Anger Management Research Articles & Resources

Elizabeth Michael
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor

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What Is Anger Management?

Anger management is a broad term that covers programs and therapies designed to help individuals with anger issues learn to respond differently to emotional triggers that lead to excessive anger. (1) While anger is a completely natural emotion, anger that interferes with a person's daily life can indicate underlying problems that must be addressed.

Some common types of anger management programs and therapies include one-on-one counseling, group therapy, and anger management classes and training seminars. In some cases, anger management counseling is court-ordered as a part of an offending party's sentencing, particularly in cases of assault and other aggressive acts. (2)

Most anger management therapy and training sessions focus on providing tools, techniques, and coping skills to people who struggle with anger. Talk therapy can help individuals get to the root cause of their angry emotions and address issues, such as anxiety and depression. (3) In some cases, angry or aggressive emotions are triggered by chemical dependency or medical conditions. In these instances, health professionals may recommend anger management therapy or classes along with traditional treatment methods, including medication and alcohol or drug rehabilitation, that target those underlying dependencies and conditions.

Anger Management — In The News
Employees Often Angry Over After-Work Texts, Emails

MONDAY, March 9, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Many employees get mad when they receive after-hours emails or texts from work, and that anger can interfere with their personal lives, a new study suggests. Researchers followed 314 working adults over seven days to track their responses when they opened work... Read More

After Blowing Their Stack, a Heart Attack

TUESDAY, Feb. 24, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Intense anger or anxiety greatly increases the risk of heart attack, a new study warns. "While the absolute risk of any one anger episode triggering a heart attack is low, our data demonstrates that the danger is real and still there," said... Read More

Study Shows How Toddlers Adjust to Adult Anger

FRIDAY, Oct. 31, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Toddlers can both sense adult anger and alter their behavior in response to it, new research reveals. "Babies are like sponges," said study co-author Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the University of Washington Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, in Seattle. "They learn... Read More

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What Causes Anger Issues?

Everybody gets angry from time to time, but individuals with anger issues experience persistent anger that negatively affects their lives and the lives of their loved ones. An adult who angers easily or struggles with keeping their temper in check may have a history of child abuse or trauma. In other cases, anger issues stem from existing mental health conditions or addiction.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that experts believe affects communication, mood, and emotions. Some studies have shown that unbalanced serotonin levels may contribute to symptoms present in individuals with intermittent explosive disorder (IED). (4) Individuals with IED exhibit extremely aggressive behavior, including verbal attacks, violence, and property destruction.

Bipolar disorder is another mental health condition that sees an individual's moods fluctuate from extreme mania to severe depression. People with bipolar disorder sometimes exhibit severe, uncontrolled anger, and experts believe low serotonin levels may contribute to the condition. (5), (6)

Anger issues tend to have multiple causes as opposed to a single root source, which means treatment approaches, medications, and therapies for anger can vary from person to person.

How Are Anger Issues Diagnosed?

At present, no specific diagnostic criteria for anger issues exist, and anger-related symptoms are listed as common signs of 32 medical and mental health conditions. (7) Severe anger can often indicate an underlying mental health condition, such as intermittent explosive disorder, bipolar disorder, or oppositional defiant disorder. In some cases, gambling, alcohol, or drug addictions can cause angry outbursts. While anger itself isn't diagnosable, individuals with anger-related problems may benefit from medical and psychological exams that can help pinpoint the source of those outbursts.
Physical symptoms of anger include:

  • Heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Tension headaches
  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Tingling sensations
  • Chest tightness

Anger-related emotional symptoms include:

  • Constant irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Quick to anger in stressful situations
  • Rage

What Is the Best Treatment for Anger Issues?

Treatments for anger can vary significantly, depending on the source of the anger and possible related health conditions.

  • Anger management therapy helps individuals cope with excessive anger by teaching them how to recognize and respond to specific triggers.
  • Anger disruption by avoidance and removal is a type of anger treatment therapy that teaches individuals how to remove themselves from situations that trigger anger responses.
  • Relaxation therapy sessions help people who struggle with anger channel their emotions into relaxation practices, such as deep breathing and muscle tensing and releasing.

At present, there are no FDA-approved medications specifically designated for the treatment of anger. However, many medications are available to treat health conditions with anger as a symptom. (9) Antidepressant medications may help control anger symptoms in people with depression or anxiety disorders. Antianxiety and antiseizure medications may aid in reducing symptoms of agitation, while individuals with bipolar disorder are often treated with mood-stabilizer drugs.
Because anger is a natural emotion that can also accompany a wide array of medical conditions, it's important for anyone experiencing debilitating anger or emotional distress to consult with a physician. Additionally, treatments for anger symptoms should always be recommended, prescribed, and performed by a licensed healthcare professional.

How to Cope With an Anger Diagnosis

Acceptance and commitment are key factors in coping with an anger diagnosis. Acceptance means that the person understands they can't control their anger and need help. Commitment means the individual is ready to commit to therapy or receive medical or mental health treatment to get their anger issues under control.
Individuals diagnosed with anger issues who enroll in anger treatment therapy may find that therapy brings uncomfortable emotions, such as anxiety and fear, to the surface. Although it may seem easier to replace these emotions with anger, facing them head-on is an essential step in recovery. Attending support groups and performing anger management exercises at home are also helpful ways to build and maintain coping skills.

How to Help Someone With Anger Issues

One of the most effective ways to help someone with anger issues is by being supportive as they navigate through anger management therapy while at the same time setting clear boundaries. It can take time for someone in therapy to apply their newly learned coping techniques in their daily lives. This means that there may be times when the individual reverts to old anger patterns and habits.
While it's important to provide unconditional love and encouragement during this transition, setting boundaries lets the person know that their old behavior is no longer tolerated. Those on the receiving end of an outburst should not allow themselves to be the subject of abuse, physical or emotional. It can be helpful for friends and family to attend therapy to manage their emotions and expectations during this process.