Alcohol and aggression | Drinkaware (2022)

Drinking alcohol can make us act in ways we wouldn’t normally, including being angry or aggressive.

Experts believe the reason some people become aggressive when drunk is due to the way alcohol affects the brain.1

Binge drinking increases the likelihood of both becoming aggressive or angry and also being on the receiving end of someone else's temper.2

How alcohol contributes to aggression

The impact of drinking alcohol on aggressive or violent behaviour is complex.3,4,5

Many people who drink are never violent and even those who do become aggressive won't do so all the time.But there is strong evidence of a link between alcohol and aggression.

There are several ways that alcohol affects your body that can contribute to aggression:6,7

  • Alcohol can narrow your attention and stop you seeing the big picture
    You may miss social and environmental cues that help you to interpret situations rationally (known as ‘alcohol myopia’), and give less attention to the wider consequences of immediate actions.8,9This means someone who’s drunk might ‘rise to the bait’ rather than thinking of the consequences, and become angry or violent, even over something they would normally shrug off.
  • The way you process information is affected by drinking alcohol
    After drinking alcohol, you are more likely to misinterpret other people's behaviour.10This could be the reason why drunken fights can start over little more than bumping into someone at a bar.
  • Alcohol supresses inhibition, making it harder to think straight
    Drinking affects your brain chemistry. Small amounts of alcohol can cause initial feelings of relaxation, but what’s actually happening is that alcohol is suppressing activity in parts of the brain associated with inhibition.11 Any warning signals that may normally kick in (‘inhibition’) are less likely to work, and you may be more likely to find yourself in confrontational or even dangerous situations. The more you drink the higher the chance it can cause feelings of tension and anxiety (because of effects on brain chemicals including ‘GABA’).12,13

Tools to reduce your drinking

The impact of alcohol-related violence

There were 525,000 incidents of violent crime in England and Wales in 2019/20 where the victim believed the offender was under the influence of alcohol – more than two in every five (42%) recorded violent incidents.14

Partner violence

Studies also show that there is a clear link between alcohol use and intimate partner violence – which is any form or physical, sexual or psychological violence against a current or former partner.15,16,17,18,19

One study found three out of ten couples (30%) who reported intimate partner violence said alcohol was involved. And when that intimate partner violence was severe, people were more than twice as likely to say alcohol was involved.20

Women are at a higher risk of harm against them by a male partner who has been drinking than vice versa.21,22

Most seriously, substance use - including alcohol - was mentioned as a factor in just over half of intimate partner homicides.23

Children

Others can be affected by alcohol-related violence too, including wider family and friends as well as children.

According to The Children’s Society, 39% of children living with a parent or carer with problematic alcohol use were in a household where there had been domestic violence in the last five years. These children are almost three times more likely to be in a home affected by domestic violence than those who aren’t exposed to problem drinking by a parent or carer.24

If you have been the victim of violent or aggressive behaviour, report it to the police. Call 999 if anyone is in immediate danger, 101 it it’s not an emergency, or you can report crime to the police online.

Staying in control

Cutting down on alcohol can help you stay in control. And cutting down or stopping has lots of other benefits too, for your physical and mental health. Try these tips to get started.

Follow the UK low risk drinking guidelines

If you decide to drink alcohol, the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs) low risk drinking guidelines advise it’s safest for men and women to drink no more than 14 units a week, spread evenly over three or more days with several drink-free days.

Find out how your drinking compares

Never binge drink

As well as being linked to aggression (and making it more likely you could be on the receiving end), binge drinking harms your physical and mental health. One way to have a bit less is to alternate alcoholic drinks with a soft drink or water.

How much is a ‘binge’?

Have plenty of drink-free days

There's lots of ways to enjoy more drink-free days - from easy activities to get in shape to simple tips to help you stay on track when temptation strikes. And we’ve got the advice that can help you get started.

Ideas for drink-free days

Cut down together with your partner or friends

Even if you don’t find drinking makes you aggressive, you might find drinking sometimes leads to an argument. So, why not cut down together and enjoy all the benefits that it can bring.

How to cut down with someone else

(Video) Alcohol-Induced Violence Cannot Fly | Annie Park | TEDxUTAustin

(Video) UQx PSYC1030.1x 6-2-1 Alcohol myopia and Aggression

Alcohol support services

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has a problem with alcohol there is a lot of help available. Here you can find useful links and phone numbers to get the support you need.

Support services

Alcohol and aggression | Drinkaware (1)

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References

[1]Parrott, D.J. and Eckhardt, C.I. (2018). Effects of alcohol on human aggression. Current Opinion in Psychology, 19, 1-5.

[3]Ito, T. A., Miller, N., & Pollock, V. E. (1996). Alcohol and aggression: A meta-analysis on the moderating effects of inhibitory cues, triggering events, and self-focused attention. Psychological Bulletin, 120(1), 60-82.

