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Anger and Addiction

 The following is an excerpt from Dr. DeFoore's best-selling book, Anger: Deal With It, Heal With It, Stop It From Killing You.



Compulsions and addictions are great "smoke screens" or distractions from the real issues in our lives. They are also common ways in which we suppress or bury our anger. Here are some examples of compulsive/addictive behavior patterns:

Compulsive busy-ness
Alcohol and drug abuse
Love/relationship addiction
Sexual addiction
Compulsive overeating
Anorexia and/or bulimia
Rage addiction
Gambling addiction
Compulsive shopping
Television addiction
Internet compulsion
Video game addiction
Obsessive-compulsive behaviors such as: Counting
Excessive hand washing
Excessive house cleaning
Constant checking and re-checking locks, security systems, etc.
Obsessive worrying

You may know of other disorders that fit in this category. There are many effective programs designed to treat these disorders, including psychotherapy and the many twelve-step programs around the world. Our focus here is on the emotion of anger and how it relates to these thought and behavior patterns.

Compulsive and addictive behaviors are designed to protect you from all of your emotions, and they accomplish this by burying your anger, fear and sorrow deep beneath the complex of dysfunctional patterns. All compulsive/addictive disorders affect body and brain chemistry, providing an unhealthy “self-medication” for emotions.

Buried anger does not go away. We can medicate it, deny it and pretend it’s not there for days, weeks, months or even years. It's only a matter of time, however, before it shows up in some form of bitterness, depression, illness, outburst, violent attack or suicide. Buried anger always claims a victim, and the victim is often the person its buried in.


We tend to react to buried anger in one or both of the following two ways:

1. We get sick. Depression can result from buried anger, (see Fauva and Rosenbaum, 1999 and Elam, 2003), and that reduces the effectiveness of our immune system (Scanlan, 1999, Schleifer, et. al. 2002 and McGuire et. al. 2002). Physical illness can result from the depression or from the stress caused by the suppressed emotion. The anger does not get expressed, but it makes its presence known. This is sometimes called internalized anger or self-hatred, leading to suicidal thoughts or suicidal behavior. In extreme cases, phobias, delusions and even psychosis can develop over time.

2. We explode in fits of anger. These explosions can range all the way from violent rages to minor eruptions. The main point is that we are not in control, and we do things we do not intend to do. We often hurt others and ourselves when our buried anger erupts to the surface. This is the "pressure cooker" syndrome we talked about earlier.  

Compulsive and addictive behaviors can develop in either of the two above scenarios. Keeping feelings inside doesn't feel good. It hurts. Drug and alcohol addiction often results from self-medicating the pain that is caused by suppressed emotions.

Rageaholics may use substances or compulsive behaviors to try to control their rage. "I am so relaxed and pleasant when I drink. I only fly into those rages when I'm sober." This is a statement from a woman in denial, using alcohol to attempt to control her rage.


Clarice's presenting problem was her rage. She would usually start out being upset over some trivial detail around the house and eventually drag in 17 years of her husband's inadequacy and attack him with it.

"Everything will be going just fine" Clarice explained while staring out the window of my office, "and then I get this feeling. I start out complaining, and the next thing I know I'm screaming at the top of my lungs and throwing things at Foster. I've even hit him in the face with my fists a few times. I don't know why I do that.

"But you know, after I have a couple of glasses of wine, I just calm right down. He even brings me a glass of wine when he gets home sometimes. I guess he's figured it out by now."

Without realizing it, Clarice had mixed two very serious addictions. She was addicted to rage and to alcohol, and the two problems were feeding into each other. She was in total denial about her alcoholism.

"My drinking is not a problem. I'd be in bad shape without it though. I can quit any time I want to but I have to learn to control my anger first."

I decided to use her belief that the alcohol was not a problem as a way to get past her defenses.

"Since you can quit any time you want to, I'd like you to abstain from drinking just for a few weeks, while you are in therapy, Clarice. Let's just see how it goes. You'll have greater mental clarity, and also make much more progress that way. I'll give you some other ways to control your anger, besides drinking."

It was a long shot, but I knew I couldn't help her if she continued drinking while I was working with her.

"Sure, that's no problem. Like I said, I can quit any time I want to--even though I am worried about the anger." She squirmed a little when she said this. I think her body was telling me the truth she was not ready to admit.

Over the first few days of her abstinence, Clarice's struggle with her rage proved more than she was ready for. Without the alcohol for self-medication, she found herself in either violent rages or serious depression. Her marriage was collapsing rapidly.

The up side to this is that Clarice learned through this process that she indeed was an addict. She realized that part of her anger was the addict not getting what it wanted. The other part was the old anger she had been medicating with the alcohol.

There are many other examples of how anger and addictions relate. The point here is that they are a bad combination, and in most cases must be treated separately.

Just don't give up on yourself. No matter what, make up your mind that you are going to get healthy, and don't stop trying. You can do it!

Copyright 2009-2023 by William DeFoore,