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The Link Between Alcohol and Anger

Anger is a normal part of the human experience. However, it can be harmful and destructive if you cannot control your anger. Alcohol makes it more difficult to control anger and other emotions.

Control of emotions isn’t the only link between alcohol and anger. For some people, anger is a coping mechanism. They feel anger to avoid other more challenging emotions and behaviors. Instead of being a natural emotion, someone with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) will express anger to avoid dealing with the addiction.

Anger and alcoholism work together in a cycle.  Drinking helps someone escape their negative emotion of anger and feeling angry lets them avoid the fact that drinking has become a problem. The two feed off one another and, if left unchecked, are dangerous to their health and well-being.

Research suggests that AA attendance alone may be insufficient to alleviate the suffering and alcohol-related risks associated with anger. While AA can be helpful in overcoming alcohol-related anger, it also depends on the individual and the treatment path they decide to take. 

NCBI

What Causes Alcohol-Related Anger?

The cause of alcohol-related anger varies from person to person. Alcohol triggers anger in some people. In others, the anger is there before they drink. Reflecting on what came first for you is an important part of recovery.

In some cases, a person doesn’t realize they are angry or that they have an underlying issue with anger. They might assume their anger is triggered by drinking alcohol and that if they got their addiction under control, their anger would subside. Unfortunately, if that’s not the case, they’ll fail to deal with the root cause of the problem. And for many, the underlying anger that was yet to be identified is what triggers relapse.

It’s also important to recognize the role your environment plays in anger. Some of the most common environmental issues that trigger anger include:

  • Stress
  • Financial problems
  • Lack of personal connection with friends and family
  • Abuse
  • Overwhelming obligations to others

Like alcohol, anger issues tend to be more common for people who came from families in which anger was a problem. Many health experts agree that there is a genetic component that involves how the brain reacts to serotonin that affects how people deal with anger.

Co-Occurring Disorders

When someone has both a mental health and substance use disorder, they are considered co-occurring disorders. If anger is a symptom of someone's mental health disorder, alcohol can intensify the anger to dangerous levels.

The following behavioral disorders should be treated with anger management and also have a high rate of co-occurrence with alcoholism:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder

People with co-occurring disorders should receive specialized treatment. The treatment should target both the mental health and substance use disorder as two parts of a whole. Read more about co-occurring disorders and alcoholism.

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Risks & Dangers of Alcohol-Related Anger

Separately, anger and alcohol abuse both create risk. Combined, the risk is even greater. For example, alcohol-related anger:

  • Increases your risk of violent behavior
  • Damages relationships
  • Puts your career in jeopardy
  • Increases your chances of experiencing heart attacks and strokes
  • Weakens your immunity
  • Increases your anxiety
  • Increases your odds of developing depression
  • Shortens your lifespan

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a very dangerous potential result of alcohol abuse. A 2017 study showed that men under the influence of alcohol had higher rates of physical and sexual aggression.

This occurs in long-term relationships such as marriage, as well as all dating scenarios. If your partner shows intense feelings of anger and a lack of self-control when drinking, reach out for help. It could escalate to physical violence.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides confidential assistance from trained advocates. Call 1-800-799-7233 if you or someone you know could be in danger of abuse.

Who is at Risk of Becoming an “Angry Drunk?”

Anyone can feel anger when they are drunk or sober. However, some people are more likely than others to be angry when they are drinking alcohol. Many people believe that substance abuse and alcohol consumption triggers aggressive behavior.

Studies show that people who abuse alcohol are more likely to be abusive to their family members, including children. Children who grow up around domestic violence are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol as teens and adults. This creates a cycle of alcohol use and violence.

There is also a theory that the disinhibition that alcohol creates raises the risk of violent behavior. Heavy drinkers are more likely to engage in risky behavior, which includes being violent and acting out hostile emotions, often against a loved one.

Additionally, there is evidence that chemical and biological factors play a role. People with higher levels of testosterone are more likely to be aggressive. That likelihood increases when they consume alcohol.

Another study found that people who focus on the present moment tend to be angrier alcoholics. People who live in the moment don’t consider the consequences of their actions. They’ll act on their emotion of anger without regard to what their actions could lead to.

Ultimately, nobody knows what comes first, anger or alcohol use disorder (AUD). Chances are the answer varies from person to person. 

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How to Cope with Alcohol-Induced Anger

The most effective way to cope with alcohol-induced anger is to avoid consuming too much alcohol. Some people need to avoid drinking alcohol entirely.

Even if you are not willing to give up alcohol, it’s important to reflect on your feelings and how they change when you drink. Understanding your emotions and making smart decisions about alcohol consumption is the best way to avoid problems. Self-awareness is important for everyone’s mental health but it is especially necessary for people with AUD and anger issues. 

Recognizing your emotional state and making smart choices about substances reduces the risk of alcohol-induced violence.

Alcohol and Anger Treatment Options 

There are several treatment program options available for people struggling with anger issues and addiction. For example:

Anger Management

Anger management therapy is one of the best options available for helping you understand your emotions and find effective ways to cope with them. Working with a therapist trained in dealing with anger problems helps you gain important anger management skills such as:

  • Identifying anger triggers
  • Learning self-calming and coping skills
  • Responding in a healthy manner to triggers
  • Learning to communicate more effectively, even when you are feeling negative emotions
  • Redirecting anger into more constructive outcomes
  • Identifying and manage stress on an ongoing basis

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol abuse and addiction, including:

  • Inpatient ProgramsInpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center. These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to medical monitoring. The first step of an inpatient program is detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced. These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer. Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) Partial hospitalization programs (PHP) are sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient programs (IOP). Compared to inpatient programs, partial hospitalization programs provide similar services. These include medical services, behavioral therapy, and support groups, along with other customized therapies. However, in a PHP you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program. PHPs accept new patients as well as people who have completed an inpatient program and still need intensive treatment.
  • Outpatient Programs Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient or partial hospitalization programs. These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment. They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school. Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program.
  • Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) Sometimes, medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment. Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal. Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat AUD. When combined with other evidence-based therapies (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.
  • Support Groups Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery are open to anyone with a substance abuse problem. They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober. They can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

Dealing with addiction is more challenging when anger is a problem. Dealing with both issues concurrently is the best way to overcome alcohol-induced anger and/or anger that triggers drinking binges.

Resources

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Cathy Spatz Widom, and Susanne Hiller-Sturmhöfel. Alcohol Abuse as a Risk Factor for and Consequence of Child Abuse. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh25-1/52-57.pdf

“One Trait Has Huge Impact on Whether Alcohol Makes You Aggressive.” ScienceDaily, 2011, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111219135215.htm.

“Anger Management | Harvard Medicine Magazine.” Harvard.Edu, 2019, https://hms.harvard.edu/magazine/science-emotion/anger-management

Shorey, Ryan C., et al. “Trait Anger and Partner-Specific Anger Management Moderate the Temporal Association Between Alcohol Use and Dating Violence.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies, Mar. 2017, www.jsad.com/doi/10.15288/jsad.2017.78.313.

Eckhardt, C. I. (2007). Effects of alcohol intoxication on anger experience and expression among partner assaultive men. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75(1), 61–71. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.75.1.61

A;, Parrott DJ;Zeichner. “Effects of Alcohol and Trait Anger on Physical Aggression in Men.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2002, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12033696/.

George, W. H., & Marlatt, G. A. (1986). The effects of alcohol and anger on interest in violence, erotica, and deviance. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(2), 150–158. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-843X.95.2.150

Norström, Thor, and Hilde Pape. “Alcohol, Suppressed Anger and Violence.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 21 June 2010, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.02997.x.

 

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