Is Anger an Addiction?
The American Society of Addiction Medicine, defines an addiction as, “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
“Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”
Addictions fall into two categories: substance and process; the former through the abuse of alcohol and drugs, the latter, behaviors such as gambling, hoarding, spending, eating disorders, workaholism, co-dependence and surprisingly, inappropriate use of the normal human emotion of anger.
When used constructively, anger can fuel positive and pro-social action, such as women securing the right to vote. “Imagine what the women’s suffrage movement would have been like if women had said, ‘Guys, it’s really so unfair, we’re nice people and we’re human beings too. Won’t you listen to us and give us the vote?” says social psychologist Carol Tavris, PhD, author of Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion
The organization, known as MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was born out of anger and grief over the needless death of 13-year-old Carli Lightner in 1980. It was founded by her mother, Candy Lightner, who discovered that the man who killed her daughter got behind the wheel while intoxicated had a previous arrest record for driving under the influence.
Most people experience anger when they feel that circumstances are beyond their control or they believe they have been wronged in some way. When considering the positive uses for anger, call to mind Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesus of Nazareth who were able to channel their anger toward injustice.
When Anger Becomes (D)angerous
My experience with anger in childhood was minimal. Rare were voices raised in ire. My parents generally resolved conflict quietly. My sister and I would be verbal combatants at most and when my father felt we needed some physical release, he — having been a Golden Gloves boxer in the Navy and taught boys in our community to engage in the pugilistic art — would lace up gloves that dwarfed our hands and provide us with mouth guards and head gear and have us go at it. We took playful swings at each other and ended up laughing, which was his intention as a way of defusing our anger. Not sure either of us ever landed a punch or experienced a sisterly TKO.