[4]Parrott, D.J. and Eckhardt, C.I. (2018). Effects of alcohol on human aggression. Current Opinion in Psychology, 19, 1-5.

[5]Chermack, S.T. and Giancola, P.R. (1997). The relation between alcohol and aggression: An integrated biopsychosocial conceptualization. Clinical Psychology Review, 17(6), 621-649.

[7]Giancola, P.R. (2015). Development and evaluation of theories of alcohol-related violence: covering a 40-year span. Substance use and Misuse, 50(8-9), 1182-1187.

[8]Steele, C.M. and Josephs, R.A. (1990). Alcohol myopia: its prized and dangerous effects. American Psychologist, 45(8), 921.

[10]Giancola, P.R., Josephs, R.A., Parrott, D.J. and Duke, A.A. (2010). Alcohol myopia revisited: Clarifying aggression and other acts of disinhibition through a distorted lens. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(3), 265-278.

[11]Gan, G., Guevara, A., Marxen, M., Neumann, M., Jünger, E., Kobiella, A., Mennigen, E., Pilhatsch, M., Schwarz, D., Zimmermann, U.S. and Smolka, M.N. (2014). Alcohol-induced impairment of inhibitory control is linked to attenuated brain responses in right fronto-temporal cortex. Biological Psychiatry, 76(9), 698-707.

[15]Gil-Gonzalez, D., Vives-Cases, C., Alvarez-Dardet, C. and Latour-Pérez, J. (2006). Alcohol and intimate partner violence: do we have enough information to act? The European Journal of Public Health, 16(3), 278-284.

[16]Cafferky, B.M., Mendez, M., Anderson, J.R. and Stith, S.M. (2018). Substance use and intimate partner violence: A meta-analytic review. Psychology of Violence, 8 (1), 110-131.

[17]Spencer, C.M., Stith, S.M. and Cafferky, B. (2019). Risk markers for physical intimate partner violence victimization: A meta-analysis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 44, 8-17.

[18]Eckhardt, C.I., Parrott, D.J. and Sprunger, J.G. (2015). Mechanisms of alcohol-facilitated intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women, 21(8), 939-957.

[20]McKinney, C.M., Caetano, R., Rodriguez, L.A. and Okoro, N., (2010). Does alcohol involvement increase the severity of intimate partner violence? Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 34(4), 655-658.

[21]Stanesby, O., Callinan, S., Graham, K., Wilson, I.M., Greenfield, T.K., Wilsnack, S.C., Hettige, S., Hanh, H.T.M., Siengsounthone, L., Waleewong, O. and Laslett, A.-M. (2018). Harm from known others' drinking by relationship proximity to the harmful drinker and gender: A meta-analysis across 10 countries. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 42 (9), 1693-1703

[22]Laslett, A.M., Jiang, H. and Room, R. (2017). Alcohol's involvement in an array of harms to intimate partners. Drug and Alcohol Review, 36(1), 72-79.

(Video) What Is an Angry Drunk? | Alcoholism

Last Reviewed: 28th September 2022

Next Review due: 28th September 2025

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Tips to change your relationship with alcohol

(Video) Understanding & Controlling Aggression | Huberman Lab Podcast #71

FAQs

Does alcohol cause aggression? ›

Too much alcohol can make us act in ways we wouldn't normally, including making us more angry or aggressive. Experts believe the reason some people can become aggressive when drunk is due to the way alcohol affects the brain.

How does alcohol affect aggressive behavior? ›

Direct Effects of Alcohol.

Alcohol may encourage aggression or violence by disrupting normal brain function. According to the disinhibition hypothesis, for example, alcohol weakens brain mechanisms that normally restrain impulsive behaviors, including inappropriate aggression (5).

Why does alcohol make us aggressive? ›

Alcohol can Cause Aggression

Studies suggest that some individuals become confrontational when they are drinking as a result of the way alcohol interacts with the brains chemistry. Alcohol works to lessen our ability to think rationally and narrows down our ability to have a normal train of thought.

What type of alcohol makes you aggressive? ›

Spirits are the most likely alcohol type to illicit feelings of aggression, while red wine most likely to make people relaxed, a new study shows.

Why does alcohol make a person mean? ›

"Aggression is thought to occur because alcohol focuses attention on instigatory cues (such as the noise blasts) and away from inhibitory cues (norms proscribing aggression)," the researchers said in the study.

How do you deal with an angry drunk? ›

How to Deal With an Angry Drunk Person?
  1. Let Them Know What They're Doing. The first thing you should do is let the person know what they're doing and how it's affecting other people. ...
  2. Talk to Them When They're Sober. ...
  3. Keep Yourself Safe. ...
  4. Don't Leave Them Alone. ...
  5. Try to Get Them Help.
15 Apr 2022

What does an angry drunk mean? ›

What is an Angry Drunk? An angry drunk is an informal nickname for people who become increasingly aggressive and hostile when they drink. While you may otherwise be content and well mannered while sober, if drinking alcohol makes you hostile and bellicose, you could be an angry drunk.

