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.

Woman clutching her head

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.

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

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. 

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

Addiction Treatment 

There are several treatment options available to people with addictions, whether they have anger issues or not. These include:

  • Detox
  • Inpatient treatment
  • Outpatient treatment
  • 12-step programs
  • Medication-assisted therapy

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.

Find Help For Your Addiction

You don’t have to overcome your addiction alone. Professional guidance and support is available. Begin a life of recovery by reaching out to a specialist today.

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Resources

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

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Updated on: January 4, 2021
Author
Kelly Jamrozy
About
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Medically Reviewed
Annamarie
Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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