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Anger: The Catch-22 of Recovery

Dealing with anger during recovery is a real Catch-22. You feel angry about the need for recovery from substance abuse, and so you’re likely to use your substance of choice as a way to assuage that anger. On the other hand, you can’t really give clear thought to handling your anger unless your mind is clear.

As you embark on recovery, you need to realize that it’s natural to feel anger. Everybody gets angry: Whether or not a person is in recovery, he will have days when he feels simply overwhelmed by annoyance, irritation, and all the other synonyms you can think of for this frustrating, negative feeling. However, anger can be very destructive, but learning about it can abate its damage.

There are three components to your anger:

  • First you experience cognition, the actual thought process of knowing that you are irate, whether or not you know the reason.
  • Second, you will feel a physical reaction to your anger, such as an increased heart rate, gulping in air, or even breaking out in hives.
  • The third aspect of anger brings out your negative behaviors, whether you slam a door, pound a table, or shout.

It’s easy to understand why you’re riding this rollercoaster of emotions as you work on your recovery. When you were using, you were doing something that felt good—even if it wasn’t healthy for you, physically or legally. Whenever you became angry, the feelings were muted or anesthetized by the drugs you were using.  If you had things in your life that provoked your anger, you could mask those emotions by using. Now that you’re not using, the things that get on your nerves throughout the course of a normal day are compounded by the cravings you feel from not using drugs.

Many people use anger as reason for relapse. Let’s correct that: Many people use anger as an excuse for relapse! It’s easy to see why. Besides the fact that you’re missing your drug of choice as well as the partying, you also feel resentment toward the people who urged you to go into rehab. Even if you recognize that this was something you needed to do to get your life back in order, you can’t help wondering why you had to be among the percentage of the population afflicted with a challenging addiction disorder.

Now that you are changing your life by participating in treatment in an alcohol or drug rehab center, you’ve also got to find new ways to manage negative emotions.  Your rehab counselor can help you with the issues that make you feel angry at yourself. You will also need help in understanding why you bear so much hostility toward certain people in your life. Whether or not those feelings are justified, you have to learn that you can’t change the past, and you probably can’t change other people. You have to move forward from the hurts of the past, and you can only change yourself.

What are the dangers of anger? If you don’t learn how to control negative emotions, you run the risk of increased health problems, including insomnia, fatigue, headaches, nausea, and even cardiac complications.  You may end up destroying relationships or losing your job. People who live with strong negative emotions are statistically more likely to commit a crime, and they are also more likely to be the victim of a crime.

As you develop a relationship with your counselor, the two of you can discuss the anger you feel.  Your counselor will help you learn ways to combat anger so that its impact on your recovery diminishes to a manageable aspect. You will always have days when you get angry—we all do—but you will learn how to deal with anger during recovery from substance abuse and as you move forward in your life.

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