Dealing with Anger and Sobriety

Anger is a universal emotion.  We all experience it to varying degrees at some point.  Even for sober people, anger issues can get out of control, but for a recovering alcoholic, anger can present a different set of problems.

Alcohol is a depressant.  It effectively numbs a person, both physically and mentally.  A lot of people turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate; they are unable to cope with emotional or personal issues, so they seek solace in the oblivion of intoxication.  Over time, the effects of addiction can really dull one’s emotions even in day-to-day life.  In addition, during the recovery process, an addict has to cope with the physical and psychological effects of the withdrawal process.  This suffering, in addition to a newfound clarity brought on by the absence of the drug, can cause heightened emotional responses, particularly in terms of anger.  Even a person who is not a recovering addict will tend to be short-tempered when not feeling well.  Something as simple as a headache can cause irritability and lashing out.  Stress can also lead to anger issues – such recent social phenomena as road rage and air rage are just a few examples of how many respond negatively to the effects of stress.  When coupled with the constant effort of the recovery process, stress can become magnified, causing excessive anger – that is, anger out of proportion to the cause.

It is important for those recovering from drugs or alcohol who are dealing with anger management issues to avoid certain common stimulants, such as nicotine and caffeine.  These are often used to excess by recovering addicts, but it is simply replacing one addiction with another.  It is also important to recognize that one is in a precarious emotional situation.  The recovery process can take anywhere from weeks to years, depending on the severity of the situation, and it is a long, uphill struggle with many obstacles to overcome.  It can be physically and psychologically exhausting at times, and unfortunately, the stress and strain of the day-to-day world will not kindly step aside out of consideration for these things.

While it is often impossible to simply control how you feel, there are some steps you can take to improve how you deal with anger issues.  Since you are in the recovery process, you’ve already had to go through a process of self-examination in order to make improvements.  You have to understand and accept that you are sometimes going to get angry for what others may perceive as no apparent reason.  While that is unfortunate, you can nevertheless minimize the impact of your anger on yourself and those around you.  Some suggestions are to simply take a break.  The old idea of closing your eyes and mentally counting to ten is a good example.  It may allow you to gain some self-control and prevent you from lashing out.  In extreme situations, you may have to simply absent yourself entirely, go somewhere else and have a moment of quiet time to let it simmer down.  There is no shame in this.  If you realize that you’re getting worked up, you may have to simply say to someone, ‘I’m sorry, I am going to need to step away for a moment.’  This can be accomplished without threats or explanation.  Simply excuse yourself until you can deal with the situation calmly and rationally.

Anger can be self-sustaining once it gets started: you’re angry, you’re annoyed that something has taken you to this point, you’re embarrassed at how you’re reacting, all of which makes you angrier, et cetera. It is not necessarily a rational emotion – very few emotions are truly rational!  But you are dealing with conquering your addiction and remaining sober.  It will often be difficult for others to understand what you have gone (and continue to go) through. So you have to remember that it is not their fault that they don’t empathize.  Often, a person won’t even know about your situation.  That person cannot be blamed for catching you at a bad time.  It may be gratifying to give in to anger at times, but it almost never leads to a positive outcome.

Overcoming a dependence on drugs or alcohol is one of the most difficult but ultimately rewarding tasks a person can achieve.  Dealing with sobriety and anger is just one more step to a healthy and fruitful life.  Because there is life after addiction – you just have to be willing to accept it on its own terms.

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