The link between addiction and anger

Negative and positive emotions have an impact on the way you act and feel, which means that depression and anger can affect the choices you make and the behaviours you engage in.

Poor mental health and addiction are counter-balancing—that is to say, when you feel negative emotions, you may feel more inclined to abuse substances. Research has shown that emotional dysregulation (meaning an inability to control your responses to stimuli) can be not only a risk factor for addiction, alcoholism, and depression, but can also cause increased emotional problems; in addition, long-term drug use can impair your ability to deal with intense emotions and cause further emotional dysregulation.

Some clinicians believe that there are 3 main types of anger which include:

  • Passive aggression, which means you feel angry but act out your anger in passive ways because you fear confrontation, such as giving people the silent treatment or saying everything is fine when it’s not.
  • Open aggression, which stems from a need to feel in control. In this form of anger, you may lash out because of feelings of rage and become physically or verbally violent and aggressive. You might engage in bullying, yelling, blackmailing, or criticize others.
  • Assertive anger, which is thought to be the healthiest form of anger. You act maturely and respectfully toward others, talk about your feelings, and listen to others instead of acting out.

It is not uncommon for individuals that struggle with addiction to also have problems with their anger. You will often find that people that grew up in angry, violent households are more likely to struggle with addiction later on in life. This usually has to do with traumatic memories or never learning how to cope with anger in a healthy manner, resulting in people turning to drugs and alcohol as a form of self-medication.

While anger can put you at further risk of addiction, the disease itself can perpetuate your anger and worsen it over time; this can happen for several reasons. Often, those struggling with addiction are using drugs and alcohol as a means of living in denial about past traumas. Anger becomes built up as the person continues avoiding it until a boiling point is reached. Addiction can also keep individuals from expressing anger or coping with it in a healthy manner. Over time, the individual may grow angry towards themselves because of their addiction but continually blame those around them for their problems.

Some warning signs are:

  • pounding heart
  • gritting your teeth
  • sweating
  • tight chest
  • shaking
  • feeling anxious
  • raising your voice
  • being snappy or defensive
  • temporarily losing your sense of humour
  • pacing
  • getting a ‘flash’ of a bad mood
  • being overly critical of someone
  • feeling argumentative

Acknowledging that you feel angry and identifying the emotions you're feeling can sometimes help to reduce the intensity. Saying "I'm angry right now" or "I'm feeling frustrated and annoyed" can be the first step in understanding and resolving your feelings of anger.

Some common things that make people feel angry include:

  • being treated unfairly and feeling powerless to do anything about it
  • feeling threatened or attacked
  • other people not respecting your authority, feelings or property
  • being interrupted when you're trying to achieve a goal

  • Talking to someone you trust about how you’re feeling can take a weight off your shoulders as well as your mind. That could be a trusted adult, friend, family member or therapist
  • Exercise is a great way to let off steam. Take a walk around the block, go for a run, or do something really high-energy like boxing.
  • When feeling angry about something, it’s almost impossible to deal with the situation in a productive or helpful way. Just walk away from the situation for a while.
  • Sometimes, writing stuff down can help you work out why you’re feeling angry and how you might be able to deal with it. Try drafting a letter to someone to explore what you think is making you angry, how you're responding to the situation and how you want to address your feelings. Take a pause before sending it and read back over your letter. This method will allow you to express your feelings, while reading over your words will help you to put things in perspective

If any of the issues in this article have raised any concerns please contact our friendly Treatment Advisors who will answer any questions you may have.