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The Connection Between Addiction and Aggression

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The flip side of anger is depression. Depression often causes people to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. 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. Psychiatric Times reports, “The tendency to engage in violent behavior is a potentially important risk factor for suicide in substance abusers.”

This article examines the 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 issues in drug rehab?

What The Latest Studies Say

Treatment providers already know what the studies are telling us; around 75% of people beginning addiction treatment have engaged in some sort of aggressive behavior. The Psychiatric Times article goes on to say, “individuals who have difficulty in controlling their anger may be more likely to act impulsively, thus turning the violence on themselves rather than on others.”

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 behavior. Seventy percent of the male mice acted aggressively toward smaller mice when exposed to protocols that mirror human addictive behavior.

The SAMHSA National Household Survey on Drug Use showed that 40% of substance users report engaging in some sort of aggressively reckless behavior.

Whether it is depression or other mental illness causing the aggression, or a result of the chemicals the substance user is consuming, the end result is the same; violent behaviors toward themselves or others.

Addiction, Aggression, and Unhealthy Behavior

People with substance use disorders, whether they are co-occurring with mental illness or not, do not engage in healthy behavior. 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.


Also, aggression is a manifestation of mental health conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder. Drugs are often used to calm anxiety or to help someone with low energy from depressive disorders get through the day. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry stated, “Self-medication of anxiety symptoms with alcohol, other drugs or both has been a plausible mechanism for the co-occurrence of anxiety disorders and substance use disorders.”

For people struggling with addiction, both aggression and substance use can be tackled in rehab. Dual diagnosis 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 behavioral and therapeutic counseling practices can help the patient deal with their underlying emotions. If a co-occurring mental health disorder is diagnosed, medication can help regulate their symptoms.

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