All addictions have symptoms, which allow us to recognize these problems as addictive diseases. The signs of addictive diseases are self-stimulation, compulsion, obsession, denial, withdrawal and craving syndrome, and unpredictable behavior. Like alcoholism or drug use, anger meets many of the criteria.
For those who are rageaholics, expressing anger is self- stimulating. It triggers the compulsion for more anger. For example, let’s pretend that we are going to provide treatment for alcoholics. On the way to the treatment center, we stop and buy a case of beer. When we get to the meeting, we tell the alcoholics in therapy that they just need to do a lot of drinking to get it out of their system once and for all. This is similar to when therapists tell men with rage problems, ‘You just need to express yourself and get it out of your system.’ It is just as absurd. The more alcoholics drink, the more they want. The more ragers rage, the more they want to rage.
Anger addiction or ‘rageaholism’ is the compulsive pursuit of a mood change by repeatedly engaging in episodes of rage despite adverse consequences. Rageaholics continue to rage compulsively without regard to the negative consequences. Compulsion or loss of control is the inability to stop expressing anger once we have begun. The inability to control angry words is a certain sign of rageaholism. Loss of control–that is addiction.
Rageaholics are frequently preoccupied with resentment and fantasies of revenge. Those thoughts sometimes rise powerfully and allow no other thoughts to enter. The force of anger is sometimes irresistible and followed by action. Therefore, the preoccupation with the ‘wrongs’ of others and revenge continually leads to rage. Progressively, these thoughts crowd out all others until our life becomes chronically revenge-oriented. At that point, anger controls our thoughts.
Denial keeps anger addicts trapped. It is the mental process by which we conclude that the addiction is not the problem; it’s ‘them.’ Ignorance of addiction and the inability to examine ourselves, work together to keep rageaholics stuck. Knowing no other way to live, we deny that there is anything wrong with us. This system of denial ensures that the process of rage and righteous indignation will continue. Righteous indignation keeps our focus off of ourselves. This is why ragers seldom are able to say, ‘I am wrong.’
Withdrawal and Craving
As with any addiction, anger has a detoxification period. Craving is high during this time. Those who abstain from name-calling, profanity, and yelling during this period report more depression than usual for the first three months. Typically, during the first 90 days of abstinence, ragers feel vulnerable and spend a lot of time thinking and hoping for a situation that will allow us to use violence for some heroic purpose. Afterward, however, if we have achieved complete abstinence and maintained it for 90 days, we find we no longer think in profane or disparaging terms. It may even become shocking when we hear others do it.
Another definition of alcoholism is that when an alcoholic drinks, there is no way to predict his or her behavior. He may drink appropriately from time to time, just as the rageaholic may express anger appropriately from time to time. However, when the alcoholic starts to drink alcohol, all bets are off. No one knows what is going to happen. When rageaholics start to express anger, no one knows where it is going to go. The most likely thing is that they will explode, rant, and rave. Rageaholics would like to learn how to express our anger appropriately just like alcoholics would like to learn how to drink appropriately. While there are some exceptions, I encourage those with rage problems to abstain from the expression of anger for one year.
This plan is only for that small percent of the population who have rage or violence problems. The approach described here is not for everyone; but for those addicted to rage, it won’t work to express your anger.