Anger addiction… It’s a wild notion, isn’t it? Perhaps you know someone or maybe even know them very personally (if you know what I mean) who is an anger junkie; who always seems to have a crisis going on. Heck, some people walk around looking for reasons to get offended. Be it light or overblown, these folks have dramatic conflicts with people in their lives, exploding in anger and causing pointless drama but they do it with one major difference from the rest of the population – they love it! Nothing makes them happier than getting angry.
Addiction is normally associated with drugs, alcohol, sex, and many other fun things in life but is it possible to be addicted to anger? After all, how can anyone possibly like being pissed off so much that they would want to repeat it over and over? Science says anger addiction is a real deal. Perhaps one of the most surprising realizations for you may be that rage can actually feel quite exhilarating.
Mechanics of Anger Addiction
It all starts early when the frontal lobe of the brain (emotional control center) has not fully developed yet. At this stage, an impulsive thought easily overrides any consideration for potential consequences of one’s actions and sends one down the path of whimsy and reckless behavior. “Look ma’! I can smoke, chat on the cell and drive a bicycle at the same time.” Some refer it as the “head-in-underwear” syndrome. This phenomenon is caused by the immature and slower development of the frontal lobe in humans. Since this area of the brain is not completely matured until a human is in his mid-to-late 20’s we really have enough time to establish some “noble” habits and addictions.
Your Brain’s Mighty Fine Drug – Dopamine
Anger addiction starts in the brain’s limbic system, which is the seat of all emotions. This system also causes the secretion of dopamine, the pleasure hormone. Dopamine (where we get the word “dope”) is the anatomical and chemical stepping-stone to addiction.
Dopamine is a naturally occurring pleasure chemical that is unleashed by your brain in response to or even in anticipation of fun stimulants like a vodka martini, a cigarette, sex, food, even a shopping spree. Since you like the way you feel, you learn to repeat the behavior and your brain participates big time. When the reward center of your brain is stimulated it actively wires itself with mental associations of cause and effect; meaning it remembers what thing or activity produced this pleasurable effect so that next time it can summon all of your mind’s creative juices to manipulate your behavior (without you even making a conscious note of it) to achieve a similar gratifying outcome.
The problem with chronic dopamine release is that with time your brain’s receptors get desensitized and bring little pleasure. A small amount of dopamine can only help you to feel temporarily ‘normal’ again. As with drugs, an agerholic will in turn crave a larger release of dopamine to feel the same ‘high’ and the only way to achieve this is to up the rage and act out more; either verbally or violently. This is how anger addiction is born.
Pleasure Seeking Missile – The Go System
As part of our survival mechanism, our brains have developed a pleasure center that serves one function – pursue rewards. It is located in the middle of the brain and you know your reward system is active when the little voice inside your head whispers “Go dude, go!… Faster! Bigger! Bolder!… If you only do this you can have that…” and so on. It is this center of the brain that can encourage one to achieve great personal success or encourage to go for that taboo love affair that has a potential to destroy your life.
Screeching Brakes – The Stop System
Your brain also has a part that is a bit like a party spoiler to the Go System. It lives in the prefrontal cortex or “higher brain”, and it gifted us with some mental space to ‘evaluate’ consequences before acting out your impulses. It screams “Stop!, Are you sure about this? Sure driving home wasted seems like a good idea now but what if the cop has a different opinion?”
The only bummer with pre-frontal cortex is that it is a part of the frontal lobe. As mentioned before, this area of the brain is not fully developed till we’re in the late 20’s (and if you asked me, in some people its missing altogether.) That is why you see many young people “do first, think later.” Another snag is that the signals to the prefrontal cortex tend to be a bit slower so reasoning through impulses actually takes some time. This is why the reverse order of “think first, act later” can be so darn difficult in adolescent years.
The Hijack Maneuver
The reason most anger addicts are not able to control their anger can be attributed to the infamous Hijack System of the brain. Basically, here, the “go system” hijacks the “stop system” and produces the “oh crap! system.” The impulses are so strong and behavior of acting them out are so “wired in” (through repetition in the past) that this behavior seems totally natural. In fact, anything contrary to that state creates internal tension.
This is the reason why anger addiction can be just as serious as any other addiction to things like drugs, alcohol, gambling, etc. It can ruin friendships, destroy careers and even land one in a penitentiary with beans and hot dogs for lunch every day for the rest of one’s life.
