Moderate Substance Use to Manage Anger

By Charles H. Elliott, Laura L. Smith, W. Doyle Gentry

First you’re hooked on anger, and then you become hooked on substances. In addition, caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that have the capacity to overstimulate your nervous system, thus making it easier for you to get angry the next time you get frustrated or provoked. In effect, you end up in a vicious cycle where anger leads to chemicals and chemicals lead to anger.

Stopping or cutting back smoking

Smoking is a habit (a predictable behavior that is conditioned to repeat itself without any conscious, deliberate thought or intent on the part of the smoker). Smokers light up basically because they have the urge to do so, and that urge is stronger at certain times of the day than others.

As a starter, try eliminating your favorite cigarette of the day whenever it occurs. If you can eliminate the strongest urge in your day, it will make all the other weaker urges throughout the day easier to overcome.

After you decide which your favorite cigarette of the day is, develop a plan of action for outlasting the urge. As part of your plan, you may want to

  • Spend the time you normally allocate to smoking a cigarette on some alternative form of pleasure. Despite its health hazards, there is no denying that smokers derive pleasure from ingesting nicotine. So what you’re looking for here is a substitute.

  • Talk yourself through the urge. One of our favorite mantras is “This, too, shall pass.”

  • Rely on a higher power to help you find the strength to resist the urge to smoke. Do you have sufficient faith in yourself to overcome the urge to smoke?

  • Lie back, close your eyes, and engage in some positive imagery. Give your mind something to do other than focus on smoking a cigarette. Picture yourself doing something you enjoy where you typically don’t smoke.

  • Have a piece of hard candy rather than a cigarette. This strategy works with anger, so why not smoking?

  • Take a minute for some journaling. This is a perfect time to spend a minute or two — as long as it takes for the urge to pass — to write down how you’re feeling at the moment. It’s okay to confess that you miss having a cigarette!

The smokers who are the most successful in quitting (or cutting back) are those who devise their own self-help program. So if you’re committed to this as part of your overall anger-management program, then the odds are in your favor. Don’t be afraid to be creative! Think outside the box — you never know what might work.

Counting your caffeine

If caffeine seems to trigger anger in you, try the following:

  • Switch from coffee to tea as your beverage of choice. (Both have caffeine, but tea has less.)

  • Alternate between caffeinated and decaf coffee.

  • Try drinking “half-and-half” coffee — half caffeine, half decaf.

  • Cut back on your use of over-the-counter medications that contain caffeine.

  • Rather than soda, order water with lemon in restaurants — it’s trendy!

  • Give up soft drinks; many contain caffeine, and almost all of them are really bad for you, including diet versions.

Adopting a new drinking style

Unless you have a definite drinking problem, a few common-sense rules about how to drink responsibly will hold you in good stead. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Avoid drinking alone. Married people are less likely to smoke, drink, and drink heavily than unmarried people. As crazy as this may sound, you’re also less likely to abuse alcohol when you’re in good company than when you’re by yourself.

  • Eat plenty of food before you drink and while you’re drinking. Food absorbs alcohol and lessens its effect on your nervous system (especially high-protein foods such as meat and cheese).

  • Alternate between alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks. That way, you’ll cut your alcohol intake by half.

  • Drink slowly. Aggressive drinkers drink everything faster and, as a result, end up having more drinks. Try to make each drink last one hour (the approximate time it takes for your body to eliminate that same drink).

  • Volunteer to be the designated driver once in a while. Your friends will love you, and you’ll feel much better than they do in the morning.

  • Never drink when you’re in a bad mood. Remember: Even though most people think of alcohol as a stimulant (it loosens you up and gets the social juices flowing!), it’s actually a depressant. The truth of the matter is that after a brief period of euphoria, your mood will take a downturn.

If you do all of the preceding list and you still drink too much, consider seeking professional help.