Not all addicts exhibit aggression, but a disturbing number of them do. Research has shown parallels between addiction and aggression that seem to suggest a connection between the two in many cases.
Possible Reasons for a Connection Between Addiction and Aggression
It is difficult to say whether addiction causes increased aggression, or whether aggression leads to addiction. One theory is that people who are prone to violence may be more likely to act impulsively and that taking risks like doing drugs or drinking heavily just leads to dependence for many. Another possible explanation is that use of drugs and alcohol removes the normal inhibitions against aggressive behavior and makes it more likely to occur.
Other therapists see those who act violently toward others being more likely to turn that anger on themselves, possibly punishing themselves by developing addictive behaviors. A study using mice theorized that some of the same motivational circuits in the brain were disrupted when both aggressive and addictive behaviors were seen, which led the researchers to conclude that both behaviors were triggered by certain conditions and developed together in some mice.
The animal studies suggest a genetic or evolutionary component to addictive and aggressive behavior. This does not mean these behaviors cannot be overcome, but different treatment methods may be necessary in order to overcome them.
The Possibility of Self-Medicating Motivations
Many with substance abuse disorders may be self-medicating in an attempt to deal with psychological disorders like bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression. Using drugs or alcohol can mask mental health symptoms for a time or make one forget how bad he or she feels temporarily but can also lead to substance abuse problems because it is not a real fix or treatment for the underlying disorder.
While self-medicating may seem to be working, there are better solutions to problem feelings and behaviors than taking drugs or using alcohol to mask what is really going on inside. Getting treatment for both substance abuse and mental health disorders offers the best hope of recovery.
Treating Aggression and Addiction
Dual diagnosis treatment can help addicts work through issues like aggression as they get help for substance abuse. About 75 percent of those beginning addiction treatment say that they have also shown aggressive behavior like attacking someone with a weapon or physical assault, so these behaviors are certainly not rare and may indicate mental health disorders in at least some cases.
Studies have shown that dual diagnosis treatment leads to greater success rates than just treating the addiction alone. Integrated treatment is superior even to treating both disorders separately, making it the best choice for those whose aggression comes from a co-occurring disorder like anxiety or depression that may manifest itself in aggressive behavior.
Many treatment facilities do not yet offer dual diagnosis treatment, but Recovery Village at Palmer Lake offers integrated, customized dual diagnosis treatment aimed at helping people work through all the issues contributing to their substance abuse, including co-occurring mental health disorders. Learn about admissions and all the programs we offer today and get on the road to physical, mental, and emotional recovery.