Alcohol vs. Anger vs. Recovery: A Coach’s Take

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A Ria Health Coach Discusses Why So Many People Struggle With Anger After Quitting Alcohol.

When you think about it, it’s easy to understand why so many people feel anger in recovery. 

Have you ever come to an understanding within yourself that a relationship needed to change, but felt afraid of how that change would affect your life? Have you ever felt angry about the changes that occurred in a relationship—as if the spoken or unspoken agreements you had with a person had been violated? 

Sometimes, we have these feelings about our relationship with a friend, employer, family member, or acquaintance. But many people also feel this way about changing their relationship with alcohol.

Why Anger in Recovery is a Common Experience

woman shouting into a cell phone in the kitchen
Photo by Alex Green on Pexels

Most of us experience anger as intense feelings of annoyance, wrath, and pain. Though there are many times when anger is justified, acting on anger may cause one to feel remorse. After resolving our anger, we may feel that the retaliation wasn’t worth it—as it may have not only hurt someone else, but also hurt us. Anger and its consequences are a common fuel for people to indulge in substance use, which can subsequently lead to addiction.

In early recovery, coping skills are limited. Emotionally, the person seeking to gain control over their substance use feels like they have been put through the wringer. This is when someone seeking recovery is most vulnerable physically and emotionally, as their mind, body, and spirit are in need of refuge.  

Though alcohol may be the root cause of many problems, people are likely to miss it at this time. Are they wrong for feeling this way? Absolutely not. Why, you might ask? 

Think about it this way: If you’ve ever had a surgery that was truly needed, and the recovery process was painful, you might have thought more than once, “Why did I go through with this?” People struggling to stay in recovery from alcohol use disorder feel the same way, except they can retrieve the thing they have removed from their life.  

Anger and addiction in this stage go hand-in-hand, as the person may feel unhappy without alcohol. Anger can be the more surface emotion linked to the sadness, frustration, and perhaps fear that the person is feeling and exhibiting.  

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How To Manage Anger in Recovery

Years ago, when I worked in a brick-and-mortar facility as a Substance Use Disorder Counselor, one of the groups I facilitated was Anger Management. In this group, we used worksheets, books, videos, and also role-played common conversations from early recovery. 

In one scene, I would have group participants role-play family members not trusting that they were doing well in their recovery, because they seemed to display former drinking behaviors. This would always get a discussion moving in the group, as someone would express that they were going through that very thing at the time. We would ask that participant how they dealt with the situation, and many times they shared their frustration and anger about not being believed. We would then process this as a group. 

Here is some of the feedback that the group participants and myself would offer, as tips for anger management in recovery: 

4 Tips To Manage Anger in Recovery

two young men sitting on curb talking out a problem
Photo by Mental Health America (MHA) on Pexels

1. Express your feelings calmly

This will help you and the other person know that, even though you may be frustrated at what is being said, you can still express yourself in a way that honors the both of you.  

2. Do a cost/benefit analysis

Ask yourself: Do you want to move forward in expressing your feelings in a way that isn’t likely to be well-received? How will that affect your desired outcome? Could reactivating your anger trigger your addiction? 

3. Re-frame the situation

How would this situation look from the other person’s perspective, if you truly seemed to be in active addiction to them? Does what you are saying in any way mimic your addictive behaviors? If so, how can you correct it? After making those corrections, does the situation look different? 

4. Try the “ABC” model

Look at the Activating effect (what causes you to feel angry?). What is your Belief about the situation? What are the Consequences of your beliefs (will you lose a job, a relationship, or your recovery)? Taking the time to practice this exercise may help you in seeing things differently.1

The Bottom Line on Dealing With Anger in Recovery

Seeking to change your relationship with alcohol isn’t always easy. Oftentimes, emotions are raw from the ups and downs of trying to maintain progress that can seem impossible to reach. This is why many find themselves unhappy and angry, as they strive to learn what their recovery will look like.  

It’s important to understand that progress isn’t always linear. There will be some highs and lows as one learns to navigate through lasting change. Recovery isn’t for the faint of heart: It takes real courage to step up to the plate and decide that changes need to happen. 

Take the time to be kind to yourself as you are learning or re-learning skills that take lots of practice and patience. You may get angry at yourself and at others. But remember to give yourself the space to understand why you are feeling the way you are, address it, and correct it.

Learn more about how Ria Health uses recovery coaching, in combination with medication and digital tools, to help people overcome alcohol dependence.

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Written By:
Jeffery D. Whitfield, CSAC
Certified clinical supervisor and substance abuse counselor with over 10 years’ experience in both individual and group settings—including crisis management, family education, and community contexts. US Army veteran, BS in Human Development and Family Studies, currently pursuing a Masters in Social Work. Volunteer youth group leader, involved with local anti-racism book club and Montessori Governance Board EDI committee in spare time. Passionate about equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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