Anger is an emotional response that we all experience regularly in one form or another for many reasons and for some of us it can become an addiction. In fact, anger can become so habit-forming that it becomes disruptive to our lives, relationships, career, which in turn can lead to incarceration, health problems, or legal and financial woes.
"We experience the feeling of anger when we think we have been mistreated, injured or when we are faced with problems that keeps us from getting what we want or attaining our personal goals" (Hendricks, Bore, Aslinia, & Morriss, 2013).
According to the (American Society of Addiction Medicine, 2019), “Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences.”
Let’s take a look at that definition above to understand anger better before we move forward. For starters, addiction is a treatable chronic medical disease involving complex interactions within brain circuitry, genetics, environment, and individual life experiences. This information details how intertwined addiction is and how much it permeates into multiple parts of an individual’s life experience. One client’s manifestation of addiction in comparison to another can and in most cases will likely vary in how it looks, what it feels like to the individual, the consequences it causes, and so on. Point being, there is no template and there’s never going to be one that everyone under the sun will fit nice and neat under because of so much variability involved with addiction.
Secondly, addiction-prone individuals tend to use substances and/or engage in behaviors that develop into compulsive behavior(s) despite incurring harmful consequences the individual continues with this pattern of behavior. And that makes sense, think about it you find yourself in a situation where you initially were at risk to becoming addicted (for any number of reasons i.e., abuse, trauma, neglect, shame, guilt, depression, anxiety, etc.) and then to cope the individual pursues a form of self-medication (substance or behavioral) that provides a reward to the individual which in turn stimulates the production of dopamine in the brain. The more dopamine our brains produce the better we feel. If you get angry and note a sensation of pleasure derived from being angry you are experiencing gratification which reinforces the need to repeat this pattern of behavior; our brain feels pleased when we experience a reward so naturally, we will want to repeat that as much as possible.
“Dopamine is known as the feel-good neurotransmitter—a chemical that ferries information between neurons. The brain releases it when we eat food that we crave or while we have sex, contributing to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as part of the reward system. This important neurochemical boosts mood, motivation, and attention, and helps regulate movement, learning, and emotional responses” (Psychology Today, 2020).
According to (Kim, 2015), “What happens is that anger can lead to similar “rushes” as thrill-seeking activities where danger triggers dopamine reward receptors in the brain, or like other forms of addiction such as gambling, extreme sports, or even drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines. Anger can become its own reward, but like other addictions, the final consequences are dangerous and real, and people follow impulses in the moment without regard to the big picture”.
I thought addiction was just for drugs and alcohol? Great question, unfortunately, this is not the case there are numerous types of addiction including (impulse control group) kleptomania, pyromania, gambling, and intermittent explosive disorder. Then there’s the (behavioral group) Food, sex, pornography, computers, internet, video games, work, exercising, spiritual obsession, pain-seeking, cutting, shopping, etc.
This author has treated clients struggling with addiction symptomology to love, sex, praise, relationships, acceptance, anger, video games and more. In cases with clients struggling with these types of issues, this author found that somewhere along the line the client experienced being muted or silenced, or prevented from expressing themselves, or made to feel unsafe. In these cases, they have a commonality of being suppressed by another individual, or a group of individuals, or an environment or a system which led to the suppression of these feelings and/or emotions which over time reached a limit hence the display of anger in their life.
“Overall, suppressing anger and over expression of anger can negatively affect significant relationships and lead to bad health. Accepting that you are angry, seeking to understand what your anger is about, and devising an action plan prevents repressed anger to turn into rage which leads to a complete loss of self-control. Repressed anger is also an underlying cause for both anxiety and depression. Managing anger effectively motivates individuals to adopt effective assertive skills and leads to an increase in life expectancy” (Hendricks, Bore, Aslinia, & Morriss, 2013).
Daniel Acosta M.A., AMFT is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in Mission Viejo, California. He works in private practice with men, women, and adolescents and provides individual, couples, pre-marital, family and marital therapy for clients in Orange County. If you would like to schedule a session he can be reached at 949-943-7820 or via email: firstname.lastname@example.org