The Link Between Anger and Alcoholism

“You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”

~Buddha

The Link Between Anger and Alcoholism

Feeling anger is part of being human. It’s an integral (and sometimes necessary) human emotion. From toddlers to old men, everyone experiences anger from time to time. But taken too far, anger can make existing addictions worse – and even become a drug of its own.

Anger can often turn into a coping mechanism. It can be used to avoid other issues, emotions and experiences – like the abuse of alcohol. The difference is using anger in this way is a ‘skill’ that people develop over decades of practice. If this form of anger goes unaddressed, it can be detrimental to your mental health and your relationships. Combined with alcoholism, it can be very dangerous to your physical health as well.

The connection of anger with alcoholism is like a cycle. One allows you to escape from your other emotions, while the other allows you to escape further into anger. In a phrase, anger and alcohol abuse can feed off of each other if they both go unchecked.

In fact, letting go of the acknowledging and dealing with anger is a crucial aspect of the Twelve Steps from Alcoholics Anonymous. The program requires that participants take a moral inventory of themselves, and attempt to overcome character defects.

These are the issues that we jump into in this deep dive into the link between anger and alcoholism. This is a critical topic, and we want to handle it with care. The good news is, you can find help for both your anger and your alcoholism.

“Gathering your power before you respond to anger takes awareness and restraint. Admittedly, it’s hard to surrender the need to be right in favor of love and compromise. It’s hard not to attack back when you feel attacked. But, little by little, surrendering these reflexive instincts is a more compassionate, evolved way to get your needs met and keep relationships viable if and when it’s possible.”

~Dr. Judith Orloff

As Dr. Orloff points out, overpowering anger is extremely difficult. The same goes for alcoholism – and overcoming both of them at the same time can seem daunting. But is not impossible. With the right kind of help, you can put anger and alcoholism behind you and move toward a happier, healthier life.

Instead of throwing a brief blog post up here that barely touches on the main points, we have put together an in-depth guide to the reciprocal relationship between alcohol and anger. The main questions we address here include:

  • What causes alcoholism? What causes anger issues?
  • How do you deal with alcohol and anger outbursts?
  • What is the last and most crucial step in the treatment of alcoholism?
  • Why is dealing with anger and relationships such an important part of the Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12 Step Program?
  • What are the symptoms of anger issues to look for? How do I know if this is linked to alcoholism?
  • What is the anger iceberg?
  • What is the best way to deal with a spouse or loved one who is dealing with both anger and alcoholisM?
  • How can I find help for my alcoholism and anger issues?

We want this guide to help you address the anger issues or alcohol abuse in your life – or in the life of someone you know and love. If you still have questions after reading through this post, do not hesitate to contact us today.

The Anger Iceberg

The Anger Iceberg: How Emotions Affect Everything, Including Alcoholism

Understanding how anger and alcoholism are linked requires understanding how emotions play into human biology. Not only that, but we have to learn the role of anger and other emotions in our personal lives and relationships. This is where both alcoholism and anger can have the biggest negative impact, if we’re not careful.

“Emotions are, in essence, impulses to act, the instant plans for handling life that evolution has instilled in us.”

~Daniel Goleman

One way to understand how anger connects to the rest of our emotions and experiences is to think of it as an iceberg. Check out Kyle Benson’s insight on the topic:

“Think of anger like an iceberg. Most of the iceberg is hidden below the surface of the water. Similarly, when we are angry, there are usually other emotions hidden beneath the surface. It’s easy to see a person’s anger but can be difficult to see the underlying feelings the anger is protecting.”

~Kyle Benson, The Gottman Institute

When someone is angry, other people are able to see the signs – such as the look in their eye or a raised voice. However, this is just the part that people are able to see. IN reality, there are often other emotions hidden under the surface. These emotions can include grief, fright, shame, embarrassment, annoyance, disrespect, disappointment, discomfort, regret, worry, envy, anxiety, insecurity, etc.