Do people mean what they say when drunk? ›

Do people mean what they say when drunk? Yes, sometimes people mean what they say when they are drunk. But most of the time, people say whatever comes to mind when drinking, without any concern if it's genuinely how they feel. Alcohol lowers inhibition and makes people feel talkative, extroverted, and emboldened.

Why does alcohol make you behave differently? ›

Alcohol impacts the way we act because it is a chemical depressant that slows down the brain and central nervous system. Alcohol also affects other organs and systems like the heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys and digestive tract.

Why do I get mean to my boyfriend when I drink? ›

Alcohol interferes with the brain, reducing our ability to think straight or act rationally, it can cause some people to become angry. Evidence shows that while alcohol may not always be the direct cause of a person's aggressive behaviour, it is often a contributing factor, and some people even become violent.

How do you deal with a drunk boyfriend? ›

How to Help a Boyfriend Stop Drinking
  1. Learn about alcohol use disorder to talk knowledgeably about the issues; this may include going to a physician or therapist to discuss symptoms.
  2. Practice what you will say to him.
  3. Pick the right time and place while he is sober.
  4. Listen to him with honesty and compassion.
26 Jul 2022

How does alcohol change your personality? ›

Drinking alcohol can cause a variety of mental health symptoms to appear or to get worse. Because of alcohol, you could notice: Depression with mood changes, irritability, and an increased risk of suicide. Anxiety with worry, physical tension, and fearfulness.

Can alcohol make you a different person? ›

Researchers from the University of Missouri in Columbia set out to examine the extent to which drinking alters our personality. The new study – published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science – suggests that drinking does not change our behavior as dramatically as we think.

Why do some people's personalities change when they drink? ›

That's because alcohol affects your brain in two ways. Along with altering certain neurotransmitter receptors to make you feel more relaxed or sedated, it also signals the release of higher levels of the chemical dopamine. This activates your brain's reward center, making you feel really good.

How do you disarm an angry person? ›

How to Defuse Other People's Anger
  1. Listen First. ...
  2. Feed Back What You Hear. ...
  3. Change What the Person is Focused On. ...
  4. Make Empathetic Statements. ...
  5. Number Items. ...
  6. You Don't Need to Make Them Right but Don't Make Them Wrong. ...
  7. Get Solution Oriented.

Do true feelings come out when drunk? ›

"There's usually some version of one's true feelings that come out when one is drunk," Vranich said. "People dredge up feelings and sentiments from somewhere deep in their brains, so what one says or does certainly reflects what's going on deep down.

Is it true that a drunk mind speaks a sober heart? ›

“A drunk mind speaks a sober heart” is a saying often attributed to French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau, himself quite a drunk. The idea is that when we are drunk we lose our inhibitions and allow ourselves to verbalize our true thoughts and feelings, bringing our true personality traits to light.

Do you tell the truth when drunk? ›

Alcohol stifles reasoning skills and contemplating repercussions. As a result, people are more likely to tell the truth while intoxicated, offering up brutally honest, unfiltered opinions. And without the fear of consequences, alcohol can give people the courage to do or say things they ordinarily wouldn't entertain.

What are 3 social effects of alcohol? ›

Other social consequences of drinking too much can include: financial problems due to excessive spending on alcohol. limited career opportunities due to a conviction for an alcohol-related offence. impacts on work performance.

What happens when you drink alcohol everyday? ›

Long-Term Health Risks. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.

Does alcohol change your morals? ›

In turns out that while consuming alcohol might affect our empathy, making us respond inappropriately to other people's emotions and reactions, this doesn't necessarily change our moral standards, or the principles we use to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong.

Why do I start fights with my boyfriend for no reason? ›

Richardson says this can be about all sorts of things: a desire for attention, jealousy or trust issues, feeling lonely, or not feeling understood. Even your own history of trauma or relationship issues can come into play.

Why do I flirt when drunk? ›

"With larger doses of alcohol, not only can a person lower their inhibitions, but their emotions can also be altered," Glasner explains. This combination of decreased inhibition and increased emotion can create a perfect storm for physical affection.

Why is my husband mean when he drinks? ›

The husband might have unprocessed trauma, such as a history of physical or sexual abuse. He may have poorly formed impulse control or doesn't know how to manage his anger well. The presence of a mental health disorder may cause him to use alcohol as a means to self-medicate.

