Managing Anger in Addiction Recovery

Anger is a funny emotion. It’s natural to feel antagonism when you have been wronged. Expressing anger can even be a positive thing–it allows you to move negative feelings through your body or come up with solutions to problems. But anger isn’t always healthy. It can lead to aggression, dysfunctional or criminal behavior and physical health problems. Managing anger during addiction recovery is especially important to avoid relapse.

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Managing Anger During Addiction Recovery Is an Emotional Intelligence Skill

Anger can sweep in like a storm whether or not you’re in addiction recovery. As it takes hold, you may feel your body become tense, your heart beat faster and your breathing quicken. While your body floods with activating neurotransmitters like adrenaline and cortisol, your mind becomes fuzzy.

You might not be able to make objective decisions. In addition, you may feel hyper-focused on the anger or a factor that’s associated with it.

When you’re seeing red, it’s difficult to be aware of the situation as it’s unfolding. It’s easy to get trapped in a whirlwind of emotions, some of which may be inappropriate for the situation or unproportional to the trigger. Before you enter addiction recovery, anger can fuel cravings and act as a barrier to treatment.

Any time your emotions take off on an unmanageable roller coaster ride, you risk getting swept up in the drama. Without developing your emotional intelligence skills, anger in addiction recovery can make it tough to cope with the intensity and unpredictability of addiction and recovery.

This doesn’t mean that you should ignore your anger. However, working on emotional intelligence will help you manage your anger in recovery in the following ways:

  • Become aware of your true triggers
  • Notice your emotions in the moment
  • Allow yourself to feel the emotion without judgment
  • Using established practices to calm your brain and body
  • Approach the situation with empathy
  • Use healthy communication skills to express your needs

Self-Directed Anger vs. Externally Directed Anger in Recovery

Anger in recovery is directed toward yourself or others. But it’s not always easy to distinguish between the two types of anger.

You might lash out at others, blaming them for anger that is triggered by your own behavior. For example, you may believe that you developed an addiction to deal with the way that you’re treated by a loved one.

However, blaming others doesn’t help you manage your anger in addiction recovery. It also prevents you from identifying the source of the emotional distress that initiated the addiction.

On the other hand, you could turn your anger toward yourself if you are activated by external sources but don’t know how to express the emotion properly. In this case, you put undue pressure on yourself to control others’ behavior. You cause yourself additional strife that interferes with your addiction treatment and may even fuel an active addiction.

Blame is often associated with anger. Most people quickly jump to accusations when they feel angry. You may blame yourself or others for the intense emotion.

Separating yourself from the blame is an important part of managing anger. Instead of placing judgment on the feeling, allow yourself to sit with the emotion without judgment. Learning how to cope with the emotion without piling blame on the same plate will help you move through the anger without letting it derail your life.

Anger Is Triggered by Your Thoughts

Can you dredge up feelings of anger right now? The chances are high that you need to think of an incident or situation that enrages you in order to produce anger within yourself.

Anger is a result of your thoughts. If someone tells you that they think you need help with your addiction problem, you might think the following:

  • They’re trying to control me.
  • They’re aware of the dark sides of my psyche that I try to hide.
  • I feel guilty and ashamed that I’ve made the people that I love worry about me.
  • They don’t understand me.

These thoughts can quickly make you angry. However, the anger is produced by your interpretation of the situation as opposed to the circumstances themselves.

On the other hand, you might not respond with anger if you have thoughts such as:

  • They love me and care for my well-being.
  • They just want to see me be healthy.
  • I know that there is a rift in our relationship, and I want to help make it better.

How Are Anger and Substance Abuse Linked?

The same negative thoughts that trigger anger can also create internal friction that leads to substance abuse. These thoughts are often distorted and don’t match what’s really going on.

Some of the most common dysfunctional thought patterns that contribute to both anger and addiction include the following:


This all-or-nothing type of thinking is often fed by insecurities, fears, an inability to see the situation clearly and a failure to accept responsibility. Saying to yourself, “I always have trouble controlling my drug use” might make you feel helpless to end the addiction and angry that you’re still stuck in the addiction cycle.

Negative thinking

When you’re trapped in negativity, you’ll disqualify the positives so that the detrimental thoughts seem more influential. You might not believe that you can stop using, and you might feel anger when you feel like the world is out to get you.


Assuming the worst without looking at the details or bigger picture can make any situation seem worse than it is. Magnifying feelings of helplessness, anger and pain makes it harder to cope with these powerful feelings and can lead you to justify your drug use.

Jumping to conclusions

Presuming that people are trying to hurt you contributes to anger. You may use substances to cope with these thoughts instead of working through them constructively.

Rigid thinking

An inability to see the situation from a different point of view prevents you from taking steps to produce change. Inflexible thinking can leave you stewing in your anger and mistrusting the effectiveness of your addiction treatment.

These ways of thinking can leave you with blinders on. Failing to address the actual situation can produce intense emotions that are difficult to handle. These detrimental thought patterns also make it difficult to establish the emotional intelligence that’s necessary for a sustained recovery.

Tips to Manage Anger During Addiction Recovery

At a comprehensive addiction treatment facility like Renewal Lodge, you’ll focus on unraveling the sources of your anger. As you develop your emotional intelligence, you’ll take steps to transform negative thinking into a positive mindset and avoid anger triggers.

Some skills that you’ll learn for dealing with anger in recovery include:

Addiction Recovery at Renewal Lodge

It takes lifelong dedication to your well-being to prevent anger from taking over your life and fueling your addiction. At Renewal Lodge, we use a holistic approach to help individuals and their loved ones sort through intense emotions like anger so that they can establish a strong foundation of mental health and sustain their addiction recovery journey.

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Dear Renewal Lodge Visitors,

My name is John Bruna, co-founder of the Mindfulness in Recovery® Institute, and more importantly, a grateful member of the recovery community. I am incredibly fortunate to have found my recovery in 1984. Of course, I did not achieve continuous recovery through willpower or my own efforts, but through the guidance and caring support of countless others that selflessly taught me how to live through the 12 Steps.

My journey of recovery brought this once homeless, shame-based, traumatized, insecure young man to a life far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I discovered self-worth, the joy of helping others, the gifts of parenting and grandparenting, and most importantly the ability to live a meaningful and purposeful life with integrity.

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is that I have the opportunity to give back and help others discover their self-worth, dignity, and the skills to fully live lives that they find truly meaningful. This is the inspiration for developing the skills of Mindfulness in Recovery® (MIR) to meet the needs of new generations struggling with alcohol and other substance use disorders. MIR is a set of evidence-based skills designed to help people fully integrate their tools of recovery in ways that are personalized, practical, and in alignment with their deepest values.

While we train counselors and therapists throughout the United States and abroad, I personally have chosen to work directly with the amazing team and clients at Renewal Lodge to develop the model MIR 12-step program for the nation. I choose Renewal Lodge because of the vision of its mission and the dedication of its team. Renewal Lodge is an extremely rare environment in which the staff embodies the very mindfulness and 12-step practices and skills they offer their clients. The results have been beyond my expectations. It is an honor to be here and I treasure my personal time with every client I meet.

With Gratitude,

John Bruna
John Bruna
Director of Mindfulness
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