It is very common for those who suffer from substance use disorders to have difficulty processing their emotions. Often, emotions become overwhelming once a person clears up from using. In the early stages, recovering individuals usually don’t know what they should be feeling. One emotion that they are familiar with, however, is anger. If unchecked, anger can simmer and result in regular or sporadic emotional outbursts that include yelling, screaming, or arguing. It can become violent and uncontrollable and turn into rage.
Why are recovering alcoholics and drug addicts angry?
When many people first turn to drugs, alcohol, or both, it may be due to emotional trauma that was never addressed. The trauma may have been inflicted in childhood, but it also could have happened at any time. Through using substances, the person receives relief, at least for a time. They are able to get high or drunk and forget. They depend on substances to take away their “emotional gaping wound”. In that way, they self-medicate and stuff most of their actual feelings down inside them.
This stuffing of emotions can occur even if they never faced trauma. They may have just drank to socialize and have fun, or done recreational drugs at parties on occasion. However, at some point, they became alcoholic or addicted.
Often, after years of consuming alcohol or drugs, users will find that they have few emotions left. They may be accustomed to being numb. They may be in an intoxicated state of mind every conscious minute, and so they go through their days feeling little to nothing at all. In other instances, they may only feel shame, guilt, and anger. This anger can be so extreme that it is more akin to rage. They feel anger at themselves for what they have done to their lives, but they are also angry at everything and everyone else.
Why does anger manifest itself in early recovery?
Those who are new to sobriety (or facing life without drugs for the first time) are almost incapable of controlling the slew of emotions that start to bubble up. They may be feeling happy, ambitious, or hopeful for the first time in years or decades. They could also be feel grief over the loss of a loved one from a long time ago, or regret at missed opportunities. All of these emotions are likely confusing. It is my belief that when people new to recover aren’t sure how to cope with their new and changing emotional state, they resort to their base-level emotional state. This could be numbness, anger, or depression. They may do this anytime they face a troublesome situation. What is perceived as anger is often another emotion at the root.
How to recognize anger when new to recovery
It is important to recognize anger when it is manifesting, and not let it turn into rage. Rage can be dangerous. It does no good to smash a chair against a wall, throw cooking pots, or kick and punch objects. Substance abuse can turn people violent in an instant. When under the influence, it is all too easy to use poor judgment which can injure another person or themselves. Once recovering, it is still possible to become so angry and hateful that you could have a violent fit of rage. It may be a simple thing that sets you off. Sometimes, a broken appliance, or a snippy remark from a stranger can rub you the wrong way. Other times, you may face a big problem like getting fired from a job.
6 Tips for dealing with anger:
- Practice counting inside your head to 3 before you react.
- Give yourself time to be angry, then move on.
- Get some physical exercise. This could include a punching bag.
- See a counselor. If you are constantly angry and it won’t go away, you may need professional help.
- Examine your day: are you hungry? Are you exhausted? Could issues like this be causing you to be angry?
- Talk to someone who understands. You aren’t alone.
It is normal to get angry for a little while. It is not normal to let it fester inside of you and then explode. Too often, recovering people take their frustrations out at the wrong moment, in the wrong place, and on the wrong person. They may display anger at a girlfriend or boyfriend that has little or nothing to do with the other person. It just happens that the other person is present in that moment, and they get the brunt of it. In truth, this could happen to anyone. Don’t let anger control your day and ruin your life.