Prescriptions Or Therapy To Treat Anger Disorders: Which Is Best?

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated July 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include abuse which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Getting angry can be normal, as anger is a healthy emotion on its own. However, if you or someone you know has frequent angry outbursts, taking an anger disorder test might be helpful in determining whether this behavior is a symptom of underlying mental health disorders.

Inappropriate anger can be a common psychological issue, and multiple effective treatment options may be available, including therapy and various types of medication for feelings of anger. Online therapy with mental health professionals may also be an available way to get the mental health help you deserve.

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Mental health conditions linked to anger

While the fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not currently have a mental illness diagnosis specifically for anger issues, anger can be a symptom of several mental disorders, including the following:

Intermittent explosive disorder (IED)

Intermittent explosive disorder is usually characterized by repeated and sudden explosive episodes of aggressive behavior or extreme reactions to situations that can lead to violent behavior. Those with intermittent explosive disorder may have the sense that they lose control during explosive outbursts and have extreme difficulty managing their anger.

According to research, intermittent explosive disorder may be more common than people once thought, with more than 7% of the US population potentially experiencing this disorder in their lifetimes. This study revealed that the average age of onset for IED may be 14 years old. The fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders clarifies that IED typically consists of at least three destructive outbursts within 12 months.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)

Oppositional defiant disorder is a behavioral disorder primarily diagnosed in children and is usually characterized by aggressive episodes and frequent defiance toward others.

Conduct disorder

Conduct disorder is another diagnosis for children who exhibit difficulty following rules and engaging in socially acceptable behavior. Symptoms can include physical violence and inappropriate expressions of anger.

Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD)

DMDD is usually a childhood mental health disorder, and it's often characterized by frequent anger attacks, prolonged tantrums, and mood dysregulation.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder can cause frequent mood swings, racing thoughts, and changes in energy levels, including angry outbursts.

Psychotic disorders

People with psychotic disorders may experience abnormal perceptions and thinking that can cause them to lose their connection to reality. This disorder may also be characterized by hallucinations and delusions that can cause a person to become violent.

Personality disorders

Personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), and paranoid personality disorder, are mental health conditions involving long-term patterns of unhealthy thoughts and behaviors, which can sometimes include difficulty controlling anger.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition that frequently causes physical and psychological hyperactivity, with symptoms such as racing thoughts and a lack of impulse control that can involve inappropriate expressions of anger.

Other conditions

In addition to the above mental health conditions, chronic diseases like cancer and chronic pain can contribute to people experiencing angry outbursts. Chronic stress can be another condition that may contribute to a person losing control of their anger.

Anger management and domestic violence

Therapists do not usually recommend anger management therapies for situations involving domestic violence. Edit Sign Anger management therapy typically involves understanding emotions when a person is feeling stressed, tired, depressed, or fearful, and learning how to manage these emotions in healthy ways, rather than perceiving them as an attack or threat that leads to anger. 

Anger associated with domestic violence is often related to an imbalance of power in a relationship, gender socialization issues, substance and alcohol use, and child abuse. Anger management therapies are generally not successful in stopping domestic violence. If you are experiencing abuse, seek crisis support immediately. 

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Choosing the right therapy for anger management

Treatments for anger management can differ depending on the person, their situation, and any underlying mental health conditions. In addition, a person may choose to seek treatment in more than one way before finding one that works. According to the American Psychiatric Association, the most promising therapy treatment options for anger management can include the following.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the most promising therapy treatment options for anger management can include the following:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT usually focuses on helping a person identify and change negative thought patterns. One type of CBT therapy frequently used for anger management is stress Inoculation. In this therapy, the person may imagine various anger-provoking incidents and practice productive coping strategies. A mental health professional will guide these types of cognitive restructuring exercises.

Family therapy

Anger management problems often involve unhealthy family dynamics. Family therapy can help you control anger directed at a spouse, intimate partner, child, or other family member. This type of treatment may also teach ways to resolve interpersonal conflicts without expressing anger.

Psychodynamic therapy

This type of talk therapy often uses self-reflection to discover the underlying causes of a person’s emotional distress that may lead to inappropriate expressions of anger. For example, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorders, and depression are often linked to anger management problems. This form of therapy may treat those issues related to anger management.

Group therapy

Some therapists use group therapy to help people learn to control their anger. In group therapy sessions, participants can confer their challenges, experiences, and triumphs with other group attendees, who can provide support, encouragement, and understanding.

Residential treatment centers

Residential anger management treatment centers are places for people with severe, debilitating problems with anger. This type of treatment can enable participants to temporarily escape daily life, reducing the events that may lead to angry outbursts. By providing support groups, residential anger management treatment centers can also help people with psychiatric disorders be less isolated in their diagnosis. At the same time, participants can gain control over their symptoms through psychotherapy, relaxation training, and medication.

Medications for anger management

In addition to therapy, support groups, and in-patient treatment centers, doctors and psychiatrists can prescribe medications to help clients manage anger disorders, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications can include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti-seizure medications, antipsychotics, and other medications as prescribed by a psychiatrist.

Medications often come with the risk of side effects and possible reliance. Therefore, take medications as prescribed and communicate with your medical provider about any concerns or side effects. Doctors often perform routine health checks to monitor patients’ reactions to medications closely. Always consult your doctor before starting or stopping medicines for anger or other conditions.

The BetterHelp platform is not intended for any information regarding which drugs, medication, or medical treatment may be appropriate for you. The content provides generalized information that is not specific to one individual. You should not take any action without consulting a qualified medical professional.

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Internet-based therapy for anger management

Online therapy platforms can connect you with licensed professional therapists who may specialize in helping people with anger management. 

Recent research has determined that cognitive-behavioral talk therapies delivered via the Internet can effectively treat anger management issues. In addition, this study noted that often, people who experience uncontrollable anger feel ashamed about their condition. Connecting with a therapist online is an exceptionally comfortable way for them to receive help.

Takeaway

Inappropriate anger can have various causes, including excessive stress, physical health problems, or an underlying mental health condition, such as intermittent explosive disorder. In addition, anger management problems are generally distinct from domestic violence, and therapists do not usually recommend anger management therapies for domestic violence situations.* For anger management concerns not involving domestic violence, individual psychotherapy, group therapy, residential treatment programs, and medication can all be helpful, and which one is best can depend on the individual involved. 

If you’re experiencing challenges with anger, it may help to speak with a licensed therapist. A therapist may use treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy to help you gain insight into your anger and learn ways to control it. If you don’t feel comfortable with traditional in-person therapy for treating anger control problems, you might consider online therapy. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can be matched with a mental health professional who has experience treating anger control concerns.

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