Substance abusers' anger behaviour and sensory processing patterns

Denise Stols, Rita van Heerden, Annamarie van Jaarsveld, Riette Nel


Background: Persons with a high tendency towards anger often abuse substances. When problematic anger interferes with substance abusers’ ability to cope, the occupational therapist plays a vital role in providing opportunities for substance abusers to experience and practice effective ways to deal with their anger. Many substance abusers seem to also have atypical sensory processing patterns. In Occupational Therapy atypical sensory processing is recognized as a domain of concern not only in children, but adults as well. It is against this background that the question was asked whether relations exist between substance abusers' anger behaviour and their sensory processing.
Methods: A quantitative, cross-sectional study was conducted to describe adult substance abusers' anger behaviour and sensory processing patterns. Adults with substance abuse difficulties admitted to two institutions in Pretoria between 1 October 2008 and 29 May 2009 represented the study population. The one institution specialises in substance abuse rehabilitation, while the other is an inpatient treatment facility for clients with mental health problems. A total of 84 participants met the inclusion criteria, of which 54 participants were in-patients at one institution and 30 in-patients at the other institution. Participants reported on the following anger behaviours: verbal expression, physical expression, escape, substance use, suppression, non-verbal expression, and calming strategies. Participants' sensory processing patterns were determined by completing the Adolescent/Adult Sensory Profile.
Results: Anger behaviour in the majority of participants with low registration patterns more than the typical norm, was related to a style of directly expressing anger (65.5% regularly expressed anger physically and 61.5% regularly expressed anger verbally). Anger behaviour in the majority of participants with sensory-avoidance patterns more than the typical norm, was related to a style of avoiding anger (62.5% seldom expressed anger verbally, 60.8% regularly escaped from anger situations and 58.9% regularly suppressed their anger).
Conclusions: Occupational therapists should consider evaluating and if necessary address the sensory processing of their adult clients with problematic anger and/or substance abuse difficulties. Further research on the above associations is indicated in clinical and non-clinical populations. For future studies the use of a qualitative research approach and purposive or representative sampling are recommended. This will provide deeper understanding of relations found and support generalisation of results.
Key words: occupational therapy, anger behaviour; anger management style; substance abuse; sensory processing; sensory processing patterns


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ISSN 0038-2337 (print), ISSN 2310-3833 (online)

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