Tips for Dealing with Anger When You’re Sober

angry when sober

Do you feel that? Your brain isn’t running in overdrive, wondering how you’re going to get your next fix. The utter chaos your life plummeted into when you were using drugs or drinking. Congratulations. Emotionally, you can feel again, but that clarity is both a gift and a curse. You know the challenges you went through to reach this point in your journey, and while it hasn’t been easy, it’s worth it. 

However, as great as it might feel to experience emotions again, it’s certainly overwhelming, especially when you get angry. This can take you to a dark place and threaten your sobriety. Sober or not, anger can cloud your judgment and lead you to make irrational decisions on the fly. 

No matter how extensive your therapy might have been and how much progress you’ve made with your family, friends, and psychiatrist, it only takes one moment to make a bad decision. Although relapsing on drugs or alcohol is an incremental process that occurs in distinct stages, that anger can lead to a lapse in judgment.

One thing we want to mention is that it’s OK to get angry every now and then. We’re human and bound to experience emotions from time to time. The difference, though, is what you choose to do with that anger. When you’re sober, and you’ve likely gone through a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) sessions, it certainly helps you to direct your anger, but one tip for dealing with anger that we want to share right away is to understand the stages of relapse and how to prevent it. Remaining sober is your primary goal. Once you know that, you can move down the list and implement other tips you’ve learned. 

Let’s take a look below at tips on dealing with anger when you’re sober and what you can do to prevent relapse.

What Are the Signs Leading Up to Relapse?

Drug and alcohol relapse is about as common as relapse with other chronic diseases, such as asthma or heart disease. Unfortunately, there is no cure for drug and alcohol addiction, but it can be managed successfully. An estimated 40 to 60 percent of people with a substance use disorder (SUD) will relapse in the first year after they recover. Despite it being a normal part of recovery, it’s dangerous. A moment of anger and one bad decision could cost you your life, especially because your body is no longer adapted to the previous level of drug exposure after a long period of abstinence. 

The key to relapse prevention is to understand it occurs gradually. In some cases, it might be weeks or months before someone picks up a drug or takes a sip of alcohol. Relapse occurs in three distinct phases, including the following:

Emotional Relapse

During the emotional phase of relapse, people aren’t thinking about using drugs or alcohol. Their previous relapse burns strong in their memory, which is something they’d like to avoid. However, emotions like anger are setting them up to relapse down the road. Denial is a significant part of emotional relapse. Some signs include self-isolating, bottling up one’s emotions, not going to recovery meetings, going to meetings and keeping to oneself, and poor eating or sleeping habits. 

Mental Relapse

During the mental phase of relapse, the individual is battling a war in their head. Part of them wants to use, heavily influenced by their anger and not caring about anything but feeling better, but another part recognizes what they’ll be throwing away. Mental signs of relapse include cravings for drugs or alcohol, minimizing the consequences attached to using, glamorizing past use, thinking about old friends they used with, and planning a relapse.

Physical Relapse

This is the final phase of relapse, which is when the person starts taking drugs or alcohol again. Most physical relapses are relapses of opportunity. They happen when the individual feels like they have a window in which they won’t get caught. Part of relapse prevention involves developing exit strategies and staying away from these uncontrolled thoughts, and not letting emotions like anger get the best of you. Now that we understand the signs of relapse, let’s look at other tips to avoid it by dealing with anger when you’re sober.

Coping with Anger When You’re Healing from Addiction

When you’re constantly getting angry, you’re setting yourself up to relapse. Although it won’t happen right away, it’s enough to poke the sleeping bear and set off a chain reaction. Addiction recovery commonly involves dealing with anger, which is either directed at yourself, others, or at society as a whole. Without learning to process your anger constructively, someone battling addiction won’t recover.

Anger is commonly rooted in fear and pain, and it’s something that can be warped and misdirected and cause severe issues for you and others. If you’re in recovery, it’s vital that you understand the triggers for anger. By nipping the problem in the bud, it can save you a great deal of stress and potentially relapse in the long term.

What Are Some Triggers for Anger?

Addiction treatment is difficult, but what comes after is often more challenging. When you’re going through treatment, you’re in a controlled environment. You’re surrounded by professionals who know how to approach you, and there are no outside stimuli. With that said, learning to manage your anger is knowing what triggers you. In some cases, therapists will have their clients write down a list of things that trigger them. It might include family situations, your boss, specific situations with friends, and various other problems. By identifying those, it can help you walk away when something bad is about to happen and give you a minute to cool off.  

The following are some reasons that can make you angry:

  • Exhaustion
  • Perfectionism 
  • Feeling unloved
  • Feeling like someone is taking advantage of you
  • Criticism
  • Feeling you’re being treated unfairly
  • Feeling unloved

Healthy Ways to Manage Anger

When you know what your triggers are, you can find ways to manage your anger. Understanding what physical symptoms are accompanied by your anger can also help you know when it’s time to take a walk, focus on breathing, and walk away from the situation. Other techniques you can use to manage your anger include:

  • Humor
  • Learned relaxation
  • Exercise
  • Distraction
  • Asking for help
  • Connecting with nature or other people
  • Positive self-talk
  • Writing things down in a journal

Addiction recovery and anger are unnecessary partners, but it doesn’t mean recovery is impossible. Learning how to interrupt your anger response by recognizing it early on can help you manage these feelings before they result in something like a relapse. 

Types of Anger

Unmanaged anger can strain relationships, cause unhappiness, and lead to drug use. Now that you’ve learned some healthy ways to manage your anger, triggers, and signs of relapse, it’s important to know the types of anger. 

Behavioral Anger

This is considered by most as the most destructive type of anger because it’s expressed aggressively and physically. It involves assaulting others or breaking objects, and it can cause you to feel so overwhelmed you last out in rage, leading to legal or interpersonal ramifications.

Chronic Anger 

Chronic anger is the form most likely to cause someone to relapse. It’s ongoing and involves a lot of resentment toward others. It also stems from someone being frustrated by their circumstances and being angry with themselves. Without treatment, the individual will self-medicate to alleviate depression caused by chronic anger.

Judgmental Anger

In the event of judgmental anger, the individual will feel morally superior to those around them, leading to the person alienating their friends and straining relationships. It’s typically triggered by the shortcomings of others. 

Overwhelmed Anger

This type of anger stems from stressful situations when the individual is tasked with more work than they can handle. It occurs when problems slip out of our control, causing us to feel hopeless and filled with frustration. It may also happen when encountering several unfortunate life events at once. 

Passive-Aggressive Anger

This form of anger can strain relationships. It’s characterized when someone avoids confrontation and expresses themselves through sarcasm and deceitful acts. It’s also characterized by mocking others or procrastination. In some cases, it can be hurtful to others. If you’re battling anger, you should speak with your therapist to fine-tune your treatment to cope with your newly founded mental clarity and emotions. 

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