Why Getting Angry Can Feel so Damn Good
By now you maybe saying to yourself, “OK this is fun, but how in the world can anger feel so good that I can get addicted to it?” It’s simple. Remember dopamine, right? Here are three ways how anger can produce pleasure and stimulate the release of dopamine:
1. It is all about the “rush” – that surge of adrenaline in conjunction with increased heart rate and blood pressure can actually feel quite good, even euphoric. A physical manifestation of anger, like slamming your fist on the table or smashing a porcelain plate against the wall will cause your body to release dopamine, creating an even greater sense of excitement. The trap here is that using rage produced adrenaline to feel ‘high’ is like drinking tequila to have less inhibitions on the dance floor – its short lived and is followed by a nasty hangover.
2. Releasing stored up feelings can feel great. When addicts need their daily “fix” but can’t get it they become antsy and irritable. They feel mental tension and discomfort in various parts of their body. When they finally satisfy their craving they experience a wonderful feeling of relief. Anger addiction is no different. Pent up negative emotions manifest in a very uncomfortable way and their release by screaming or punching something brings about a feeling of relief and satisfaction. The problem is that it’s a vicious circle – the more the brain is wired to experience pleasure from disturbing emotions, the more the anger and addiction grow together as friends.
3. Being in control feels good. When something or someone robs you of control it feels bad. Somebody offends you, a driver cuts you off, you are denied access to your routine cigarette brake, you name it… You lose power, get angry and decide to use force to regain power so you do something to insult or hurt another being to “re-gain” power. This in turn gives one an illusory boost in power and status. Kicking someone’s ass (verbally or physically) in vengeance can feel awesome. Of course, this is exactly the type of behavior that sparks conflicts and pours more fuel into the fire as a result. This is why the most famous sage – Gautama Buddha – skillfully describes anger’s attributes as a “honeyed tip with a poison root.”
[stextbox id=”grey”]As you see, all three of these scenarios bring about only a temporary sense of pleasure. Anger is truly a poor diet for your brain.[/stextbox]
It is Your Cactus
Anger is addictive. If you are a chronically angry person, now you know that it is the frontal lobe, the limbic system, and brain chemicals that are driving your wild behavior. However, I invite you not to use your new awareness as an excuse to keep acting like a lunatic because “it’s all in your brain now.”
Let us resolve to be masters, not the victims, of our history, controlling our own destiny without giving way to blind suspicions and emotions – John F. Kennedy.
Remember, it is you who planted this cactus in the first place and allowed it to blossom into a prickly bugger. Addiction is a brain disease so treat it as such and give yourself a break from trying to cultivate the “happy thoughts.”
You may hear that you need a therapist to help you deal with anger but I assure you that you can do this on your own by picking up a few anger management techniques and then relentlessly putting them to practice till it becomes second nature. To overcome it, anger addiction will demand all of your will power, patience, and willingness to learn new things that will make a profound impact on your quality of life.
P.S. Got anger? Download my FREE report called “7 Secrets of Anger Management from Ancient Wisdom.” I’ve spend years gathering the advice that is presented in it. If you’re on a spiritual path this could be a life-changing e-book for you. (You’ll find it in the upper right corner.)
This is a most wonderful description/explanation.
Thank you very much for posting it.
I was an anger junkie myself, having learned ONLY anger/rage as a child from the other male rageaholics around me.
I did what you suggest here on my own after learning how anger is so very destructive.
I simply did not wish to be the (young adult) man that I had already become.
Finding and uprooting this powerfully destructive suite of behaviours took me years and still, every so often (decades later) I find a grain of it here or there and must also uproot that before it is able to multiply.
I did not wish to be a repeat (a bad re-run ??) of my immediate male forbear.
One constructive trigger for me was a (then popular…) song with the line:
“I don’t care what you do – I wouldn’t want to be like you.”
Presently my closest neighbor – an old friend – constantly subjects me to what is ‘normal’ for her; and this has me wanting to constantly turn my back and walk away from her as no other response would be peaceful – and none that I know of would be helpful anyhow.
Any and everything I have already tried has merely provoked more hostility.
Silence is the only tool in my toolbox which may be chosen without bringing about further angry outrage.
This is very hard on myself as it feels exactly the same as sustaining injury without any recourse.
The extremely harsh destructive criticisms, blameful scolding, outright rage, ‘venting’, and whatever other forms of lashing out (thank goodness verbally only…) that occur without cease challenge me in my ability to simply drain off the excessive energies from within myself before they can be mirrored or get ‘stuffed’ and therefore cause me harm which I assuredly DO NOT need in my life.
Not only is the anger-drug highly addictive, but it is also horribly contagious by mere exposure.
Anger begets more anger, be it open and obvious or be it hidden as a poison within one’s own precious, only body.
Parents unknowingly (and usually uncaringly) pass it along into ‘their’ children and then those children (without having a facility to know about it) repeat the harsh, hurtful, damaging actions of their ‘elders’, usually (and this is quite sad) without any ability to see or to sense or to even feel the hurt/harm they are inflicting upon the recipients of their self-righteous indignations.
