Controlling Anger: Recognize Cues and Develop Coping Strategies


Anger has a negative connotation, but it is an authentic emotion that everyone experiences. In fact, it’s a common emotion for individuals dealing with substance abuse. Anger can prolong addiction. People may experience anger and distorted thoughts, leading to substance use as a way to cope. Even in recovery, anger is a common emotion that individuals experience as they discover the root of their substance abuse.

Anger is not all bad; it can serve a functional purpose. For instance, it can motivate you to work through your addiction and make positive changes in your life.

The problem comes when anger is expressed in an unhealthy way. In order to better manage anger, we must be aware of when it starts to arise. Many people say they go from “zero to sixty” or “blackout,” but there are many physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional cues that we can use to our advantage to help better manage our anger. Below are common examples of these cues.

Physical Cues

Physical cues are how our body responds when we are angry. Anger ignites our fight or flight response, preparing our bodies to react to keep us safe from the threat. These are some common physical cues associated with anger:

  • Heart starts beating fast
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Tension in the body
  • Sweating

When we feel these physical cues, using deep breathing exercises or guided relaxation can help bring the body back to baseline.

Related Post: The Power of Mindfulness in Addiction Recovery

Behavioral Cues

Behavioral cues are the actions we engage in when we feel anger. They can serve as a function of tension release or intimidation.

  • Pacing
  • Throwing or breaking things
  • Becoming quiet and withdrawn
  • Raising voice
  • Clenching fists

Exercise is a great way to release tension. Try going for a short walk or run if you start to pick up these behavioral cues.

Cognitive Cues

Cognitive cues are thoughts or images we have when we are angry. Our self-talk plays a big role and can fuel the anger. Cognitive anger cues may look like:

  • Hostile self-talk
  • Rigid expectations of the other person
  • Pessimistic world view
  • Thinking about getting revenge

Increasing awareness of our internal dialogue and challenging it can help to think more rationally. Talking with a loved one or a mental health counselor can also be beneficial. Communicate the thoughts you are experiencing. They can help you talk through what you are feeling and reach a resolution.

Emotional Cues

Anger is considered the “umbrella emotion,” meaning it covers up underlying, primary emotions. These are common emotions that may manifest in anger:

  • Embarrassment
  • Hurt
  • Fear
  • Disappointment
  • Defensiveness

In order to manage anger, it’s important to think about the other emotions that are contributing to your anger. Being able to identify the accompanying emotion can immediately decrease some levels of anger.

How to Manage Anger

Anger is an important part of the recovery process. It’s important to acknowledge the anger you feel. Take a step back and learn your anger cues. Once you can identify these cues, you’ll be better equipped to manage your anger in the moment. Here are some ways to help you manage your anger:

  • Journaling
  • Exercise
  • Guided meditation or deep breathing
  • Take a break
  • Talk with someone about what you’re feeling
  • Count down from 10

Working with a therapist in recovery can help to identify cues and specific ways to manage them. A therapist can help you learn relaxation skills, develop thought-challenging skills, reframe anger-provoking views, and understand emotions that are fueling the anger.

Anger can be a functional emotion, but it can also contribute to the cycle of addiction. Neglecting anger is harmful to your relationships, health, and quality of life. Anger is a part of emotional wellness, meaning it’s okay to feel what you are feeling, but it’s equally important to know how to work through anger.

Learn more about the role of emotional wellness in addiction recovery.

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