It’s much simpler than you might think: clear your mind, focus on your breathing, make a conscious effort to relax your body, and just let go. Your problems will be right where you left them, but you’d be surprised at how meditation can bring them into perspective. Often, dwelling on problems makes them seem more colossal than they actually are, and even just a few moments of peace can shift your attitude on overcoming them.
Exercise isn’t just good for the body — it’s excellent for your mental health, and some experts even consider it vital to a successful anger management program. It can be especially effective if you’ve had violent tendencies in the past because it acts as a healthy, physical outlet for your frustrations.
An anger management exercise routine can look just about any way you want it to, but it’s important to keep in mind any physical limitations you may have as a result of your substance abuse. Take it slow at first; yoga is a great place to start since it combines both meditation and exercise, plus it can be adapted to various intensity levels. Incorporate it into your weekly routine, but don’t be afraid to throw in an extra session anytime your anger is getting the best of you. Going for a quick run or swimming a few laps in the community pool is a great way to burn off stress and work off all the things you can’t say or do in your new life. Best of all, you’ll walk away feeling tired, but likely rejuvenated, with much less angry energy (if any at all) demanding your attention.
As with exercise, creative expression as an outlet can look any number of ways. It all depends on what you’re interested in, whether that’s:
Creative expression can be used as an outlet however you see fit: perhaps your overwhelming anger made you lose appreciation for the beauty of the world, so you use photography as a way to seek it out and capture it. You can write out your frustrations with your recovery journey, create a story about the life you hope to leave one day, or write letters to loved ones that you’re hoping to mend fences with. Dancing it out while singing along to your favorite songs is a cathartic, albeit unstructured, way to vent your frustrations. Even if you’ve never been the “creative type,” don’t be afraid to explore that side of yourself.
Your sponsor is a great place to start when it comes to talking out your anger issues, but unless they’re trained in anger management, their ability to help you will be limited. Bear in mind that though you’ll certainly want to explore and seek to understand their connection for you personally, the two still need to be addressed separately.
Find a counselor in your area who has experience with anger management techniques, and it’s even better if they’re also well-versed in addiction issues. Be prepared to dig deep and really get to the root of your rage; one of the trickiest parts of anger is that often you only think you know the cause. Your partner, siblings, children, or others may even want to join you for a few sessions for insight on when your anger seems to flare up the most, when it’s most detrimental to your relationships, and how it’s affected not only your life, but theirs, as well. Your therapist can also help facilitate and guide conversations with your loved ones so that you can effectively — not angrily — resolve issues and begin to rebuild together.
A solid support system is vital in both recovery and anger management, but you have to be willing to ask for help. Talk to your partner, friends, parents, siblings, members of your religious organization — whomever you know you can turn to for a listening ear and shoulder to lean on. Your counselor and/or sponsor are excellent resources and certainly play an important role in your recovery, but you’ll want to have people close to you as well. When you’re tackling the darker parts of yourself, it’s important to stay connected to those who know all parts of you, both the dark and the light.
If your anger or addiction issues have caused many of your loved ones to keep their distance, even now that you’re sober, first know that with time and hard work, your relationships can be mended. In the meantime, talk to your sponsor or counselor about local support groups. If you’re in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or the like, make it a point to speak up at meetings. Introduce yourself to others after the meeting, or see if someone wants to grab a cup of coffee. Suggest a group outing to the park for some fresh air and sunshine. It’s tough to get back out there and meet new people, especially early in recovery, but meetings are a great place to meet people who will truly understand your struggle; even if they don’t have an anger management issue specifically, they’ll be judgment-free of your past and will be the first to cheer you on for every step in the right direction. In fact, they’ll be able to appreciate the gravity of even the seemingly smallest progressions in a way your loved ones can’t; that kind of understanding can make a world of difference.
Like everything else in addiction recovery, there’s no easy formula for how to make coping with your anger easier. Finding the right outlet will take time, experimentation, and a willingness to try new things. Be willing to seek the support of others along the way, whether it’s professional or personal, and never lose sight of how far you’ve come already. You’ve already tackled the initial steps of sobriety, and now it’s time for your next battle — one you can win.