Which Is Best? Therapy Or Medication For Anger Disorders
By Sarah Fader
Updated August 18, 2019
Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Chances are you've been angry at some point in your life. Even the most level-headed people get mad sometimes, but if you find yourself having angry outbursts on a regular basis (or know someone who is), it might signal a bigger problem. It's okay to let out your emotions, good and bad, but when you start to feel angry all the time without knowing why it can cause problems in your life. Luckily, there are several things you can do to win back control over your emotions.
Choosing a Method That's Right for You
Uncontrolled and unpredictable anger can be a danger to those who experience it, the people closest to them, and sometimes to innocent bystanders who are at the wrong place at the wrong time. Anger can affect all aspects of your life, including work and family. If you or someone you know is suffering from an anger disorder, it's important to reach out to a health care professional and seek treatment.
Luckily, there are several effective treatment options available for people suffering from anger disorders. An important first step in resolving your anger is diagnosing the underlying reason for it. This information will allow your health care provider(s) to make an informed decision on what the first line of treatment should be.
As a patient, you should know that treatments for anger disorders differ depending on the person and situation. You may need to try more than one treatment before finding one that works because what works for one person might not work for you. The important thing is to be patient until you find a treatment that works for you and then stick to that treatment to help you reduce your anger and learn to keep it under control.
Anger Issues: The Basics
Anger can be part of a wide range of mental disorders, including things like Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED), Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, and Bipolar Disorder. Personality Disorders (Narcissistic, Borderline, Antisocial, and Paranoid) can involve anger at times. Angry outbursts can also happen when someone tries to bury their feelings for a long time. Over time, these emotions start to bubble to the surface until the person finally explodes.
According to previous research, Intermittent Explosive Disorder is more common than people once thought with more than 7 percent of the U.S. population experiencing this type of anger in their lifetimes. The study found that angry outbursts can result in property damage and that the average age of onset for IED was around 14 years old.
Different types of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, are used in the treatment of anger disorders. These types of treatments can be very effective because they teach you how to deal with stress and anger in healthier, more effective ways. For example, by helping individuals realize when their thought processes lead to angry outbursts, therapists can help create long-term positive changes for their clients. As the saying goes: change your thoughts, change your life.
Depending on the severity of the anger disorder, you may have many different options when it comes to the type and intensity of therapy you choose to take on. You may have the ability to choose between in-person therapy sessions, online counseling, group therapy, or even going to a residential anger management treatment facility, depending on the severity of your anger and the effect it has on your life.
In-Person Therapy Sessions. In-person therapy sessions are great because they allow you to see an experienced professional for a set amount of time regularly. Some people prefer in-person to online or phone therapy. Certain patients will also prefer speaking to a therapist one-on-one over attending group therapy.
Therapy that takes place in-person gives the patient a chance to build a relationship with their therapist based on trust and mutual understanding. Some cons of in-person therapy are the fact that it can be expensive, and sometimes it's hard to get appointments.
Online Counseling. Online counseling is a relatively new phenomenon, but it's already proving its merit by giving more people access to quality help. Online counseling has found innovative ways to pick up the slack and offer customers affordable counseling services. Services like BetterHelp connect you with a counselor specifically matched to your needs; you can message them from anywhere using a computer or a mobile app on your smartphone.
Group Therapy. If traditional in-person therapy and online counseling are a little over your budget or just not your style, group therapy is another excellent option. Group therapy not only provides you with access to experienced counselors who are trained to help, but you also get a built-in support group at the same time. In group therapy, you get to share your challenges, experiences, and triumphs with other group members, who can become a pivotal part of overcoming or living with an anger disorder. This type of therapy is probably best for social people who don't mind talking about their problems in front of others.
Residential Anger Management. If your anger disorder is severe and impacts your life in debilitating ways, a residential anger management program might be an option to consider. Though more intense, this form of treatment allows you to dig deep and learn to control your anger, so you can reclaim your life. Some upsides to residential anger management programs are that they allow you to escape your regular life and forget about your usual worries (and anger triggers) while you are getting better. This option takes a lot of commitment, though, and not everyone is willing or able to put everything on hold for treatment.
According to Harvard Health, "Research on drug treatment [for IED] has been limited. Some medications are known to reduce aggression and prevent rage outbursts, including antidepressants (namely selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs), mood stabilizers (lithium and anticonvulsants), and antipsychotic drugs." While medications are used to help reduce anger, for many patients, it will not stop anger completely.
Mood Stabilizers (Lithium and anticonvulsants). In many cases, SSRIs are the first choice for treating issues like IED or anger in patients with depression and personality disorders because they are proven to be effective. In cases where patients' anger doesn't respond to SSRIs, other medications like mood stabilizers are also an option. Some anti-seizure medications work as mood stabilizers (such as carbamazepine and Divalproex).
Antipsychotic Drugs. Previous research has suggested that the atypical antipsychotic drug, Clozapine, can be effective in treating Schizophrenic patients who are hostile and aggressive. "The reduction of aggressive behaviors by clozapine may be explained not only regarding sedative or antipsychotic effects but also by its ability to reduce impulsivity," the researchers explained.
Another study stated that while antipsychotic drugs like Clozapine, Olanzapine, and Quetiapine can help with anger and aggression associated with anger disorders, these medications have more side effects that make them less ideal for long-term treatment.
Of course, medications always come with the risk of side effects and addiction. When starting a new medication, it's important to take medication exactly as prescribed by a doctor and to be on the lookout for any side effects. For medications that involve some risk, doctors may do routine health checks to ward off potential side effects. Patients should always be careful and consult their doctor before coming off any medication for anger.
Finally, individuals who are reluctant to take anger management medication may find some help in alternative treatments such as calming herbs and essential oils, along with therapy. Practices like daily mindfulness, exercise, and meditation can help patients with anger find calm and balance, but it takes patience and persistence to make these options work.
Safe Medication For Anger
Sometimes medication is the best way to get anger under control in the short term, but with the help of other forms of treatment like therapy, patients might not have to be on medication for too long. Other times, certain medications that have been deemed safe may be used for long-term maintenance.
Of course, medications always come with the risk of side effects and addiction. It's important always to take medication as prescribed by a doctor and be on the lookout for any side effects when starting a new medication. For medications that do involve some risk, doctors may do routine health checks to make sure that potential side effects are closely monitored. Patients should always be careful and consult their doctor before coming off any medication for anger.
Individuals who are reluctant to take anger management medication may find some help in alternative treatments such as calming herbs and essential oils, along with therapy. Practices like daily mindfulness, exercise, and meditation can help patients with anger find calm and balance, but it takes patience and persistence to make these options work.
How BetterHelp Can Help
If you are struggling with anger problems, you don't need to fight the battle alone. The counselors at BetterHelp are online and ready to help. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that can offer all of the help you need. The best thing about getting help from a BetterHelp professional is convenience. You can get help right from your living room. See below for some reviews of BetterHelp Counselors, from clients experiencing similar issues.
"Steve is amazing and does a good job at making this seem like less of a counseling session and more of a conversation between friends. He helped me talk through my anger issues and road rage and gave me lots of problem solving tools. I highly recommend him!"
"Regina helped me pinpoint where my anger issue stemmed from in the very first session, and has been helping me become more self aware of my warning triggers. Very insightful and helpful!"
When considering the question, "Which is best, therapy or medication for anger disorders?", the answer isn't always clear. Studies have shown that both therapy and medication can be effective in treating anger disorders, including IED and anger related to other psychiatric disorders. The best option is the one that works best for you. That might mean medication, therapy, or a combination. Why wait? Take the first step today.