How to Deal with Anger During Recovery from Addiction

How to Deal with Anger During Recovery from Addiction


In order to recover successfully from addiction you have to get a little bit angry at times.

Meaning, you have to get a little bit nuts, a bit more inspired to take action.

And even if you don’t want to get angry, it is going to happen at times. It is part of the human condition. So we need to learn how to deal with it. Not necessarily how to minimize it, because it is going to happen anyway. But how to channel it and use it.

Every alcoholic and drug addict knows what it feels like to be stuck in addiction, to be completely beat down in life, and to feel completely hopeless.

If anything, you are overwhelmed with sadness and hopelessness at that point in your struggle.

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My suggestion to you today is that you need to, at some point, turn that sadness and hopelessness into anger.


Because at least then it turns into energy. Anger may not be the best form of direction in your life, but it is generally better than giving up and dying drunk. That’s right, if you are considering your alternatives when it comes to alcoholism, getting angry and fired up about recovery is actually one of the better options.

Recovery is nothing if not change. You need to find a way to get excited and motivated to make those changes.

I think it is pretty rare for people to find positive motivations to get clean and sober, at least at first.

In other words, when the world is telling you to sober up because your life will be so much happier and joyful, the typical alcoholic just doesn’t hear all of that. It doesn’t register.

At least, it did not register with me. And I really heard people who tried to convince me of how wonderful life was going to be in recovery (if I would only give it a chance). But I was still stuck in my addiction at that point, I was still stuck in denial, and I really did not believe that their fairy tale description would apply to me at all. I thought I was unique, so their rules would not really apply to me.

In short, I stayed sad and hopeless at the time, being stuck in denial, instead of getting fired up about recovery. So I stayed stuck and I went back to drinking every day. I missed an opportunity to get sober because I could not find the inspiration to motivate myself internally. I was still saying to myself “what is the point? It will never work for me.” I was sad and hopeless rather than angry and motivated.

How to use your anger to fuel positive action in recovery

At some point I became desperate enough and miserable enough that I surrendered to the disease.

This was still not anger. I was just tired of being afraid, at this point. I was afraid of facing my life in general, I was afraid of facing life sober and learning how to deal with people. I was afraid of having to face the real me.

So I finally got to a point where I was so miserable and so sick of my own fear that I just gave up. I did not get angry yet. I simply surrendered and asked for help and became willing to go to rehab.

So I went to rehab and I started to listen to other people in recovery who would try to help me to build a new life in sobriety.

I stayed in rehab for a few weeks and then I transitioned into a long term rehab center. I lived with other guys in recovery and we all tried to figure this sobriety thing out. Many of my peers relapsed on a regular basis.

My goal at the time was pretty simple: Don’t relapse. I wanted to stay clean and sober for the long run. I did not want to relapse.

This is where the anger part comes in.

It is easy to start coasting in recovery. It is easy to get lazy in your routine. This can lead to relapse if you are not careful.

I learned a lot about emotions after I became clean and sober. Most people are dominated by fear in their lives, and in their recovery. Most alcoholics and addicts are running away from something, even if it is just general anxiety. But they are almost always covering up some sort of fear in their lives, whether they will admit it or not.

That fear can come out in many forms. One of the forms is through anger. We tend to cover up our fears with anger. It is an outlet, a release.

So the key is to be able to identify that anger and then turn it into something positive.

Anger can be a big problem for people but it is also a form of opportunity.

First of all you need to realize when it is happening. Because there are a lot of people in this world who do not even know when they are getting angry. This becomes a huge problem for them because then they might make bad decisions or lose control because of their anger and they suffer consequences.

We don’t want this to happen. Instead, we want to channel that anger and use it in a constructive way.

Therefore, the first thing that you need to be able to do in your recovery is to identify it.

You need to know when you are angry!

How do you do that?

It’s pretty simple really. You need to pay attention.

