We’ve already discussed the emotions, including anger, associated with alcohol or drug addiction treatment. Hopefully you’ve gained an understanding about the emotional gauntlet you must pass on your way to recovery.  You experience the same range of emotions as someone who has just discovered that they have a catastrophic illness, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance

Of all the emotions you’ll experience, anger is the most dangerous. Anger, in particular, has been identified by people who sought drug addiction treatment and then relapsed as the biggest trigger for that relapse, greater than any other emotion.

The Many Faces of Anger During Drug Addiction Treatment

Anger affects you in more ways than you realize. There is the anger that you experience as you make the huge decision to fight your addiction. The effects of your anger spread out beyond yourself and also wield an impact on your network of family and friends—your spouse, children, parents, siblings, and even your drug addiction treatment counselor.

Think about the sympathy you hope for, on some level, on a day when you’re really tempted to use and you just wish you had some compassion from your spouse. If he or she expresses impatience because they don’t understand the nature of addiction, it’s like running unexpectedly into an emotional brick wall.

Each person responds to anger physiologically in a different way. The most primal reaction to anger dates back to the ancient cavemen when threatened by mountain lions. That same physical response occurs when we get angry, and if you think that’s just too far out, think about it: An angry person’s pupils become dilated so that they can see their enemy better. Their skin gets goosebumps so that the hair on their body stands up to make themselves look bigger to the enemy. They start breathing harder so that their muscles are well oxygenated in case they have to run from the enemy. If you find yourself glaring and panting with your hair standing on end, it makes sense. But who is the enemy who caused this horrible anger? It’s really just you.

Other people get hives when their angry, some develop heartburn and even diarrhea, and yet others experience headaches. For many people, anger means an instant and dangerous elevation of blood pressure. The point is that your body will respond to anger in a way that is typical and predictable for you. Not everybody is alike.

Talk to Your Counselor

The best way to protect your recovery from relapse is to be honest with your drug addiction treatment counselor. He or she will not laugh at you or discount your emotions. In fact, they are aware that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has actually put together a plan that can help you control your anger about your addiction.

The first part of the plan involves sitting down and making a list of the things that make you angry. Do you feel aggravated when you’re caught in traffic? Do your coworkers or the people in your family do things or have habits that really annoy you? Maybe you become irrationally angry when other people do things that you perceive as stupid or when you have to fix mistakes caused by others.

Once you’re aware of the things that set you off, figure out ways to combat that anger so that you don’t use it as an excuse to drink or take your drug of choice. These are tried-and-true suggestions from other people who have walked this path before you:

  • Take a time-out. You may not be a little kid, but sometimes we all just have to sit it out—go off by yourself to have a cup of coffee, for example.
  • Go for a walk. Physical activity actually releases the stress hormones that your body has generated.
  • Practice deep breathing. The more you practice it, the easier it will be to perform at the times when you really are angry or stressed out.
  • Possibly most important, go to a 12-step meeting. Go to a group therapy session. Call your sponsor or your drug addiction treatment counselor. This is a time when you need to communicate your emotions. The person you call won’t put you off. If they are in your support network, they know how important your call will be.

Learning to manage your anger will be part of your recovery plan. Don’t be afraid to be honest with your drug addiction treatment counselor. Getting the help you need and understanding that addiction has impacted every aspect of your personality will protect your recovery.