How Anger Fuels Addictive Behavior
Have you ever felt as though you were doing the same thing over and over again getting worse and worse results no matter how hard you tried? Are you caught in a downward spiral that leaves you feeling helpless and more frustrated? While there are many reasons for addictive behavior, certain emotions such as anger can add fuel to the addictive cycle, thereby increasing the intensity and feeling completely out of control.
It all starts with a painful event such as the loss of a job, the betrayal of a close friend or the disappointment of a missed opportunity. Each of these events can spark anger directed at another person for their part in the event or directed at yourself for failure to handle the event properly. The feeling of anger is uncomfortable so you counteract it with a desire to escape or a desire to find pleasure. You turn to the addiction of your choice: alcohol, drugs, gambling, smoking, spending money, porn, excessive exercising, soap operas, adrenaline, sugar, or video games. Other people in your life don’t like your addiction so they in turn become angry with you and withdraw. You are now confused by their response as you were just trying to avoid the angry feelings. This in turn results in another painful event such as a fight, loss of respect or distrust.
Acknowledge. The first step to stopping the crazy cycle is acknowledging that you are repeating the same behavior over and over. You can’t change what you won’t acknowledge. So admit it. You are doing the crazy cycle. This is not the time to blame others for the reason you are doing the crazy cycle; this is the time to accept responsibility for your own crazy behavior. Everyone is responsible for their own behavior. This may be a new concept to you as our culture is quick to blame others - parents, churches, organizations, companies, governments, and even nations - for bad behavior. But this is not constructive thinking, it is destructive thinking. You are responsible for your own behavior.
Stop at Anger. There is nothing wrong with feeling angry. It is a normal emotion which even Jesus felt. But there is something wrong with acting out in anger or doing something to escape the anger or doing something to suppress the anger (pleasure-seeking behavior). Whether you are acting aggressively angry or avoiding the anger by running away, anger is still controlling your behavior. It is OK to be angry when you are hurt, when someone hurts you, or when someone hurts someone else. Just don’t take it to the next step or try to escape the anger; rather deal with the anger by confronting how you feel and taking responsibility for the actions that follow. Just saying the words, “I am angry but I’m going to act responsibly” can transform the out-of-control feeling to one of control.
Know Your Addiction. What is your addiction of choice? More than likely you have more than one addictive behavior. Not all of the additive behaviors are listed so taking an inventory of your go-to addictions is extremely helpful. Many times you will go directly from the painful event and skip right past the angry emotion to the additive behavior because you have developed a conditioned response similar to Pavlov’s dogs. In Pavlov’s experiment, he trained dogs to salivate at the ringing of a bell by first giving food along with ringing the bell. Before long, he only needed to ring the bell for the dogs to salivate. You may have done the same thing with your addiction. You no longer need to feel anger to justify the addictive behavior; rather you go straight from the painful event to the addiction. If you know your addictive behaviors, you can trace backwards to the anger anytime you feel the desire to abuse your substance and stop it from going any further.
You can take responsibility for your own behavior and stop the crazy cycle from destroying your life. You do not have to be a victim to your addiction or continue to allow painful events to determine how you will respond. Remember, if you make a mistake along the way and slip backwards, it is never too late to turn around no matter what others around you say. Who you are is NOT defined by your mistakes. Who you are is defined by your character which can be shaped by your mistakes only if you let it.