Now if you are starting from total scratch on this idea then I would suggest that you start by writing in a journal every day. In particular, you need to write down your feelings every day. How you actually feel from an emotional standpoint. Keep in mind that your feelings are things such as: Sad, Mad, Glad, Scared. Those are your 4 basic feelings. Of course there are variations on those but those four sort of cover the basics. If you find yourself describing how you “feel” and it cannot be summarized with one of those 4 words then you have probably drifted off track.

So you should keep a written journal of how you feel each day. And in doing so you will force yourself to learn how to identify what you are actually feeling. So you will have to stop and think every single day: “What am I really feeling right now? Am I scared? Sad? Happy?” And so on. You will start paying attention to your emotions, and thus you will be able to identify your anger.

Some people in recovery actually relapse because they become so angry or afraid and they have no way to identify their emotions, they have never practiced at it, and they have no plan on what to do with their strong emotions. So when it hits they have no way to deal with it and therefore they relapse.

Now you might think that this is only one possible problem that someone in recovery might have, but this is actually THE main problem. This is how relapse typically occurs. Relapse is emotional. The alcoholic is distraught with strong emotions. They don’t just relapse because they are bored. They relapse because they are overwhelmed with strong emotion and they don’t know how to deal with it. For example, just consider how many of my peers in early recovery ended up relapsing due to a relationship gone sour (nearly all of them!). They did not drink because they were bored, they drank because their emotions were killing them and they did not know how to deal with the intensity.

You may think that our thoughts drive us to drink or to relapse but it is actually the emotions that do so. And we cannot exactly choose our emotions. If something happens and we get sad, or scared, or hurt, we don’t get to choose that emotion. It just happens. Our mind reacts to the situation and the emotion comes up out of nowhere. It just happens.

And then we have to deal with that emotion. We are not powerless at that point, we have choices. First of all, we get to choose how aware we are going to be of our emotions. Second of all, we get to choose how we are going to react to having that emotion. So we still have some power in the situation, but it is important to realize that we do not get to choose the initial emotion that occurs. That is beyond our control. If we suddenly become sad we cannot just tell ourselves not to be sad anymore. We all know that doesn’t work. Our emotions choose us, we don’t choose our emotions.

Communicating your anger

So what can you do when you identify anger in your life?

Your first task is to simply acknowledge it. Let it be for a moment. Don’t just instantly push it away or resist it.

There is a reason that you are angry. But don’t think that you have to deny yourself the anger, because there is a part of you that needs to feel angry for a moment. They talk of “justified anger” and “unjustified anger.”

The way you should think of it is that when you get angry, you are going to let yourself feel that anger for a moment, but then you are going to move on from it. So don’t deny it immediately. You did not choose the emotion. There is a reason you are upset. Don’t deny your anger at first. Let it exist.

You should allow this anger for a brief moment knowing two things:

1) You don’t have to act out on the anger and do anything stupid or hasty, and
2) There is another emotion underneath the anger, and your job is going to be to figure out what that is.

I was taught in early recovery that your anger is always a secondary emotion. That it only arises in response to another emotion that lies underneath it. This emotion underneath it is almost always FEAR, but sometimes it is “hurt” as well.

So after you allow yourself to cool off for a bit, you should move on with your emotional analysis and see if you can determine where this anger came from. Why did you get angry? What was really the root cause of the anger? You may be able to identify it by completing statements such as:

“I got angry because I was afraid that…..”
“I got angry because I was hurt when…..”

You obviously would have to fill in that blank. Notice that in either case, you are actually identifying what caused the primary emotion (hurt or fear) that then led to your anger.

You will also probably notice that when you experience these emotions it almost always involves other people. Rarely will you be angry at things, objects, or yourself. It will almost always involve other people.

So once you have reached this point you can identify the person that you are angry at, and you will also know what the emotion was that came before the anger. So you might realize that someone threatened you in some way, and that scared you, and that fear then turned into anger.

Sort of a clunky mess, right? But it is important for you to deconstruct it like this, so that you know exactly what is driving your anger. If you cannot identify the source of it then you cannot do anything to fix it.

So then, what do you do with this information?

If you want to resolve the anger and find a way to heal in this situation, you need to communicate with the person who caused the anger.

