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Understanding and Controlling Rage: The Complex Interplay of Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, and Anger Regulation

You love your family. You cherish your friends. You find pleasure and fulfillment in your work. You have every reason to be a happy, well-adjusted person in almost all respects.

Sometimes, though, the pressures of the day and the inevitable challenges of life get to be too much. You lash out. You lose control and behave in ways that make you ashamed. You say things you regret, and you hurt those dearest to you.

To be sure, anger is a part of life. It’s a universal human emotion. However, when your anger threatens to spiral out of control, it can have devastating consequences for your life and relationships.

Anger is a highly complex emotion, and difficulties regulating anger can result from several factors. It’s not about willpower or some deep-seated character flaw. A complex interplay of mental illness, substance abuse, and diverse physiological and behavioral influences are often at the heart of the problem.

Unregulated Anger and Substance Abuse

One of the most common reasons anger spirals out of control is the use of substances that cause immediate and sometimes long-lasting changes in the brain.

Alcohol, for instance, affects the deep structures of the brain that are responsible both for inhibition and emotional regulation. Under the influence of alcohol, whatever emotions you’re feeling, whether good or bad, positive or negative, will be grossly exaggerated and harder to control.

What would be a minor annoyance to your sober self might suddenly become an intolerable outrage when you’re intoxicated. Because your brain’s inhibition centers have been turned off, you’re going to have even less control over how you respond to perceived outrage. Thus, you’re far more likely to lash out, expressing your frustration and annoyance in a socially inappropriate burst of rage.

The complex interplay between substance abuse and unregulated anger doesn’t end there. There is mounting evidence to suggest a strong connection between substance abuse and mental illness. Indeed, people experiencing low moods, depression, or anxiety often turn to alcohol and other substances to help them feel better and relax and stop worrying.

What typically happens, though, is the opposite. Substances like alcohol often amplify what you’re feeling, so depression may quickly turn to despair and anxiety to irrational anger.

Mind and Body

It’s not only substance use or mental health problems that contribute to uncontrolled anger. Physiological factors can worsen this dynamic. Hormonal fluctuations, for instance, can wreak havoc with your emotions, which, in turn, may incite substance abuse, which can then undermine your ability to regulate your anger.

For example, testosterone is essential for healthy physical and mental functioning in men and women alike. However, after the age of 30, testosterone levels begin to decline, decreasing steadily every year for the next two decades or more. As your testosterone levels drop, so can your mood and your ability to regulate your emotions.

If you’re experiencing low testosterone levels, in other words, you’re far more likely to be depressed, anxious, and irritable. If you then turn to drugs or alcohol to help you feel better, even for a little while, chances are you’re going to end up feeling even worse, and you’re far more likely to experience outbursts of uncontrolled anger as a consequence.

What Is to Be Done

Though the interplay between substance abuse, mental illness, and unregulated anger is complex and multifaceted, there are important steps you can take to regain your emotional equilibrium and avoid the rage that threatens your relationships and quality of life.

One of the best anger management techniques you can use is to release the tension you’re feeling before entering potentially triggering situations. Heavy exercise that is physically taxing, such as kickboxing or P90x (a high-intensity DVD workout), can help you purge a lot of pent-up emotion before it can explode in other, less healthy ways.

Above all, you’ll want to limit or avoid alcohol and other psychoactive substances if you know you are experiencing mental health challenges or are susceptible to uncontrollable anger.

The Takeaway

Your unregulated anger can leave you feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and deeply regretful. When you lose control of your emotions, it has little, if anything, to do with willpower. More often than not, it’s the result of the complex interplay of substance abuse, mental health issues, and physiological and behavioral factors. The good news is that there are solutions. Once you understand the dynamics of your anger, you can make better choices, taking proactive measures to prevent the cascade into rage.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant, and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on issues that look inward on mankind and that help make the surrounding world a better place to reside. When Dan isn’t working on new content, you can find him with a coffee cup in one hand and searching for new music with the other.

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The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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