Addiction and Anger Management Therapy

Anger is a natural emotion that can be expressed in healthy ways. However, anger becomes a problem if it leads to aggressive behavior or causes distress because it is experienced too frequently or too intensely.1

Many people with substance use disorder struggle with difficulty regulating emotions like anger.1 Therefore, people in addiction treatment often benefit from a comprehensive therapeutic approach that also addresses their anger issues.

This page will discuss the relationship between anger and addiction and the treatment strategies employed at Recovery First.

The Relationship Between Anger and Addiction

Evidence shows a clear connection between anger issues and substance use. A meta-analysis of 12 studies that included over 4,400 men found that those who used substances (alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, and heroin) had a greater anger disposition than those who did not.2

Another study found that the greater the level of anger experienced, the more substance use disorder (SUD) criteria a person tended to meet.3 In other words, angrier people who struggle with substance use tended to have more severe addictions.

Anger and substance use disorders (SUDs) are connected for a variety of reasons.

For many people, the problems begin at an early age. Children and adolescents sometimes learn to cope with emotional distress by using substances, which increases the likelihood they will suffer from addiction later in life.4 Further, childhood substance use can prevent kids from learning effective anger management, worsening these issues.5

Substance use disorders (SUDs) are sometimes connected to aggressive behavior because of the effects of certain substances (i.e., intoxication, reduced inhibition, impaired judgment), or the indirect influence within a social context while using substance uses and potentially being exposed to violence.3

There also exists a link between SUDs and other mental health conditions, some of which list issues like aggressive outbursts or difficulty regulating anger as a diagnostic criterion. Some of these include:

  • Intermittent explosive disorder (IED).6
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD).7,8
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).9

Therapy for Anger Management and Addiction

Addiction therapy is a vital part of drug and alcohol rehab treatment. Effective therapy addresses not only the substance use itself but also contributing factors.10 Given that anger issues and drug addiction often co-occur, many patients benefit from therapy that addresses stressors and interpersonal conflict.4 Additionally, research shows that simultaneous treatment of addiction and co-occurring mental disorders is superior to treating them separately.11

Both individual and group therapy can be effective strategies used to treat anger and substance use disorders. Most evidence-based addiction treatment programs employ the use of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapeutic approach that also serves as the foundation for many anger management interventions.1

An important part of CBT is recognizing how negative thoughts can lead to unhealthy behavior, such as drug use or physical violence.  CBT helps a person avoid relapse and aggressive outbursts by:12

  • Exploring how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors relate to each other.
  • Identifying how they learned their thought patterns from early life experiences.
  • Identifying their anger and relapse triggers.
  • Developing strategies to deal with those triggers.
  • Obtaining interpersonal support and collaborating with the therapist along the way.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a therapy strategy that was initially developed for people with severe suicidal ideation but has been adapted to treat other concerns including emotional dysregulation and substance use disorders with co-occurring BPD.13-15 The skills taught in DBT such as emotion regulation and the ability to tolerate distress are fitting for managing anger and reducing substance use.13

Coping Skills for Anger

Much of anger management therapy involves developing certain skills; exercising these skills may be assigned as homework.1 These skills can be placed into the following categories:16

  • Identifying anger cues. The patient is encouraged to pay attention to their body when they feel angry. They can then more easily identify anger starting to rise before it gets too intense. Some possible cues include fast heartbeat, tight muscles, faster breathing, or sleep problems.
  • Using calming techniques. Some common ways to calm down include counting to 10 before responding to the situation that sparks the anger, taking a break such as stepping outside for fresh air or a short walk, or doing relaxation activities such as deep breathing, visualizing a calming place, or gentle stretching.
  • Taking appropriate action. Once calm, patients can address the situation, whether that be by communicating assertively with the person, problem-solving ways to change a situation that they know will anger them, or speaking with someone they trust.
  • Practicing healthy habits. Ongoing self-care can make it easier to control anger. Actions such as eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep help patients feel their best, allowing them to better handle stressors.

Mobile phone apps are also a helpful tool for anger management. They may include devices like a heart rate monitor to observe anger symptoms and levels, allow someone to practice anger management skills, and record data that can be discussed in therapy.17

Treatment for Anger and Addiction in Florida

If you or a loved one struggles with anger management and substance use, Recovery First–an inpatient rehab near Miami—is here to help.

We offer different types of addiction treatment, including:

Please call to speak with a rehab admissions navigator who can help you get started on your path to recovery and answer questions about insurance coverage for rehab and other options for handling the cost of rehab. You can also verify your insurance using the confidential online tool.

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When contemplating the costs of addiction treatment for yourself, child, or loved one, consider the costs, or consequences, of “things as they are now.” What would happen if the substance abuse or addiction continued? Rehab doesn't have to be expensive. We accept a variety of health insurance plans, VA benefits and more.