The point is that anger very rarely stands on its own. This can also go a long way toward explaining the connection between anger and alcoholism.

Someone who is struggling with alcohol addiction has lost control over their actions, which in turn can make them feel the shame, frustration or embarrassment we mentioned above. They may even feel depressed about their alcohol abuse or disappointed in themselves. These feelings often surface as anger.

The reverse is also true: someone feeling a great amount of anger may turn to alcohol as a form of relief. Over time, the alcohol only serves to reinforce the internal anger they are feeling. This is why physical and emotional sobriety are often considered two sides of the same coin.

“Anger icebergs often include fears, insecurities, frustrations, hurt pride, feelings of disrespect, and various other emotions. Given that it is usually quite easy to see a person’s anger, but difficult to see the underlying issues, the task of helping a person reduce his or her anger often takes a bit of detective work. The best way to control anger is to ask, “What is making me feel this way?” When the person examines his or her feelings that cause the anger, then the problem can be addressed.

~Buck Black, LCSW

In the example that Benson gives, the man experiencing anger recognizes that he doesn’t like the way he responds to those around him – but he is unable to stop until he recognizes where his anger is coming from.

With this in mind, those struggling with both alcoholism and anger issues will do well to address the consequences of their alcohol addiction and what they can do about it. In the same way, if someone you love is exhibiting anger, you may want to dig deeper to understand where the response is coming from in the Anger Iceberg.

Learn More: Watch Gottman Institute’s Kyle Benson discuss the Anger Iceberg on YouTube.

Benson bases the video on the idea that overcoming anger requires recognizing that all individuals are capable of and deserve compassion, with the goal of creating greater love and health in relationships.

Anger and Alcoholism Link

The Link Between Anger and Alcoholism is a Two Way Street

The Anger Iceberg starts to explain why the link between anger and alcoholism is a two way street. However, it is has a lot to do with feeling anger outside of being intoxicated. How does the connection between anger and alcoholism take shape while someone is drinking or when someone is tempted to start drinking again?

For starters, consider this research insight from one government source:

Alcohol can have a disinhibiting effect and can also be used as an excuse to explain one’s behavior. During the later stages of dependence, alcohol can cause a decrease in the neurotransmitter serotonin. Most significant from a psychological or psychiatric perspective is the relationship between serotonin and depression, sleep regulation, aggression.”

In other words, the relationship between alcoholism and anger is more than just perception. Alcohol actually affects the brain in a way that decreases our ability to control our actions and our emotions. The loss of inhibition can cause us to lose control over our anger. This is why anger tends to come out more when you’re drunk than when you’re not.

The link between anger and alcoholism is often complicated. By way of a summary, there are several indicators of the reciprocal relationship between anger and alcoholism:

  • Alcohol can serve as an excuse for aggressive and angry behavior
  • Alcohol induces tunnel vision, which can make anger a more common response
  • Aggressive behavior after drinking alcohol is more socially acceptable
  • Alcohol reduces the fear of facing the consequences of anger and aggression
  • Alcohol impairs your brain’s functioning, which makes controlling anger difficult

Because of these intertwined factors, Alcoholics Anonymous has identified anger as a major culprit for relapse in alcoholics. The co-founder of AA Bill Wilson wrote in the Big Book: “Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” If you’re looking for a more personal account, consider this perspective from recovering alcoholic and alcoholism counselor Thomas B on AA Beyond Belief:

“Resentment and anger, ofttimes apoplectic rage, have dogged me throughout my forty-three years of recovery. My resentment and raging behavior have resulted in abundant negative consequences — lost friendships, lost jobs, lost wives and lovers, lost esteem and reputation. I’ve often been as powerless over resentments and raging anger, as I know I would be over alcohol were I to take the first drink.”

This personal account highlights just how important it is to deal with anger issues. If you struggle with both addiction and anger, you should consider addressing both simultaneously.