But when you do it, you wait until you are no longer angry. You let yourself cool off. Then when you go to them, you communicate with them and you tell them what the primary emotion was, not the secondary emotion.

So you might go to your friend Bob who made you mad, and say something like:

“Bob, it hurt me when you called me a liar. I felt hurt. I just wanted you to know that it hurt me.”

Notice that you don’t hurl any opinions around here. You just tell him what emotion you felt underneath the anger. You felt hurt. So you tell him about your hurt. That’s it. You don’t make judgments. You don’t give opinions. You just state the simple fact that:

“When you did this ______, I felt this ________.”

Notice that the person cannot really argue with your statement. Because you are only stating what emotion you felt inside. And we all know that we cannot really choose our emotions. So the person can’t really come back and say “well you are just stupid to have felt hurt inside, why would you feel hurt? That is stupid!” They can’t really say that. Or if they do say it, they will know that it is not true, because they don’t choose their own emotions either. So they might say something like that defensively, but they know in their hearts that we can’t choose our own emotions.

So if you do this and you communicate with the other person what the primary emotion was, you will feel great relief. If they hear what you say and you tell them what your real emotion was then it will give you a lot of relief and peace over the anger.

This is how you process your anger and then communicate it with others.

It is a skill, and it takes a lot of practice. It is not easy to do if you have never done it before. So you may have to work at it. And you may have to remind yourself that this is the healthy way to deal with your anger, rather than to just let it fill you with rage until you burst and then do damage to others.

Dealing with anger during your recovery journey

Why do people relapse in recovery?

Most of the time it is because their emotions are killing them inside. They relapse because they don’t want to feel their emotions, and they know that if they use drugs or alcohol then they don’t have to feel any more. They can medicate their emotions away.

Sure, some people self medicate their boredom, but this is generally not what drives a life long addiction. Instead, over time, we come to learn that we can medicate our unwanted emotions away. So if we get sad or frustrated or angry or scared, we know that if we just use enough of our drug of choice, we will no longer have to feel that emotion.

So even if it was never your intent to cover up your feelings and emotions with drugs and alcohol, this is exactly what happens over time and this is what fuels your addiction.

If you stop taking your drug of choice for a while then the feeling and emotions will start to creep back in, and you will get uncomfortable. This is why people generally relapse.

The only way to overcome this relapse is to learn how to deal with your feelings and emotions again.

That takes work. You cannot just ignore the issue and secretly hope that it will get better. You can’t just hope that you get lucky and never have to deal with any more unwanted emotions in your life. The fact is that your life is going to have ups and downs. Eventually everyone will have to deal with a variety of emotions and feelings, some of them negative. So you need to be able to deal with them and process them in a healthy way.

You can do that by:

* Learning to identify your emotions as they come up. You don’t want to be walking around in life and not even knowing that you are angry, or hurt, or scared. You want to be able to monitor and know what it driving your emotional condition. This is important for relapse prevention.
* Learning how to identify the primary feeling that lies underneath your anger.
* Learning how to communicate your feelings with other people, especially when they make you angry. Practicing this over and over again until you can do it without it turning into a fight or a yelling match (state your feelings, not your opinions!).
* Keeping a written journal so that you monitor your feelings and emotions. This will help you learn to identify them and also to be more aware of them.
* Talking with others and getting feedback about how they deal with their emotions. For example, one of my best outlets for negative emotions is exercise. It works well for me, though other people will have other strategies that work better for them. You need to find out what works well for you in dealing with negative emotions. Learn this by getting feedback and ideas from other people in your life.

If you use all of these techniques together then it is even possible for you to turn the energy from negative emotions into something positive by channeling it. If you get really upset, give yourself time to cool off and go channel the anger into something more positive (such as exercise, for example). Then process the emotion, figure out what it is underneath it, and–if necessary–go communicate your real feelings (the ones that are hiding underneath the anger). This is the best way to deal with negative emotions in your recovery.

Become aware of the emotions.
Allow yourself to feel them.
Channel the energy if necessary.
Give yourself time to process the emotion. Dig deeper.
Communicate if necessary.

This is what has worked for me in my own journey.

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