Alcohol and aggression
Just what is it about alcohol that so often leads to fights and arguments?
How alcohol can make us aggressive
"Alcohol reduces our ability to think straight," says Professor McMurran, a psychologist at the University of Nottingham. "It narrows our focus of attention and gives us tunnel vision.
"If someone provokes us while we're drunk, we don't take other factors into account, such as the consequences of rising to the bait. This can lead to violent reactions from people who would usually shrug things off."
Alcohol also reduces anxiety, which can be one of the reasons we enjoy drinking. But, according to Professor McMurran, anxiety actually protects us by telling us to avoid or escape certain situations. "When we're drunk, this warning system doesn't work and this can put us in dangerous or confrontational situations."
The way we process information is affected when we've been drinking too. We're more likely to misinterpret other people's behaviour and misread social cues. This could be the reason why so many drunken fights start over little more than a 'dirty look'.
Avoiding aggressive encounters
The majority of people who drink are never violent and even those who do become aggressive won't do so all the time. Still, losing your cool over something as simple as a spilled drink is never a good move. Binge drinking increases the likelihood of both becoming aggressive and of being on the receiving end of someone else's temper (1). If you're wanting to cut back on alcohol or simply want to keep track of how much you're drinking, MyDrinkaware can help.
Think about trying a different pub if nights at your local tend to get heated. There's no reason why a good night has to end in trouble.
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(1) Home Office website, ‘Violence in the night-time economy: key findings from the research’, 2004. Available at:http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110220105210/rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs04/r214.pdf
Page updated: October 2014
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