Individuals who strive for self-improvement and have the courage to seek treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) or substance use disorder (SUD) eventually uncover a number of reasons for their behaviors. One particular emotion that’s not only a root cause but also a symptom of substance use issues is anger.
Anger, the “Secondary Emotion”
Psychology Today notes that “anger is one of the basic human emotions, as elemental as happiness, sadness, anxiety, or disgust. These emotions are tied to basic survival and were honed over the course of human history.” The emotion of anger is also related to the “fight, flight, or freeze” response of the sympathetic nervous system.
It’s essential as humans to acknowledge all emotions. Sometimes, feeling angry is actually a good thing, because it might be the catalyst to essential change and growth, or fuel the need to speak out against an injustice.
Feeling angry doesn’t always present the same in every person. One individual’s mild irritation at a traffic snarl might spark someone else’s road rage episode. Why is this?
According to HealthyPsyche, anger is often a “secondary emotion”—people express anger when they actually feel one or more of the following:
So anger masks other stressors that the brain interprets as threats. It’s protection to an extent, but it keeps us from facing our true feelings. Anger is a frequent release valve for people with:
- Adverse childhoods and dysfunctional families
- Mood disorders such as anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, or PTSD
- Physical issues, such as traumatic brain injury or an infection, that present symptomatic anger.
Unfortunately, uncontrolled anger can be extremely toxic, destroying lives in numerous ways. Physically, it increases adrenaline, blood pressure, heart rate, and hormones. Mentally and emotionally, various types of anger can damage relationships and opportunities.
The Four Types of Anger
Most mental health professionals acknowledge four primary types of anger. Here’s how the University of California, Berkeley describes them:
- Aggressive: “externalized, turned loose”
- Assertive: “appropriately managed and communicated if necessary”
- Passive: “internalized or locked up”
- Passive-Aggressive: “outwardly agreeable, but showing the anger through indirect actions or sabotage”
With this framework, some experts believe there are additional specific qualities that further define anger, such as:
- Chronic, or simply angry at everything and everyone all the time.
- Constructive, often the catalyst in protests and other forms of positive change.
- Deliberate, such as when someone wants to assume control.
- Judgmental, a form of displaying superiority.
- Overwhelming, such as when someone feels trapped and then relieves stress or pain by hurting themselves or others.
- Paranoid, a fear-based emotional response often motivated by jealousy or intimidation.
- Retaliatory, typical among men, especially when someone becomes angry at another person angry with them.
- Self-inflicted, which is when a person might harm themselves by driving the anger inward.
- Verbal, including insults and putdowns directed toward the subject of the anger.
- Volatile, which escalates into unpredictable verbal, emotional, or physical abuse.
This breakout further demonstrates how no two individuals express anger in the same way. So just imagine how complex recovery can be for people of different backgrounds, life experiences, and inheritable traits when they are told “you’re angry” without any further guidance or exploration.
Having the ability to not only recognize the root causes of anger but also acknowledge how this secondary emotion prevents full health is a vital step in AUD and SUD recovery.
It’s not about feeling ashamed or guilty about the emotion, but rather accepting that it’s tied to unhealthy behaviors which are no longer welcome in a life of sobriety and improved well-being.
How Individualized Addiction Treatment Quells Angry Emotions
In 2020, Mental Health America indicated that of the people using its screening tools:
- More than 70 percent “felt easily annoyed or irritable at least half the time or nearly every day.”
- Approximately 80 percent “reported being so irritable that they shouted at people or started fights or arguments.”
- About 90 percent said “they feel people are more likely to express their anger on social media than they are face-to-face.”
Considering that 2020 was an extremely troublesome year for many reasons, it’s understandable that people had emotional difficulty. But drug overdoses also reached a new high in the first half of 2020, implying that our ability to handle anger effectively might need professional assistance.
Cognitive behavioral therapy with an anger management component could be helpful for some people in addiction treatment. Providing a safe place to explore what angry feelings might be hiding—as well as the tools for channeling it effectively—allows people with AUD or SUD to move beyond the past and into a promising future.
At an inpatient treatment facility like Willingway, our dedicated team of professionals design a continuum of care plan specific to your needs. It’s a whole-person approach that encompasses all aspects of an individual’s life to find the right recovery solutions, which might include addressing aspects of anger. Learn more about our philosophy and methods by contacting a member of our admissions team.