Another great tool in my personal learnings was the acquisition of remorse.
When one has learned to feel remorseful and to follow-up by working to make their wrongs as right as possible after becoming aware of them, it helps in strongly securing the deep desire to be FREE of this horrible addiction which usually only causes harm and hurt to any/all it is pointed at.
As a man in the current world – many, many times I have repeated that I hold as responsible for most of the problems in this current world – alcohol, tobacco and testosterone.
Refining that a bit further I have come to see it can simply be expressed as AAA:
Addiction, Anger & Abuse.
(Neglect is not in there because it is an inevitable result of the other three…)
All the above saddens me greatly, and gives me a strong desire to find some way to just go off and hide from other people for my remaining days in this world because these things seem to be omnipresent as well as worsening…and speaking only for myself what I truly need is healing rather than any more damage in my life.
Best Wishes to All.
Absolutely superb explanation of what I thought was simply a mere theory on my part when it occurred to me in respect of my partners Son. Thankyou.
I can see her working up to her rage and attacks and afterwards I can see how good she feels. When she speaks of the moment I seriously tell you that her fix can be observed again! She is ready at the drop of the hat to fly into a rage. She does indeed enjoy it as much as her cigarettes!
Oh boy… a real anger glow, eh? 🙂 Anger can, in fact, feel good to the brain but we all know it’s an energy that burns one from within too.
I’ve been enjoying your website! The wisdom and science related here encourages me to deal sanely with people I find hostile. I sometimes feel discouraged and used.
A slight criticism of the article above: apparently the word “dope” is not derived from “dopamine”, according to the etymology of the word “dope” as given in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
Thank you Mark, good point about the “dope” part. By the way, I too sometimes feel discouraged, mainly when I see how deeply some habits are in-grained in us and how hard it is to “re-write” them but then I sprinkle a bit of lighter attitude with humor on top and move forwards. What’s the alternative, right? 🙂
I know anger is addicting. In the past, I would have wanted it all to stop because my anger would go too far. Unfairly punishing my children, punching holes in the wall, breaking chairs, swatting my cat, punching doors, etc. After every time, I would feel guilty, just like an alcoholic might feel the next morning after their binge. That’s what anger is. It’s an indulgent binge of rage. It never did anything beneficial for me. It was illogical to let the anger take over, but it did. It overrides every glimmer of common sense, and fills me up with this powerful emotion. It felt good to let go, let it take over. But then weep over the destruction it had caused after the wave passed. I have been going through a change since the beginning of 2015, and I am now more in control of my emotions than ever before. I treat my kids fairly and I do not spank them anymore. They have started to behave much better. I have subdued the rage from my cat scratching me. He has since stopped scratching me. I beg of everyone reading this, it may seem hopeless, but keep trying. Keep trying to subdue the monster inside. Think rationally.
Hey, I just broke up with my partner of two years after lashing out and yelling at them. The relationship itself was toxic as they would lie and manipulate and constantly reinforce my insecurities with their words and actions, and as a result of this abuse I became an abuser myself.
This post has helped me recognize my failings and my own abusive tendencies and I want to say thank you for writing it. It really means the world to me and I’m grateful for all the other commenters who have given their input as well. The road to recovery is a tough one but I think that expressing my thankfulness here will help me move on from the fallout of this relationship and my own depressive frustration.
Best wishes to all and much thanks to the author.
Hi Kit, I admire your steps towards self reflection and objective observation. Habits are very stubborn, much patience to you.
Control of anger is a problem solution that may get in the way of real control. I use education as ‘real’ control. Is that real? No. Habit is not real, and education is ‘habit’ forming. The habit of believing what is not true in fact as true in fact introduces contradictions that can only be resolved with a habitual response or reaction. A safety valve approach is the best one for me. I now use solitary computer games to induce the euphoria of a high that can be controlled by habit. When all three capacities are in play with an artificial game of competition with the self vs computer, it can be controlled by starting with out of control and ending in compensation. Decompensation is the expression of anger, pleasure, or control. Balance is when all are in a working level to neutralize by titration of each with an indicator. When all are in balance you feel good even when you are not, or bad when the indicator warns you that one is about to dominate. Control is like having your head in an oven and your feet in a freezer. On the average you are comfortable. Now add ‘comfort’ and see how the balance results in a satisfaction when they are in balance. The “Garden of Eden” effects. Eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to overcome the urge to violate God and Truth to satisfy the urge.
Had me until “testosterone” being named a problem. It is the driving force to the creation of civilization. You’re calling men the problem, because no one has ever seen an angry woman before. Fool.