For many alcoholics, the urge to drink can be directly linked to their level of anger. Some turn to alcohol to calm feelings of anger; others feel justified to relapse because a friend or loved one has made them feel angry. In any case, anger is both a catalyst and a byproduct of alcoholism.
Since anger plays such a central role in the lives of so many alcoholics, learning to manage its effect is central to overcoming an addiction. Experts at alcohol rehab centers are aware of this, and many incorporate anger management courses into their treatment programs.
Alcohol Magnifies Anger Issues
Alcohol affects different people in different ways, but the angry alcoholic has become a stereotype for a reason. Anger and aggression are regular themes in the lives of many alcoholics, and finding ways to assuage these tendencies is central to overcoming alcoholism.
It is important to consider the difference between anger as an emotional state and as a personality trait. Chronic anger falls into the latter category, and this is the variety of interest to alcohol rehabilitation programs. A person prone to chronic anger will subconsciously seek out stimuli that activate anger and aggression. Anger can manifest without an immediate cause, and this tendency increases when alcohol is involved.
One published study Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that drinkers with tendency toward chronic anger were much more likely to become enraged when drinking alcohol. A sophisticated Facial Action Coding System was used to gauge anger in participants’ faces. Intoxicated participants exhibited a significantly higher number of angry facial expressions than their sober counterparts.
In another study, researchers at the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) found that male-on-female physical abuse is eight times more likely when the man has been drinking. This simple but profound statistic underscores the importance of working through anger and aggression while seeking alcohol rehabilitation. Given the positive link between intoxication and anger, dealing with one inadvertently addresses the other as well.
Anger Triggers Relapse
Anger plays a central role in poor decision making, which can lead to relapse for a recovering alcoholic. As avoiding relapse is one of the greatest challenges for recovering alcoholics, dealing with latent or unresolved anger is essential. Those who avoid engaging this relapse trigger limit their chances of success.
In a study conducted at Harvard University, Dr. John F. Kelly followed the progress of more than 1,700 alcoholics who were being treated in clinical trials. Participants were assessed every three months for more than a year.
The study focused on enrollees of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA emphasizes the role that anger plays in an alcoholic’s life and offers programs to help members cope with anger issues. This makes AA an interesting arena for researchers hoping to explore the relationship between anger, alcoholism and rehab.
The study found that members of AA were significantly angrier than the general public. New enrollees ranked in the top 2 percent in terms of anger when compared to the general populace. Over the course of the program, anger levels do see a moderate increase. At 15 months, members ranked in the top 11 percent.
The study ultimately found that AA was effective in encouraging better life choices in terms of alcohol and addiction. However, this was out of proportion with members’ reduction in anger. Apparently, AA is able to help alcoholics with drinking-related issues, but not with anger.
Along these lines, a comprehensive program that addresses addiction while helping alcoholics reduce latent anger is likely to be even more successful. This is where a comprehensive rehabilitation program has more to offer. It goes beyond the accountability and community dynamics of AA to include targeted therapeutic methods that can target anger and other relapse triggers.
Anger and Alcohol Are Both Addictive
There are reasons beyond curbing the likelihood of relapse that prompt alcoholics to address unresolved anger. Anger can actually become an addiction in itself and can be treated alongside other addictive behaviors. Alcoholics receiving treatment and rehab services are in an ideal position to address an anger addiction as well.
Anger and alcoholism are woven together, and dealing with one without addressing the other is nearly impossible. Addiction counselors are well aware of this, as many of their clients are as addicted to rage and anger as they are to alcohol. Since untangling these issues is impractical, many choose to do deal with both concurrently.
Seeking treatment at an alcohol rehab center will involve more than simply working through anger management issues. When worked into a holistic treatment plan, anger management can play an important role in overcoming alcoholism or addiction. For a strategy to be effective, it has to take the client’s unique background and personality into account to produce a customized treatment plan.