Read More: Anger May Stem from Alcohol and Other Drugs

Understanding Anger: Dealing With Anger and Alcoholism in a Loved One

Alcoholism almost always affects those closest to the person struggling with addiction. This is doubly true when anger issues enter into the mix.

It can be difficult to know how to deal with an angry alcoholic, particularly when they are close to you. There often extreme anger issues and internal anger to deal with, as well as the fact that there is pronounced anger when drinking. Whether this anger is aggressive or passive, it can have a negative impact on relationships. This is why it is so important to seek out help. It is also important to remember that anger management and alcoholism recovery takes a lot of hard work.

If this describes someone you know and love, you should know that help is not out of reach. Therapy and family programs can help everyone work toward a happier and healthier relationship.

If you have a spouse or loved one that struggles with both anger issues and alcohol addiction, here are a few suggestions to help you keep a handle on the situation:

  • Remember the power of alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disease, pure and simple. Your loved one may be at the point where they have lost control over their drinking – which in turn means they have lost control on their anger. This doesn’t mean that they cannot overcome alcoholism, but it recognizing it as a disease is a good starting point.
  • Don’t get angry yourself. Responding to anger with anger is a common – and understandable – response. Do everything that you can to avoid responding to a bad temper with a worse temper. This won’t accomplish your goals of getting your loved one the recovery help that they need.
  • Focus on self care. If your spouse is angry or drinking all the time, they may not be taking care of you. Make sure you treat yourself and take the space and time you need to cope with your loved one’s condition.
  • Find an appropriate way to talk about it. You don’t need to hide your feelings; it’s important to be honest with your loved one about the effect their alcoholism and anger is having on you. But you should make sure you do it in the right way – avoid accusations and make ‘I’ statements. And make sure you have this conversation when your loved one is in the right state of mind.
  • Encourage professional help. Not everyone is open to therapy or alcohol rehab. If your loved one seems open to the idea, you can encourage them to follow through on a program.

What to do about Anger and Alcoholism

What To Do About the Link Between Anger and Alcoholism

So far, the link between anger and alcoholism is crystal clear. Anger may lead you to drink more than you should, and drinking heavily can cause your anger to worsen. If this cycle goes unaddressed, it can have long lasting consequences for you and those around you.

There are a handful of ways to start addressing both your anger and your drinking, but the number one solution is to seek out professional help.

“If you don’t deal with your anger problem, it could one day escalate to a point where you do something extreme and regrettable. Violence is one possible outcome. You could get so angry that you end up hurting yourself or someone you care about without intending to do so. If you suspect you have an anger problem, it’s important to seek professional help.”

~Healthline, ‘Why Am I So Angry?’

Mayo Clinic lists 10 suggestions to tame your temper when you start to feel it flare up. These suggestions are not specific to those dealing with alcoholism and anger simultaneously, but they will undoubtedly help as you begin recovery:

  • Think before you speak.
  • Once you’re calm, express your anger.
  • Get some exercise.
  • Take a timeout.
  • Identify possible solutions.
  • Stick with ‘I’ statements.
  • Don’t hold a grudge.
  • Use humor to release tension.
  • Practice relaxation skills.
  • Know when to seek help.

“Asking yourself, ‘What might I be scared of?’ can give you a different set of choices about how to respond. You might be angry that something has not gone your way. But you may also be scared that you might be blamed or hurt as result. Recognising this might allow you to think and act differently.”

~Dr. James Woollard

The Link Between Anger and Alcoholism

Addressing the Connection Between Anger and Alcoholism at the Same Time

If this guide has revealed anything, it’s that the link between anger and alcoholism should be taken very seriously. If you find that that you are unable to control your drinking, your anger or neither – it may be time to seek out professional help to address these issues. The best way to approach getting help is either through support groups or individual addiction counseling. Both will help you explore the root causes of addiction and anger.

Thankfully, there are a wide range of options when it comes to seeking out help for both anger issues and alcohol addiction.