When should you quit a relationship? ›

15 signs you should leave your relationship
  • Toxic Relationship. ...
  • Foundation is shaken. ...
  • Past coincide with present and future. ...
  • Feeling devalued. ...
  • Physical love is replaced by physical abuse. ...
  • Unnecessary expectations. ...
  • You justify your actions. ...
  • There's abuse involved.
3 Feb 2022

What do you do when a family member won't stop drinking? ›

How to cope with a family member's problem drinking
  1. Look after your own needs. ...
  2. Recognise that harmful drinking affects you too. ...
  3. Keep yourself and others safe from harm. ...
  4. Know that you're not to blame. ...
  5. Don't feel you have to solve the problem. ...
  6. Learn about dependence and recovery. ...
  7. Talk to other people. ...
  8. If you have children.

Can certain types of alcohol make you angry? ›

The direct effects of alcohol are the same whether you drink wine, beer or spirits. There's no evidence that different types of alcohol cause different mood states. People aren't even very good at recognising their mood states when they have been drinking. So where does the myth come from?

Do people mean what they say when drunk? ›

Do people mean what they say when drunk? Yes, sometimes people mean what they say when they are drunk. But most of the time, people say whatever comes to mind when drinking, without any concern if it's genuinely how they feel. Alcohol lowers inhibition and makes people feel talkative, extroverted, and emboldened.

Why does alcohol make you behave differently? ›

Alcohol impacts the way we act because it is a chemical depressant that slows down the brain and central nervous system. Alcohol also affects other organs and systems like the heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys and digestive tract.

Why do I get mean to my boyfriend when I drink? ›

Alcohol interferes with the brain, reducing our ability to think straight or act rationally, it can cause some people to become angry. Evidence shows that while alcohol may not always be the direct cause of a person's aggressive behaviour, it is often a contributing factor, and some people even become violent.

How do you deal with a drunk boyfriend? ›

How to Help a Boyfriend Stop Drinking
  1. Learn about alcohol use disorder to talk knowledgeably about the issues; this may include going to a physician or therapist to discuss symptoms.
  2. Practice what you will say to him.
  3. Pick the right time and place while he is sober.
  4. Listen to him with honesty and compassion.
26 Jul 2022

Does vodka make people aggressive? ›

'For centuries, the history of rum, gin, vodka and other spirits has been laced with violence. This global study suggests even today consuming spirits is more likely to result in feelings of aggression than other drinks,' says study co-author Professor Mark Bellis.

Why do I keep getting angry? ›

Causes of anger

Some common things that make people feel angry include: being treated unfairly and feeling powerless to do anything about it. feeling threatened or attacked. other people not respecting your authority, feelings or property.

Does alcohol show your true personality? ›

According to science, nope, it doesn't. One study published in Clinical Psychological Science found that, contrary to popular belief (and contrary to what we're probably all hoping to hear right about now), alcohol doesn't actually have the power to change your personality.

Do true feelings come out when drunk? ›

"There's usually some version of one's true feelings that come out when one is drunk," Vranich said. "People dredge up feelings and sentiments from somewhere deep in their brains, so what one says or does certainly reflects what's going on deep down.

Is it true that a drunk mind speaks a sober heart? ›

“A drunk mind speaks a sober heart” is a saying often attributed to French Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jaques Rousseau, himself quite a drunk. The idea is that when we are drunk we lose our inhibitions and allow ourselves to verbalize our true thoughts and feelings, bringing our true personality traits to light.

How does alcohol change your personality? ›

Drinking alcohol can cause a variety of mental health symptoms to appear or to get worse. Because of alcohol, you could notice: Depression with mood changes, irritability, and an increased risk of suicide. Anxiety with worry, physical tension, and fearfulness.

What are 3 social effects of alcohol? ›

Other social consequences of drinking too much can include: financial problems due to excessive spending on alcohol. limited career opportunities due to a conviction for an alcohol-related offence. impacts on work performance.

What happens when you drink alcohol everyday? ›

Long-Term Health Risks. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems. Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, voice box, liver, colon, and rectum.

Why do I get mad when I'm drunk? ›

While some people become happy and relaxed while drunk, others may become angry. These people are often referred to as “angry drunks.” Alcohol affects the parts of the brain involved with inhibition and control.

Why do I start fights with my boyfriend for no reason? ›

Richardson says this can be about all sorts of things: a desire for attention, jealousy or trust issues, feeling lonely, or not feeling understood. Even your own history of trauma or relationship issues can come into play.

Videos

1. Alcohol and binge drinking
(Drinkaware.co.uk)
2. What is an alcohol unit?
(Drinkaware.co.uk)
3. Why do alcoholics get so angry?
(Jonathan League)
4. Alcohol and mental health
(Drinkaware.co.uk)
5. Dr Sarah Jarvis discusses how alcohol can affect mental health
(Drinkaware.co.uk)
6. Alcohol and the liver
(Drinkaware.co.uk)

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