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The Role of Anger Management Education in Substance Abuse and Aggression

Researchers in Iran explored the effectiveness of an anger management intervention to curb aggression in individuals with substance abuse.

Anger is considered a basic emotion that all individuals experience from time to time. However, when left unchecked, anger can result in aggressive behavior. Substance abuse, in particular, may exacerbate feelings of anger triggering verbal and physical aggression.

Anger management programs can assist individuals who are prone to anger and aggression to better manage and control potentially destructive emotions.  The Patrick-Reilly approach is a three-pronged cognitive behavioral therapy for anger management that focuses on cognitive interventions, relaxation techniques, and communication skills.  A group of researchers in Iran explored the effectiveness of the Patrick-Reilly approach to help individuals with substance dependence reduce their levels of aggression. Their article was recently published in BMC Psychiatry.

A total of 40 participants who were admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Shiraz, Iran took part in the quasi-experimental study. On average, participants in both groups were in their early 30s and just over 65% were single. Half of the participants had below diploma degrees and just over half reported abusing opium; the rest of the participants reported abusing either heroin or methadone.

Of the total sample, 20 of the participants were non-randomly allocated to the intervention group and the other half were assigned to the control. Intervention group participants received 12 educational sessions conducted in the hospital that focused on cognitive behavioral strategies to recognize and control anger. Control group participants received routine education. The researchers used a pre- or post-test design to assess aggression before and after the intervention.

Eighteen participants from each group completed the study. Average levels of aggression were significantly different in both groups at the end of the study. The individuals who participated in the anger management intervention had lower levels of aggression following the cognitive behavioral sessions, while those in the control group showed increases in aggression.

Although randomized controlled trials with larger samples are needed to confirm these findings, the results suggest that anger management education should be incorporated into substance abuse treatment programs.  The results of this study indicate that anger management could be an important component of both psychiatric and substance abuse treatment programs.

Written by Suzanne M. Robertson, Ph.D.

Reference: Zarshenas, Ladan, Mehdi Baneshi, Farkhondeh Sharif, and Ebrahim Moghimi Sarani. “Anger management in substance abuse based on cognitive behavioral therapy: an interventional study.” BMC Psychiatry 17, no. 1 (2017): 375.

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