If you feel that your anger is really out of control, if it is having an impact on your relationships and on important parts of your life, you might consider counseling to learn how to handle it better. A psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can work with you in developing a range of techniques for changing your thinking and your behavior.”

~American Psychological Association

First and foremost, you should consider seeking professional help for alcoholism and anger issues. BOth inpatient and outpatient programs for alcoholism addiction provide a supportive and safe environment for overcoming the grip of alcohol on your life. But these programs do not address only addiction – they also often offer counseling services to talk through your issues with anger. More than anything, a rehab program can help you create ways to deal with both alcoholism and anger.

Even if you’re not ready to attend a more formal alcoholism rehab program or one-on-one counseling, it is a good idea to start attending an AA community support group. These groups are designed to help those struggling with alcohol addiction overcome the consequences of their condition – including being able to control their angry responses.

AA meetings are typically open to anyone who wants to attend, and offer a nonjudgmental and supportive environment to talk through the effects alcoholism has had on your personal life. It may be a great first step on the path to addressing how alcoholism has made you angry  – and vice versa.

Getting Professional Help for Anger and Alcoholism

“For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.”

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Understanding an alcoholic’s mind or dealing with signs of repressed anger are not easy tasks. The road to recovery from anger issues and alcoholism is sure to be filled with internal rage, fits of anger, disappointment and many of the symptoms of anger and alcoholism we’ve discussed above. But dealing with these issues is critical to leading a healthy life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson points out, do you really want to give up your peace of mind for anger?

Read More: Mental Health and Addiction – How a Co-Occurring Disorder is Treated

Overcoming these issues of alcohol and anger is not impossible. Ashwood Recovery is committed to helping families and individuals in crisis. Whether you are suffering from alcoholism, mental health disorders or unresolved trauma, we are here to help. Our vision is to provide a safe, non-judgmental environment for those seeking solutions to alcoholism or anger issues.

Ashwood Recovery at Northpoint is an outpatient treatment center located in the Boise, Idaho area. At our facility, you can receive treatment for co-occurring disorders, receive individual alcohol counseling and even participate in family counseling. Alcoholism comes in many different forms – getting angry with those closest to you is just one example. No matter what form your alcoholism has taken, we can help you address the consequences and get on the path to recovery.

Not sure if you’re addicted to alcohol or anger? No one thinks he or she is an alcoholic until it’s too late. Take our alcoholism quiz today to find out if you need professional help.

Choosing Ashwood Recovery at Northpoint gives you the freedom to address your alcoholism or anger issues while maintaining your daily responsibilities.

If you have more questions about the link between anger and alcoholism – or what treatment looks like – do not hesitate to contact us today.

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August 5th, 2018|14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. Susanne October 31, 2017 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    I live with an angry alcoholic and can corroborate every point laid out here. I’m too intimidated by the anger to address it at the time, so he continually gets away with it.

  2. Dawn November 5, 2017 at 6:38 pm - Reply

    Do you recommend to enter in a relationship like this. I love him but he is an alcoholic and has anger issues. I know I can’t fix him, I just love the side that is not angry.

    • Sonya November 26, 2017 at 4:04 pm - Reply

      Hi Dawn,

      Please want more for yourself and know that you deserve more. He will not change until he is ready to change. Alcoholism is a disease and it spirals into so many other negative things when you are in a relationship. This Thanksgiving I had the final exit with my husband because of an alcoholic episode that I was too familiar with. It has impacted to many people in my family. It has happened in a few occasions that I am passed the embarrassment. How crazy is that? You should never be comfortable with what comes with this disease. If you had to ask if it was okay to enter this relationship then in the grand scheme of things you know in your gut it’s not the right step. Please, please please save yourself and leave this relationship alone. It always leaves scars. I was ten years in. I will soak it up as time wasted. The good never outward the bad.

    • Mary December 2, 2017 at 1:07 pm - Reply

      Run now and don’t look back!

      Or you will be like me with 30 years of misery and loneliness because no one will want to come around.

