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Managing Anger in Recovery

Anger management is just one skill that you will learn to hone in recovery. Addiction recovery, especially early recovery, is a time of heightened emotions, some or even many of which you may have covered up in the past with the use of drugs or alcohol. Now, in sobriety, you must learn to cope with these emotions without substances.

Anger can lead you to act on impulse, which can put you in compromising situations. It can also result in a build-up of tension and other negative feelings, which may lead to an outburst and relapse. People will commonly turn to alcohol as a way to cope with anger, as it can “take the edge off” by acting as a sedative. This just feeds into the cycle of using substances to mask unpleasant emotions.

Acting compulsively on angry inclinations is not effective, but neither is repressing them; it is up to you to find the balance that allows you to suppress your anger to the degree that you are not ignoring it, but that you are controlling it to the extent that it is not negatively impacting your daily life and relationships with others.

The body’s natural physiological responses to anger are caused by a rush of hormones called catecholamines and arousal of the adrenocortical system. Acting on angry feelings increases blood pressure and heart rate and causes a surge in adrenaline. Some people may find the onset of “angry tears,” rage-induced crying, to be imminent.


Acting on angry impulses is not the right way to handle emotionally charged situations, but nor is repressing them. To learn how to appropriately handle anger, you need to learn to recognize your personal triggers.

Possible triggers for anger might include:

  • Being a perfectionist and/or fearing failure
  • Feeling misunderstood or unloved
  • Criticism or unfair treatment
  • Fatigue
  • Toxic situations/people

Managing anger

Effective anger management can help you to re-orient yourself and put you back in control of your emotions. You can choose to manage your anger in several ways, such as exercising, distracting yourself, seeking self-positivity, writing, or asking for help.

Other practical responses to anger include:

  • Focus on repetition. Whether counting up to, or down from, the number ten or repeating the same phrase in your head, hone in on something that is redundant and that can distract you from what you are feeling.
  • Actively replace your anger with a different emotion. Anger is rarely felt by itself. You may also feel hurt, disrespected, confused, and other number of other emotions. Try to focus on a co-occurring emotion, and seek a hug for comfort or ask someone to cheer you up. These kinds of activities may seem artificial, but they can help boost your mood and distract you from feeling angry.

It is also important that you are able to learn new ways to communicate with others what you are feeling. Knowing how to express the way you are feeling and why you are feeling this way, without expressing yourself with just anger, is key. This is particularly important when it comes to learning how to avoid anger repression; telling others how you feel, especially when your anger is targeted at a specific person or at a situation involving a specific person, is essential and can help you work through problems in a healthy way.

Get help with addiction

Learning to manage your emotions is just one part of recovery. Much of maintaining sobriety is working to uncover the roots of feelings and of addiction, and how the two relate. Our therapists at Royal Life Centers at Puget Sound help our guests to make this kind of personal progress through an individualized approach to therapy.

If you or a loved one has a substance use disorder, we hope that you will reach out to us for support and to learn more about your treatment options. We are a full-service drug and alcohol detox and residential treatment facility and treat dependence on alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opioids. Please contact us at (877)-RECOVER at any time.

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