Anger & Alcohol: Anger Management
A 2004 study from the University of Kentucky1 shows that underlying anger management problems flare up when people drink. Alcohol can trigger abusive behaviour like shouting, displays of rage or violence.
Alcohol lowers inhibition and impulse control. If you have an angry personality, or a quick temper, drinking is likely to tip you over the edge. If this has happened to you, learning some anger control skills can be helpful. In the meantime, limiting your drinks to no more than one per hour, or alternating with non-alcoholic drinks can reduce your risks.
Learning to manage your anger before you start drinking is essential. If you don’t have anger management skills now, it will be impossible to control your anger once you have had a drink.
Anger management skills are fairly straight forward to learn and can make a huge difference to the way you manage your frustration.
1. REDUCE – reduce your alcoholic drinks. Try alternating with non-alcoholic drinks, sip your drinks, and ask a friend to support you by letting you know when you are starting to act out.
2. REMOVE – if you can’t control your anger walk away and take time out. Before you say something angry, or get into a fight remove yourself from the situation. If you feel anger building walk away and take some time out and count to 10 before you act.
3. REASON – by thinking about the other persons point of view. Do some work thinking about how the other person would feel about the situation.
4. REPRESENT – think of how to represent your point of view without anger. Angry people often feel unheard or misunderstood. Often they lack the skills to express themselves assertively. Sometimes they stay quiet until the frustration boils over. Speak your mind politely and say what you want and how you feel. Try and think of solutions that would work for everyone. Avoid blaming or name calling.
5. RUN – do some exercise to burn off angry energy. Exercise releases stress hormones from your body and can produce a chemical response in the brain that calms you and gives you a feeling of wellbeing.
While anger is a normal emotional reaction that everyone experiences from time to time, regularly drinking when we are angry can be an extremely dangerous way of coping with uncomfortable or angry feelings.
Alcohol tends to lower inhibitions and increases the tendency toward rage, violence and other destructive behaviours.
When chronic, alcohol or other drug use can lead to broken family relationships and domestic violence problems. For individuals struggling with the combination of anger management issues and substance use, working with a counsellor can help them uncover the underlying reasons for the anger issues and why they turn to alcohol. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)
Why do I get angry?
Anger is a natural emotion that everyone experiences now and again. When we get angry it is usually because we are not feeling heard or acknowledged or we simply can no longer deal with the stress we are experiencing.
Sometimes we get angry because we are afraid something about us will be discovered or revealed, so we blow up in anger not only as a way to defend ourselves, but also as a way of deflecting possible discovery.
While getting angry occasionally is not only expected, but healthy, chronic and repeated angry outbursts and arguments can lead to dangerous behaviours and actions that can threaten to destroy relationships and lives. Unfortunately, chronic anger can also significantly contribute to feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and depression within the person experiencing the anger. In extreme cases, it can also lead to violent or suicidal behaviours.
Why is drinking when I’m angry dangerous?
Alcohol is a depressant. This means that it is a drug that slows down the body, including the heart rate. This is why with enough alcohol consumption, people lose consciousness or fall asleep.
However, alcohol can also reduce our inhibitions. Behaviours we would not normally say or do can become very easy for us.
In other words, if we would not normally say mean and damaging things to our child, drinking alcohol removes our personal filters and our sense of right and wrong, and soon we can find ourselves saying things that might horrify us if we were sober. By the same token, we might find ourselves becoming violent or fighting when we might not normally engage in this kind of behaviour if we were sober.
There is a very strong link between instances of domestic violence and alcohol usage. Unfortunately, alcohol and anger do not mix and when we become angry and use alcohol to hopefully relax ourselves and alleviate the feelings of anger and upset, we instead amplify these same feelings, making them worse.
Alcohol has the typical characteristic of making our uncomfortable and negative feelings larger. If you are already angry when you begin to drink, soon whatever provoked the anger will become an even larger issue in your mind. Given alcohol’s propensity to bring out violent behaviours, the combination can be extremely damaging and even potentially lethal in the wrong circumstances. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)
Timothy had always had a drink or two to relax him as long as he could remember being an adult. Even as a teenager, he would find himself drinking a beer or two when he would feel tense or upset. This was simply what they did in their family and he saw nothing wrong with continuing the tradition.
When Timothy hit his early 40s, not only was he having a beer or two at the end of the day, but often an entire six pack would disappear in the evening. Because he had recently lost his job, he and his wife were fighting more and more. The more their financial pressures mounted, the more he found himself drinking. Unfortunately, the more he drank the more he found himself obsessing about all of the wrongs that were being done to him – not only because he had lost his job, but also because he was frustrated that his wife, Rebecca, couldn’t seem to understand how reasonable his anger and unhappiness was in his current situation.
Without even realizing it, soon Timothy was turning to his beer every time he and Rebecca had an argument. The more he drank, the angrier he became. One evening, he not only discovered that he had drunk an entire six pack, but he was sure that Rebecca was hiding his private stash of beer. In a rage, he tore through their apartment until he found her on the bed. Without even blinking an eye, he was soon screaming at her and choking her. It was only when she hit him on the face trying to get free that he came to himself and realized with horror that he was completely out of control.
As you can see from Timothy’s story, when drinking and anger cross paths, one’s behaviour can quickly get out of control without our even realizing the path that we are on. In many cases, seeking the help of a qualified psychologist who specialises in both anger management issues and alcohol problems can help us understand the underlying reasons for both problems.
A therapist can help you:
• Understand the reasons you are angry. In many cases, we become angry because we are overly stressed or frustrated with the situation at hand. A counsellor or psychologist can help us understand what we are really frustrated about and help set goals to help change the situation.
• Learn the reasons why you drink alcohol. While there may be nothing wrong with having an occasional drink from time to time, it can be problematic if alcohol is used as a coping mechanism for feelings of discomfort, agitation or anger. A qualified counsellor can help you learn better and more appropriate coping skills for emotionally difficult or challenging situations.
• Manage your anger through the use of coping skills, including stress management and anger management techniques. Very often, we are simply doing the best we can within the constraints of what our parents and society have taught us. An anger management therapist can help you learn to quickly identify the key signals that indicate that you are stressed and angry and suggest tools and better methods of reducing your distress and angry responses. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney PTY LTD)
How to get help?
If you or someone you know is having problems with anger issues combined with alcohol use, we may be able to help. Our team can teach you or your friend about stress and anger management techniques, improve your communication skills and uncover the underlying reasons for your inappropriately expressed anger.
If would like to book a consultation or obtain further advice, please contact:
Associated Counselors & Psychologists Sydney
1. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2004 Jun;28(6):855-64.
A further examination of the relation between trait anger and alcohol-related aggression: the role of anger control.
Parrott DJ, Giancola PR. Source- Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky 40506-0044, USA.
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