Diffusing Anger in Addiction Recovery: Applying CBT Techniques

Diffusing Anger in Addiction Recovery: Applying CBT Techniques

One of the most challenging emotions for humans to grasp is anger. We feel our temperature rise, our wrists become tightened, our jaw becomes clenched, our heart starts to race, and we either act on it directly or indirectly – or we suppress it. Unfortunately, we can’t control those around us – and we can’t always control the situations that come up, either. When anger arises, as other resources suggest – it’s often a secondary emotion from something else – such as fear, sadness, anxiety or worry. For those in addiction recovery, anger can become a triggering emotion, especially if a person has previously abused substances in an attempt to mask some of the feelings that were just too painful to bear.

Feeling Anger

Anger lies on a spectrum, ranging from mild irritation, to frustration, to flat out rage. As humans, it’s natural to feel angry from time to time – after all, we wouldn’t take a stand for ourselves or others if anger stemming from injustice didn’t occur. It’s when we don’t have a healthy place to put our anger that it becomes dangerous to ourselves or others; we may say harsh things to a loved one, medicate with drugs or alcohol and engage in other harmful acts. Take a moment to reflect and take inventory over how you’ve expressed anger in the past:

How have you treated yourself when you’ve been angry?

How have you treated others?

What has the outcome been for most of these anger-filled situations?

Have you regretted these outcomes?

For many of us, the way we’ve acted upon anger has been less than we’ve hoped for. At one point or another, we’ve allowed ourselves to become numb, or at least angry enough to really hurt ourselves or other people. It’s truly a learning experience for everyone involved, but for those in recovery, certain strategies need to be taken in order to avoid going down the path of substance abuse again.

CBT Techniques for Anger

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective form of treatment that has helped so many people with understanding the way their thoughts – and the importance they place on those thoughts – influence their actions. We experience an influx of thoughts throughout the day, but when we perceive one thought as being more important than it really is for our wellbeing, we become entangled in all the emotions that we assign to it – and that’s when harmful habits start to form. CBT is a highly participatory approach that leads individuals to do much of their own work in understanding how they think and how they act in light of those thoughts.

As the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies emphasizes, there are several CBT techniques that work beautifully to healthily work through anger:

·       Greater personal awareness – gaining a clear sense of the anger and where it comes from, as well as identifying important elements of the anger episodes you experience

·       Avoidance and removal – in situations where you feel your anger is becoming dangerous, it may be best to simply leave the situation – either mentally or physically. Distract yourself with an activity, such as watching a movie or tending to the garden, to help give you some time to calm down.

·       Relaxation coping skills – practice taking slow, deep breaths to calm your mind. If you can create a short phrase or mantra, this could also help you remind yourself of the goals you have for releasing anger. Imagine a personally relaxing image, or even explore where it is in your body that you’re feeling that anger, and consciously let it go.

·       Change the way you think – most often the bad situations we find ourselves in become even worse if we start to think very cynically about them. By lowering the intensity of your thoughts – such as choosing to think that you’d prefer something to be a certain way rather than it has to be a certain way – you’ll automatically lower some of your anger.

Other Healthy Outlets for Those in Recovery

The most reputable addiction recovery treatment programs will provide a number of holistic practices that encourage healthy expression of emotion. Yoga, meditation, group therapy and individual therapy, massage therapy and more aim to help ground people and restore their mind, body and spirit – which all influence the happiness, health and overall wellbeing of a person. The next time you’re feeling intense anger, become an investigator of your own emotions. Seek to explore what’s lying underneath that anger, and what exactly is triggering you. Reach out to those in your support network and share with them some of your fears – sometimes letting out the words of what your feeling is just enough to lower some of the pain you’re experiencing. Lastly, don’t give up on your recovery journey. The anger will pass, so you don’t want to make any decisions that you’ll regret.

If you’re ready to begin your journey towards restoration of the mind, body and spirit, speak with a professional from a reputable treatment center today.

The mission of The Beach House is to provide success in the recovery process and elevate the standard of comprehensive addiction treatment. Located right on the coast of Malibu, California, expert clinical care and a holistic view of the recovery process is provided to ensure Best-in-Class treatment tailored to the needs of each client. If you’re ready to start your recovery journey today, call us at 310-924-0780.

Saving Lives; Healing Families.


Kimberly James

I am the founder and owner of The Beach House Treatment Center, The White House, Indigo Ranch, Sweetwater Mesa and Beach House Center for Wellness, all in Malibu, California.