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Aggression, in the form of anger, frequently manifests in people with addiction problems. If you do not believe this is true, look to science, which tells us that there is a definite correlation between aggression and addiction. The Psychiatric Times reports, “The tendency to engage in violent behaviour is a potentially important risk factor for suicide in substance abusers.”

Is there a connection between aggression and addiction? How are the two related? Why do they often go hand-in-hand? Can a person get help with both?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse covered a recent study that showed the ties between addiction and aggression. They used mice to show a possible correlation between the disruptions of our brain circuitry that comes from substance use addiction and aggressive behaviour. Seventy percent of the male mice acted aggressively toward smaller mice when exposed to protocols that mirror human addictive behaviour.

Addiction, Aggression, and Healthy Behaviour

People with substance use disorders, whether they are co-occurring with mental illness or not, do not engage in healthy behaviour. The substance they are using inhibits how they deal with emotions, masking them in the pleasurable feelings that come with the drug or alcohol use. But these emotions do not go away and can build up, only to be unleashed when the substance abuser simply cannot bottle them up anymore.
The correlation between substance abuse and violent behaviour has been well documented. For example, the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment noted that more than 75 percent of people who begin treatment for drug addiction report having performed various acts of violence, including (but not limited to) mugging, physical assault, and using a weapon to attack another person. Examining gender differences, the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found that before seeking treatment for substance abuse, the rate of violent acts was as high as 72 percent among men and 50 percent among women. People enrolling in treatment were referred by family members because of violent behaviour carried out while under the influence. Furthermore, researchers found that aggression between two people in a romantic or sexual relationship was “associated with heavy drinking episodes and cocaine use.”

Why is there a link between alcohol abuse and violence?

In 2010, Live Science reported the results of a Scandinavian study that found the risk for violent behaviour increases with intoxication, but only among individuals who are prone to suppressing their feelings of anger while they are sober. Testing people who reported that they were prone to burying their angry feelings, researchers observed a 5 percent increase in violent behaviour that followed a 10 percent increase in drinking to the point of getting drunk. People who didn’t work their anger out were more likely to get drunk, and that state of drunkenness was connected to a rise in the chance of engaging in violent behaviour. People who did not suppress their angry feelings did not show a similar association.

The researchers noted that “only a tiny fraction of all drinking events involve violence,” but the likelihood of being violent while drinking appeared to be based on how well people who drink can deal with their anger while they’re sober. Since drinking alcohol can lower inhibitions, increase risky behaviour, and rob people of their self-control, an individual with unreleased rage can act out when sufficiently intoxicated.
For people struggling with addiction, both aggression and substance use can be tackled in drug rehab centres. These facilities are designed to deal with co-occurring illnesses such as mental health and substance use disorders. These healthcare providers can treat the substance use disorder, helping the patient safely go through withdrawal. Then, a variety of behavioural and therapeutic counselling practices can help the patient deal with their underlying emotions.




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