Practical Ways of Nipping Anger in the Bud

Addiction recovery often involves dealing with anger. Anger may be directed at oneself, at specific people, at less-specific entities (like law enforcement or institutions), or at society as a whole. Without learning to process anger in a constructive manner, it is difficult for a person with an addiction to move forward toward recovery, as anger can be strongly tied to relapse.

So what is anger? Anger is an intense feeling of annoyance or displeasure and it presents in many different ways. While many perceive anger as a negative emotion, we should refrain from labeling our emotions as “good” and “bad”.  Actually, anger is often the result of other emotions such as fear and resentment.

Here are some short and long-term strategies to address anger in its many forms.

Short-term strategies

Explosive Anger

  • What it looks like: Impulsive and aggressive outbursts in which our reaction is out of proportion with the situation.
  • How to Turn It Around: Wait it out. The neurological anger response subsides in seconds. Mentally recite the Serenity Prayer, breathe, count to 10, etc., and wait for the urge to explode to diminish.


  • What it looks like: Finding a way to blame ourselves for anything and everything.
  • How to Turn It Around: Ask yourself, “Who told me I was responsible for this?” Then ask, “Do I really believe that?” Instead of accepting all responsibility, thank yourself for recognizing the pattern in the first place. Accept the fact that we are all human, and we all make mistakes…and that’s okay!


  • What it looks like: Pasting on a happy face and burying anger.  
  • How to Turn It Around:
    • Challenge your core beliefs and values. Ask yourself whether what caused your anger is worth the energy. Recognizing that something is unhealthy is the first step towards implementing healthier behaviour.  Do your behaviours align with your values? 
    • Step outside yourself. Imagine that a friend is the one being treated poorly. What would be the appropriate way for them to respond? Make a list of actions they might take, and then ask yourself why it is acceptable for them, but not you, to react that way.
    • Talk to a trusted friend, sponsor, or others in recovery.  Sometimes our perception could use some assistance. 
    • Embrace healthy communication. Take some time to regulate your emotions, then talk to the person―in a positive, constructive way.  You may initially be met with resistance, he or she might be surprised, possibly even angered, by your words. Avoidance often does more damage.


  • What it looks like: Finding a roundabout way of getting your digs in, with a half-smile. Engaging in passive-aggressive communication (see below).  
  • How to Turn It Around:
    • Give it to them straight. Find healthy words to express how you feel head-on.
    • Be firm and clear. This is especially true with children, to whom a gentle verbal correction sends a much clearer message than a snarky one.
    • Speak up before you get bitter. Exercising assertiveness prior to arriving at your breaking point can help prevent a sarcastic streak from popping out.
    • Be mindful of the difference between ‘mean’ sarcasm and ‘healthy’ humour. 


  • What it looks like: Expressing anger in an underhanded way.
  • How to Turn It Around:
    • Give yourself permission to feel anger. Tell yourself that anger is your psyche’s way of saying you’re tired of unhealthy behaviour.
    • Advocate for yourself. Consider the words you would like to use, and then gather your courage and communicate what’s bothering you.
    • Take control.  If you turn to passive aggression when you’re uncomfortable with what’s expected of you, it’s important to take action and regain personal control of the situation, and communicate when you need help.

Habitual Irritation

  • What it looks like: This is often a reaction of frustration and can become a default option.
  • How to Turn It Around:
    • Get to the root of your reaction. If you dig deep, you’ll realize what you are really mad about. Consider professional intervention if you can’t get to the bottom of it on your own.
    • Tune in to anger clues. Become aware of the actions and feelings associated with your irritation. As you identify and experience each physiological response, make a mindful effort to do something―anything―else.
    • Visualize peace. Try this technique to stop rising anger before it overtakes you. Imagine your breath as a wave, surge of color, or even a breeze. Watch it come in and out; optimally each breath will be deep and quiet.

Radical acceptance is another way of addressing all types of anger. It is a methodology that is used to simply acknowledge that the triggering event happened, is real, and has meaning for you. Radical acceptance means accepting exactly how you feel without judgment.  Since radical acceptance is a sizable topic, we will delve into it deeper in another blog post.

Long-term Strategies

There are habits that we can develop to help keep our emotions more level and keep some anger at bay. Below are long-term strategies that will help you modify how you express anger in the future.

Suggestions include:

  • Keep a journal of your anger outbursts, to try and understand how and why you get mad.
  • Consider assertiveness training, anger management, or learning about techniques of conflict resolution.
  • Examine some relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga.  There are many apps that can help you.
  • See a counselor or psychologist if you still feel angry about events that occurred in your past.
  • Exercise regularly.

About the Authors

Renascent Staff
The staff at Renascent is passionate about helping people with substance addictions so they can reach their full recovery – with compassion, respect, empathy and understanding. Our staff includes our counsellors, all of whom have lived experience of addiction and recovery.