  3. Jay Walker March 14, 2018 at 10:47 pm - Reply

    This was an eye opening read. I get how to eliminate alcohol from the equation, the real question is how to eliminate the anger from your life. It is the resl issue that needs to be addressed.

    • Ashwood Recovery March 15, 2018 at 5:28 pm - Reply

      Glad it was a helpful article!

  4. Tami March 25, 2018 at 2:51 am - Reply

    I have been in a five year relationship with a recovering alcoholic. I have dealt with anger, outbursts, smoke and mirrors, betrayal. I can go on and on. It is like living with three or four personalities. It has drained me physically and emotionally. I have seperated myself from this person. I had to. It does not matter how hard you try to understand them, or how much help you give them. Every bad thing that happens to them will be your fault. I almost felt that this person started hating me. I sacrificed five years of my life for him. Even AA, which I thought was to help them, caused so many problems with our relationship. They taught him how to take back respect, stand up for himself and demand to be treated great. Even though I was not the cause of his 35 years abuse with alcohol. Everything he learned in AA was used against me. It was as if his friends there started telling him I was the problem. I sacrificed so many things to help him see the sun shine again. Only to be abused and dumped for his new friends. I highly suggest to RUN from a relationship involving an alcoholic. You can NEVER fix them and they will basically darken your soul.

    • Kathy May 11, 2018 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      I am walking in Tami’s shoes, although my situation is a bit different. I feel as though I have wasted 5 years of my life on a retired veteran who has an addiction to alcohol and sleeping pills. Three of those years were spent on the telephone because he lived out of state. After my mom passed away he jumped at the chance to come and live with me. Although he insists that he doesn’t hurt me physically there is no denying that my emotional state of mind is completely damaged. He went to an AA meeting once and decided that the people in the group were worse off than himself and he didn’t want to hear their “sob” stories. Where does the anger fit in? He talks in his sleep and it’s unbelievable what comes out of his mouth.

      I’m not going to RUN from him, I’m simply going to drive him to the bus station with a friend and tell him he’s on his own!.

      Thank you to Ashwood Recovery for this article. I am going to print it out and post it on my wall at home at a constant reminder about alcohol and anger.

  5. Barry September 5, 2018 at 5:46 pm - Reply

    I read all and EVERY point resounds nside me. I desperately want to help my wife. I have removed myself from this environment numerous times. Problem is the same conditions REPEAT alcohol and anger I do realize i can’t save my wife from drinking and need to save myself from very real problems Greatly appreciate being able to read your guidance

    • Ashwood Recovery September 8, 2018 at 5:32 pm - Reply

      So glad that this article resonated with you. Wishing you and your family the best!

  6. Cin September 19, 2018 at 4:14 pm - Reply

    I have been watching my husbands alcoholism steadily increase as the years have gone by. He had me intimidated, scared, and cower down and cover up his alcoholic tendencies to family members. His outraged alcoholic episodes have recently escalated now that I have decided to stand up for myself and be ME for once and stop living for myself instead of for him. I pray everything works out…I pray for him every day. I have decided not to let him nor his alcoholism control MY life.

    • Ashwood Recovery September 23, 2018 at 8:10 pm - Reply

      So glad this article resonated with you. Wishing you and your family the best!

  7. Shelley September 21, 2018 at 12:59 am - Reply

    Just one thing I don’t understand. Everyone talks about anger and dealing with that. I know where my anger comes from. Fear. Fear of abandonment of not being enough of not being safe of being hurt. These things to me are much harder to overcome. I know alcohol feeds my anger. It also feeds my sense of abandonment my loneliness my lack of a sense of well-being. So many comments here talk about and treat their “loved ones”. As monsters. I am not a monster. I have overcome a multitude of traumas and it is hard work every day to stay sober to feel safe to find a sense of well being. i Know the struggle.

    • Ashwood Recovery September 23, 2018 at 8:05 pm - Reply

      Thank you for sharing your personal story.

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