Taking a hard look at addiction means understanding the experiences and emotions that contribute to it. For many former addicts, recovery helps reveal the role that anger plays in fueling dependency.
Anger is a complex emotion with many drivers, but a significant contributor is emotional pain. For those who have struggled with addiction, including Drew Barrymore, pain is an all too familiar experience. As recovery begins to dive into the roots of addiction and lift the fog of dependency away from your emotions, you may find yourself prone to sudden and seemingly inexplicable anger. Understanding anger’s relationship to addiction is useful in coping with anger in a healthy and constructive way.
Anger: A Powerful, Complicated Emotion
In the most basic of terms, anger is a strong feeling of displeasure or hostility that generally involves internal discomfort or non-cooperation. It is triggered by very deep human instincts around fighting off threats, competing for scarce resources, and protecting social norms, and involves multiple parts of our brains. Feeling angry is also linked to fear or pain, which is why for many of us we feel both “angry and hurt.”
When something occurs that we don’t expect, or don’t agree with, our adrenal glands release adrenaline and testosterone, preparing us for a fight. Our prefrontal cortex then jumps into play, adding reason into the mix, and weighing the severity of our response. Studies have shown that anger makes us more likely to take risks, and also more likely to assume positive outcomes from those risks, minimising any inherent dangers.
In some cases, people will try to repress their anger. This can result in a redirection of this feeling towards oneself, manifesting in depression, self-criticism, self-harm, or substance abuse. Others will feel the symptoms of pent-up anger physically, with unexplained aches and pains resulting from this stress.
It is both the impulsiveness caused by anger, as well as the desire to mitigate the discomfort of feeling angry, that can fuel an addiction and complicate a healthy recovery. Anger is a common emotion behind relapse, so learning how to manage and cope with anger is an important tool in keeping your recovery on track.
Identifying Anger Triggers
The first step in understanding anger is getting a clear sense of when you get angry and what is causing those feelings. One way to do this is to make a list of these things to help you begin to recognise and process what is going on. Are you getting angry in family situations? At work? In group meetings? In everyday interactions with strangers? Consider whether you are feeling angry at yourself (this can also feel like depression), or if your anger is being projected externally.
Once you have identified some of the situations that make you feel angry or upset, then work on writing down how you felt in the moment. Did you feel:
- Like you were being taken advantage of?
- Unloved or disliked?
- That you or others were being treated unfairly?
- That you or others were being discriminated against?
- Like you weren’t measuring up to the expectations of yourself or others?
Mapping out where your anger is happening and what feelings are behind it can help you work backwards to better understand the larger issues underlying your anger, and how to constructively address or channel it.
Acting Out: Drew Barrymore Shares Her Experience with Anger and Addiction
Producer, director, actor and author Drew Barrymore has spoken extensively about her early struggle with addiction and her recovery journey in her memoir Little Girl Lost, and furthered her reflections in her 2015 autobiography, Wildflower. A successful child actor, her troubled relationship with an absent alcoholic father and an overly permissive mother, as well as an early exposure to the club scene and partying, contributed to an addiction to drugs and alcohol as a child, a suicide attempt, and rehab by the time she was only 12. In an interview with The Guardian, she talked about coming to terms with the anger that lay behind her addiction.
“When I was 13, that was probably the lowest [point]…Just knowing that I really was alone. And it felt… terrible. It was a really rebellious time. I would run off. I was very, very angry…And once I really asked myself, ‘What are you angry with?’ I dropped the anger. If you search deep down in me, it’s like, why am I so angry, man? And it’s like, OK, cos my parents weren’t there, who gives a s***? Lots of people don’t have parents. They were gone, they couldn’t handle any of it, and I get it.” Drew Barrymore
Barrymore credits rehab for helping her to confront and process her emotions, including those stemming from the relationships with her parents, and has since found balance that has aided her in a successful recovery.
Managing Anger to Avoid Relapse
Anger can be a positive emotion when it is balanced with reason and compassion, inspiring people to act in situations where there is a lack of justice or fairness. However, when anger
is unbridled or repressed it can be destructive and regressive. Allowing other emotions to balance out anger and make it useful involves managing the fight or flight or response so other parts of the brain can feed into our overall response to a situation.
Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, exercise and meditation can help stop the physical symptoms of anger and shortcut the fight or flight response so that you can respond in a constructive way to the situation rather than escalating or relapsing. This response could be you deciding to simply let go of what happened and move on, or realising that you need to deal with the transgression in a way that is focused on solving it or preventing it from happening again.
Figuring out the best way for you to respond is often done through some type of processing, like going on a walk, journaling, talking it over with a good friend, or bringing it up in individual or group therapy. The key with managing anger isn’t to repress it, but to feel it, cope with it, and address it in a way that does not negatively impact your health or your recovery.
Treating Anger and Addiction at The Dawn
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand offers a special six-week Signature Addiction Programme for individuals struggling with substance addictions, behavioural addictions and co-occurring disorders. Our programme focuses on each client’s achievement of long-term recovery through the use of personalised, effective coping tools to manage life’s challenges and overcome them. We work with our clients to develop a customised, holistic treatment plan that addresses the root causes of addiction and the responses, feelings, and behaviours that contribute to it.
Call The Dawn today to learn more about how we can help you channel your emotions into a positive, successful recovery.