Almost everyone knows someone who seems to have a perpetual crisis going on, erupting in anger and causing meaningless drama everywhere they go. It’s as if they have enjoy getting angry. One begs the question: can anger be addictive?
Anger addiction is a rather new notion but not a far-fetched one. Research shows it can start developing early on, when the frontal lobe of the brain (emotional CEO) has not fully matured yet. Actually, this area of the brain is not fully formed till the late 20s. At this age, impulsive thoughts effortlessly dominate rational thinking and can cause one to go on down the path of whimsy and reckless behavior. “Look pa! I can smoke, talk on the phone and drive, all at the same time!” Sometime this behavior is called the “head-in-underwear” syndrome.
How Anger Addiction Starts
Anger addiction forms in the brain’s limbic system, which is the chair of all emotions. This system is responsible for the secretion of dopamine, the pleasure hormone. Dopamine (source of the word “dope”) is the anatomical stepping stone to addiction. It is unleashed by the brain in response to stimulants like a alcohol, sex, certain drugs, even a shopping spree. Since you like the way you feel, you learn to repeat the behavior, which in turn signals the reward center of your brain to actively wire itself with mental associations that brought the pleasurable event. In short, the brain remembers what thing or activity produced this high so that next time it can summon all of your mind’s creative juices to manipulate your behavior to achieve a similar gratifying outcome.
The difficulty with chronic dopamine release is that eventually the brain’s receptors get desensitized and bring little pleasure. A small amount of dopamine can only help one to feel temporarily ‘normal’ again. As with any other drugs, a rage-holic will in turn crave a larger release of dopamine to feel the same ‘high’ and the only way to accomplish will be to up the anger and act out more. This is how anger addiction takes birth in the brain.
You may say “But how can possibly anger feel good?” Actually, that surge of adrenaline in conjunction with increased heart rate and blood pressure can feel quite euphoric. Second, to many, anger acts as a release mechanism of stored up feelings. That can also feel great. Third, anger gives one a temporary but illusory boost in power and status, which in turns can elevate one’s mood. These are only a few means how anger can produce pleasure by stimulating the release of dopamine.
The Battle Raging Inside Our Brain
The Go System
Part of our survival mechanism, our brains have developed a pleasure center that serves one function – seek out rewards. This pleasure seeking missile can be found in the center of the brain. You can tell your reward system is working fine when that little voice inside your head whispers “Go, go, go!… Faster! Bigger! More!… If you only do this you can have that…” and so on. It is this center of the brain that can embolden one to achieve personal success or push to go for that taboo love affair that has a potential to destroy your marriage.
The Stop System
Your brain also has a part that acts like the screeching brakes for the Go System. It lives in the prefrontal cortex or “higher brain”, and gifts us with some mental space to ‘evaluate’ consequences before acting out those impulses. It screams “Stop!, Are you positive about this? Sure driving home all drunk seems like a great idea but what if the policeman has a different opinion?”
The only problem with this Stop System is that it resides in the pre-frontal cortex (part of the frontal lobe). This part of the brain is not fully “ripened” until the late 20’s. That is why you see most youngsters “do first, think later.”
The Hijack System
The reason most anger addicts are not able to control their anger can be attributed to the so called Hijack System of the brain. Here, the “go system” hijacks the “stop system” and creates the “oh damn!” system. The tendency to act out those impulses is so strong that acting them out feels “wired in” (through repetition in the past) and natural. In fact, anything contrary to that state creates mental tension.
It is for this reason why anger addiction can be just as serious as any other addiction to things like cocaine, alcohol, gambling, etc. It can destroy friendships, damage careers and even land one in a penitentiary with beans and hot dogs for lunch every day for the rest of one’s life.
Anger is addictive and one should know that it is the frontal lobe, the limbic system, brain chemicals and long seeded habits that are driving this behavior. However, one would be wise not to use this new awareness as an excuse to keep acting like a lunatic, justifying the behavior that “it’s all in the brain.” Addiction is a brain disease and it should be treated as such. You may need a therapist to help you deal with anger but many times you can help yourself by learning a few anger management techniques and then relentlessly putting them to practice till it becomes second nature. It can demand all of your will power, patience but if you conquer it, the newly found freedom can make a profound impact on your quality of life.
P.S. If you would like to learn more, visit AngerMentor.com and read the article on anger addiction in more detail.