Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Anger?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

Think you have a drinking problem?

If you suspect you might have a drinking problem, don't wait to seek help. Call our hotline now for confidential advice, support, and the first step towards understanding your relationship with alcohol and beginning your journey to recovery.

Is Anger a Symptom of Alcohol Withdrawal?

When you stop using drugs or alcohol suddenly, you may develop withdrawal symptoms within the next 24 hours. While some of these symptoms are physical side effects, you may also develop mental symptoms as well. Fortunately, you can alleviate anger and other withdrawal symptoms by getting support from a professional detox center. 

The Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal can cause a wide range of different symptoms. The severity of someone’s addiction can determine the extent of their withdrawal symptoms. Because people sometimes develop life-threatening side effects, it is important to go through the detox process with medical supervision.

The First Two Days

You can develop the first symptoms of alcohol withdrawal after just six hours of abstaining from drinking. You may experience headaches, sweating, anxiety, and insomnia. People often suffer from vomiting and nausea. 

As time progresses, your symptoms will likely become worse. After 12 to 24 hours, you may experience hallucinations or seizures. You may start to see or hear things that don’t actually exist. 

The First Week

During the first week, you may develop delirium tremens. This is one of the most severe side effects of alcohol withdrawal, and it is fatal in up to 15% of untreated cases. If you are experiencing delirium tremens, you may end up suffering from some of the following side effects. 

  • Racing heart
  • Confusion
  • Fever
  • High blood pressure
  • Heavy sweating

Ideally, you should ask for professional help before you go through alcohol withdrawal. If you start having symptoms after you have already started the detox process, it is important to reach out to your doctor right away. Your doctor will discuss your symptoms, conduct a physical exam, and give you advice about where to get help. 

How Alcohol Addiction and Anger Are Connected

According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is more closely linked to aggression than any other psychotropic chemicals. While it might be strongly associated with aggression in some people, it can cause different behaviors in different individuals. You may or may not feel increased levels of anger when you drink.

Anger is an intense feeling of hostility or annoyance. In comparison, aggression is a collection of behaviors that cause harm to yourself or other people. Some people have a higher likelihood of experiencing chronic anger over time, which is known as trait anger. 

People who experience chronic anger may be more likely to feel angry when they drink. Anger and aggression may also be linked to how heavy alcohol consumption impacts nutrition, neuroinflammation, and the microbiome. 

When you drink, alcohol can lower your inhibitions. This can make it harder for you to suppress anger. Alcohol basically turns up the volume of the anger and aggression you normally feel in response to certain actions. 

Likewise, drinking can increase your impulsivity. Chronic alcohol consumption can reduce the functioning of the prefrontal cortex. Because this part of the brain is responsible for impulse control, you may struggle to control a sudden urge to behave aggressively. 

Once you stop using alcohol, you may also become angrier. Alcohol withdrawal can cause serious mood changes, anxiety, and insomnia. In addition, your prefrontal cortex and brain are still struggling with structural changes from chronic drinking.

Even after you have finished the detox process, you may still experience anger. Early sobriety can cause a range of different emotions to reawaken. Often, people use alcohol to numb the emotions they feel. Once you stop drinking, these strange, intense feelings can reemerge. 

Likewise, some people had anger problems before they developed their drinking habits. They may have even used alcohol to self-medicate for unwanted emotions like anger, grief, and anxiety. During early sobriety, these underlying problems can feel extremely intense because you’re no longer self-medicating for them.

Finally, early sobriety can make you angry and frustrated. There are many challenges during this time period, and it can be difficult to deal with them. During this phase, you will have to begin the healing process as you deal with the repercussions of your past alcohol use. 

Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Happen?

When you drink alcohol for several months or years, your body and mind become accustomed to having alcohol present. If you suddenly stop using alcohol or drugs, it can cause your body to go through withdrawal symptoms. While this process is unlikely to happen if you have a drink every once in a while, it is likely to occur if you drink on a daily basis. If you have gone through alcohol withdrawal before, you’ll likely go through withdrawal symptoms each time you stop using alcohol again.

The Science Behind Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol has a depressive effect on your brain and central nervous system. It basically slows down the way your brain works. Unfortunately, your mind and nerves will eventually become used to having alcohol present. 

