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Fighting Anger: When Opiate Rehab Turns You Inside Out

Dealing with emotions during opiate rehab
Dealing with emotions during opiate rehab

In Pixar’s 2015 film Inside Out the protagonist is a young girl named Riley whose core emotions come to life on the screen, in the form of Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger. Her cool, calm world is overturned when her parents move the family from Minnesota to San Francisco. But Riley doesn’t have to deal with anything compared with the gamut of emotions that affect people in opiate rehab.

If you’re going through the stages of recovery, one of the most challenging emotions to deal with is anger. People who have relapsed report that anger, on one level or another, contributes to relapse more often than any other emotion. Therapist Carole Bennett in Psychology Today identifies anger as one of the top six relapse triggers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) tells us that anger management holds the dubious honor of most-searched term on its website.

Anger During Opiate Rehab Affects Everybody

When we say that anger affects everybody, we mean that in two ways. First of all, it’s natural for anger to affect each and every person in opiate rehab. Second, it’s true that anger affects the people around us—our children, our significant others, extended family members, and even the people who help us with opiate rehab treatment.

If you feel angry you may strike out and hurt the people you love without meaning to. Behaviors such as driving recklessly or being promiscuous can hurt yourself. You can hurt your children by teaching them that it’s okay to express that kind of anger, when you know you really don’t want them to.

It can also contribute to troublesome health effects. People who often feel anger get headaches and develop high blood pressure. They experience anxiety and stress more than others. Anger bears its effect on all parts of your body in ways that you can’t predict and in ways that vary from person to person—one person might experience frequent indigestion, while another one develops temporomandibular joint syndrome from grinding their teeth.

And, ultimately, it’s the number-one reason cited by people in opiate rehab for relapsing. They use anger to justify their relapse. They use whatever they can get their hands on without stopping to think about the consequences, and then later on, when all hell breaks loose, they blame everybody but themselves.

SAMHSA offers an Anger Control Plan that you can work on with your counselor while you’re in opiate rehab treatment. We all experience the physiological effects of anger, such as becoming flushed or even developing hives; the emotional effects, including fear and impatience; and also behavioral tics, such as yelling, swearing, and even throwing things. But when anger becomes a chronic problem or develops into full-blown rages, you’ve got to get it under control.

Events Leading to Anger

At a time when you’re calm and feeling positive about your progress in opiate rehab, consider the things that make you angry. Opiate rehab provides an opportunity to think long and hard about the reasons why you use and the reasons why in your mind you justify relapse. Some people experience frequent bouts of road rage, for example, while others are triggered by having to wait in line or in a waiting room for a long time. SAMHSA gives us these examples of anger events:

  • Long waits
  • Traffic
  • Crowded buses
  • Friends who joke about something you don’t think is funny
  • Having something missing or stolen
  • Things your neighbors or coworkers do that aggravate you
  • Having to clean up other people’s messes
  • Rumors spread about how you’re doing in opiate rehab

Cues, on the other hand, identify how we respond to those events. You’ve already given some thought to the ways that you express anger. Thing about the emotional, physical, and behavioral cues, and then also identify your cognitive cues. Those are the things that pop into your head when you first get angry.

Strategies to Manage Anger

Once you’ve determined the events and cues that accompany your anger, you can prepare strategies for managing anger. SAMHSA’s Anger Control Plan consists of:

  • Taking a formal or informal cooling-off period. Put yourself on a time-out, for want of a better word.
  • Confiding in someone you trust, either a friend, your counselor, or your sponsor.
  • Implementing the five steps of the Conflict Resolution model: identifying the problem, figuring out what emotions you’re experiencing because of it, determining the effect that it’s having, deciding whether you can resolve it, and developing a resolution, whether or not you need to compromise.
  • Exercising, in order to release some of that pent-up energy generated by the stress of anger.
  • Attending 12-step meetings, so you’ll have someone to confide in and also to realize you’re not alone.
  • Exploring the real feelings that caused your anger.

It’s also useful to be aware of how we express anger. Think about your family environment when you grew up. How did your mother demonstrate that she was angry? How did your father show anger? If you weren’t raised by your parents, consider the people whose faces come into your mind when you think of family. Maybe your mom threw books or banged the pots and pans around when she was ticked off. Perhaps good old pop walked around in stern-lipped silence. Now consider how you respond when you’re angry. Does your way of expressing anger match one of them more closely than the other?

You should also talk to your counselor about additional ways to manage anger, such as relaxation breathing techniques, meditation including guided imagery, and progressive muscle relaxation. Those are techniques that will help your body recover from the fight-or-flight response that it automatically adapts when there is anger. Once you decide on your favorite technique, practicing it will help you begin that technique quickly and automatically whenever you become angry.

Opiate rehab brings with it its own unique circumstances involving anger. If you became addicted because you needed pain pills for an accident that injured you, it’s natural to be angry about that incident or the person who caused it. If you grew up in a household with abusive parents, or with parents who also abused substances, again—it’s natural to let yourself be filled with bitter resentments and blame your treatment for opiate rehab on them.

That’s why it’s so important to attend individual or group therapy at your methadone treatment program. You can’t just show up for your methadone or Suboxone and avoid the counseling. Talk to your counselor about the kinds of therapy that are available and what might be available outside of your local clinic. Network with the people you meet at 12-step meetings, too, because medication is only the beginning of opiate rehab. You’ve got to attend the counseling as well to be as successful as you can be.

In the end, Riley learned that each of of her emotions had a purpose. Even Anger and Sadness contributed much to making her a well-rounded person. The same goes for you.

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