Addicts and Anger – A Dangerous Combination

Everyone experiences anger from time-to-time, but in the alcoholic or drug addict – anger becomes a toxic emotion that often leads to acts of violence either to oneself, or toward another person.

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Addict and AngerWhile anger is often a secondary response to traumatic memories, conflict and stress – things common to us all – the response to anger in an addict is more severe due to neurological changes caused by substance use.

Anger can be a devastating, overpowering emotion for an addict and result in aggressive behavior. This is due to neurological impairments caused by substance abuse in the areas of the brain that manage anger and stress. Self-medication by the addict only adds to the demise of the brain’s ability to implement a healthy response to anger. This starts a spiral of substance use and negative behavior.

In addiction recovery, mindfulness is successfully used to relieve impulsive behavior, anxiety and habitual reactions. According to a Harvard MRI study: ‘mindfulness appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress’.

 Anger + Substance Abuse = Fire + Gasoline

The relationship between substance abuse and anger is a lot like the relationship between fire and gasoline; one can quickly intensify the other, and together they form a highly dangerous and frightening loss of control. Uncontrolled anger, especially when alcohol or drugs fuel it, increases the risk of aggression considerably, and that can result in devastating consequences. Alternatively, anger may give one a sense of power over others.

Characteristics of Anger

PhysicalRapid heartbeat, tightness in chest, and feeling hot or flushed
BehavioralPacing, clenching fists, raising one’s voice, or staring
EmotionalFear, hurt, jealousy, guilt, outrage
Cognitive/thoughtsHostile self-talk, images of aggression and revenge

Source: Anger Management for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Clients

Addictive Anger

During a bout of anger, one’s perceptual vision is narrowed to incorporate only the focus, or object, of the anger.

This singular focus results in a decrease in one’s capacity for critical thinking and problems solving. The body is gearing up for a fight to survive a perceived wrong that’s been perpetrated against the individual. Chemicals like adrenaline and norepinephrine surge through the body, similar to a drug.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that deals with emotion and during a bout of anger it goes into high gear. It immediately sends a signal for the individual to do something – usually in a quarter of a second from the trigger to a response. Simultaneously, an increase in blood flow to the frontal lobe in the area over the left eye, the area that controls reasoning, occurs. This increase in blood to the frontal lobe is likely what prevents one aggressive behavior, like hurling a vase across a room.

Addiction Related Frontal Lobe Damage

Research shows that the neurological response to anger lasts less than two seconds, so things tend to happen quickly.

Research has also proven that drugs and alcohol damage the brain’s frontal lobe thus reducing its capacity for rational and executive thinking. (Studies have also shown that frontal lobe damage does reverse with sobriety.)

So when an alcoholic or drug addict experiences anger, the possibility of the individual hurling that vase, or doing something worse, is increased quite a bit.

Medical Risks of Ongoing Anger

Continuous abuse of drugs and alcohol over time may contribute toward a limited capacity to produce acetylcholine, a hormone which tempers the more severe effects of adrenaline. A decrease in acetylcholine results in an over-exertion of the nervous system.

Acetylcholine plays a vital role in controlling primitive drives and emotions, e.g., anger, fear, and aggression. When there is an imbalance among neurotransmitters, these drives and emotions, now unchecked, can wreak havoc on both the individual affected and on the people around them.

Low levels of acetylcholine have been implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. See Cholinergic system during the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Additional medical risks are both physiological and psychological and include depression and anxiety. This is a factor in the high prevalence of depression and anxiety diagnoses among addicts.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The volatile effects of drugs and alcohol abuse combined with anger can contribute to dramatic personality changes not unlike the fictional character Dr. Jekyll who turned into the monstrous Mr. Hyde. Unfortunately, many substance abusers may not even be aware that they have an underlying anger problem and do not “connect” their anger problem to their continued use of drugs and/or alcohol. The results can be devastating to the addict, family members and others.

Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, Rehab for Men, Prescott, AZAt Arrowhead Lodge Recovery we treat co-occurring disorders related to substance abuse. Anger and stress management is integral to the work we do with men; along with cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, meditation and breath work.

A multidisciplinary team approach is used to help diagnose and provide solutions for the addict as he begins the process of change toward a more healthy and balance lifestyle.

Our clients not only recover from addiction –  they become aware of the need for change at a deeper level so that they may experience the joy of authenticity. And the blessing of being clean and sober.

Multidisciplinary Addiction Treatment and Recovery

At Arrowhead Lodge Recovery, clients receive individual therapy, group therapy and psychoeducational sessions to help them achieve their treatment goals. Some of our psychoeducational groups include:

Our client centered treatment focus is designed to provide the best in treatment experience so that our clients may achieve their treatment and life goals in sobriety.

At our mountain retreat facility, men can also find and strengthen their unique and authentic personal spiritual connection. We strongly believe in equipping our clients with the depth and stability to handle all the curves and disappointments – as well as joys – in their regular lives once they leave Arrowhead Lodge Recovery.


For a confidential conversation to discuss your situation and learn more about the Arrowhead Lodge Recovery Opioid Addiction program, please call 888-654-3500.



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