Once your body adjusts to having alcohol present, it will try to keep your brain more active. It will make your nerves more active to counteract how much alcohol slows them down. Unfortunately, your mind and nerves don’t know that you have quit drinking when you have your last glass of alcohol. Instead, your brain remains in this heightened state because it expects a new dose of alcohol to appear. 

If you have co-occurring disorders, a severe addiction, or other complicating factors, your doctor may recommend a rehab program to help with your withdrawal symptoms. Most treatment programs will try to help calm your overactive nerves and mind with soft lighting, a quiet environment, supportive staff members, and healthy food. You will likely have limited interactions with the outside world until your treatment is complete. 

How Can You Handle Anger Caused by Alcohol Withdrawal?

As you go through the treatment process, there are a few things you can do to reduce the amount of anger you feel. Many treatment centers include courses on anger management. These courses can help you learn about impulsive control and frustration management. 

Normally, the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal will decrease in just a few weeks. Afterward, managing your anger can help you avoid triggers and remain sober. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, and individual counseling can help you work through some of the emotions you are experiencing during the recovery process. 

Recognize What You Can’t Control

Often, people become angry when they can’t solve a problem. They may be dealing with a difficult colleague or frustrated by an unexpected bill. In these cases, the best thing you can do is recognize that there are sometimes things outside of your control. You can control your emotions, but you can’t control every situation you are in. Acceptance is a powerful skill that can help you avoid becoming angry in situations you can’t change. 

Try Breathing Exercises

Mindfulness can help alleviate anxiety, depression, and stress. Through breathing exercises, you can calm your central nervous system and brain. Because these two areas can become overactive after chronic alcohol use, breathing exercises can alleviate some of the emotional strain of becoming sober. 

Build a Support System

Unfortunately, there will be problems at some point during your recovery. Whether your car breaks down or you lose your job, you need to be prepared for unexpected triggers. A strong support system will give you plenty of people to call when you encounter an obstacle. 

Learn What to Expect

It is easier to manage anger and other emotions if you know what to expect. Dealing with insomnia, anger issues, stress, and irritability is a normal part of the withdrawal process. By knowing what to expect and how to deal with it, you can prevent these side effects from derailing your sobriety. 

Dealing With an Alcohol Addiction

There are many different ways to deal with substance use disorders, so it is important to find the best method for your situation. You can get started by talking to your doctor or a treatment center. Many people begin the treatment process with detox. During this stage, they will remove the physical remnants of alcohol from their body in a medically supported environment. 

Treatment Programs

After detox, people often choose to pursue inpatient or outpatient treatment programs. An inpatient treatment program involves staying at the rehab center overnight. This gives you a more intensive treatment program and extra medical supervision. If you have a severe substance use disorder, you may benefit from the added support and focus. 

Sometimes, people still have to take care of their family or work responsibilities while they are in a treatment program. In these cases, they may benefit from attending an outpatient program. Instead of sleeping at the treatment center, they will go home each night. Then, they will return several days a week for therapy and ongoing support.

Types of Treatment Options Available

No matter what type of treatment program you choose, you can attend CBT and other kinds of psychotherapy. These therapy programs will help you learn about the underlying cause of your substance use disorder. More importantly, they will give you tools for spotting and avoiding a relapse. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This kind of therapy helps you see how your thoughts, feelings, and actions are linked to each other. As you learn how your thoughts lead to feelings and behaviors, you will become better at stopping these thoughts from turning into actions. Over time, CBT can help you challenge harmful beliefs and create strategies for staying sober. 

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

DBT is a type of talk therapy that is extremely helpful if you experience intense emotions. It is similar to CBT, but it focuses on helping you accept opposing thoughts. For example, DBT can help you accept what your life is like after treatment. It is especially good at helping people develop better emotional regulation. 

Get Help Alleviating Anger During Alcohol Withdrawal 

While recovering from substance use disorder can be challenging, help is available. With the right treatment program, you can learn how to manage your anger as you become sober. In addition, you can gain new techniques for preventing a relapse. At Alcohol Awareness, we offer a free hotline and alcohol-related resources to help you with your recovery journey. We can also help you find a support group, understand alcohol use disorders, and discover local treatment options in your area.