Why Do I Need Anger Management in Recovery?

A man sitting alone.

Why Do I Need Anger Management in Recovery?

When you are in early recovery, you are still learning to regulate your emotions. Anger is a natural emotion that everyone experiences throughout their lives and an emotion that is commonly experienced during both active addiction and recovery. However, expressing anger in certain ways can lead to harmful consequences. Learning to manage anger and find healthy alternatives to express your emotions will help not only minimize consequences but also prevent relapse.

What Does Anger Have to Do With Relapse?

Intense emotions can easily consume you and become triggers for relapse. Anger is perhaps the most common emotional trigger for substance use because it can be such an overwhelming, intense emotion that it can cause a mental relapse, leading to a physical relapse.

Anger can often be a precursor to substance abuse as well as a side effect during treatment and recovery. Emotions are directly tied to both substance use and relapse because substance use is often an extension of an emotional reaction. When anger is not regulated or managed well, it can easily lead to unplanned substance use in recovery.

Can I Avoid Becoming Angry?

Anger is a natural response meant to bring us to action when we are wronged or there is injustice. There will always be reasons to become angry, but there are also ways to avoid it. For example, if you know certain people or situations make you angry, and you can avoid them, then you should, especially during early recovery. People like former romantic partners, dysfunctional or abusive family members, or those who have wronged you in the past might be good people to avoid.

Obviously, you will be faced with situations that will create unavoidable feelings of anger. However, when there are known triggers for anger that you can avoid, you should actively make it a point to steer clear of them, just like you would avoid any other potential triggers in recovery.

How Can I Learn to Recognize Anger Early?

One tool to develop that will help in anger management is to learn to recognize early when you are becoming angry. There are times when anger can be like flipping a switch, but there are also times when anger builds slowly from resentment or other feelings. In these situations, noticing that you are harboring negative emotions and becoming agitated can help you to address the issue before it becomes more difficult to manage.

A good way to recognize anger early is to check in with your emotions regularly throughout each day. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • How am I feeling?
  • What external factors are impacting my emotions right now?
  • Have I had enough sleep?
  • Have I been eating regularly?
  • Have I exercised today?
  • Have I done my relaxation, breathing, or meditation practice today?
  • Have I taken time for self-care yet today?
  • When was the last time I went to a support meeting?
  • When was the last time I saw my therapist?

When you check in with your emotions with questions like these, you will be able to recognize anger in its early stages and also acknowledge the things you need to do to make changes in the moment.

How Can I Better Regulate My Emotions?

In addition to taking good care of yourself physically by maintaining your daily routines, you can learn to regulate your emotions by using the tools you learned in treatment. The first step is to be aware of how you are feeling and to identify the emotions you are having. Rather than fight these emotions or try to escape them, you can learn to accept them.

Mindfulness meditation and other mindfulness and relaxation techniques can offer excellent methods for accepting and tolerating emotions. Through mindfulness meditation, you relax, focus on your breathing, clear your mind of other distractions, and simply notice what is happening in the moment without judgment. This allows you to feel your emotions without reacting to them or tying them to past experiences. This helps you to experience the emotions without acting on them, in this case by re-engaging with substances.

You can also regulate your emotions by simply acknowledging that your feelings are valid. Sometimes that is all that is needed to process them is to recognize, acknowledge, and give validation to what you are feeling and experiencing. It is often by trying to avoid or ignore emotions that they become overwhelming and can cause you to act on them. Being more aware, giving validation, and accepting your emotions—even emotions like anger—will help you to regulate them and prevent you from reacting or relapsing.