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 alcohol contributes to aggression
There are a number of theories as to why alcohol may contribute to aggression. One prominent theory, ‘alcohol myopia’. proposes that alcohol can reduce our ability to think straight and narrow our attention. We may miss social and environmental cues that help us to interpret situations rationally. This means that if someone provokes us when we’re drunk, we might rise to the bait rather than thinking of the consequences. This can lead to violent or angry reactions from people who would usually just shrug things off.
The way we process information is affected when we've been drinking too. We're more likely to misinterpret other people's behaviour. This could be the reason why drunken fights start over little more than bumping into someone at a bar.
Alcohol also causes chemical changes in the brain which initially can make us feel relaxed. What is actually happening is that alcohol is beginning to suppress activity in parts of the brain associated with inhibition. Any warning signals that may have kicked in are unlikely to work, and we may find ourselves in confrontational or even dangerous situations.
Alcohol and aggressive or violent encounters
Many people who drink are never violent and even those who do become aggressive won't do so all the time. But there is evidence of an association between alcohol and aggression. The impact of drinking alcohol on aggressive or violent behaviour is complex. and while alcohol may not be the direct cause of a person’s aggressive or violent behaviour, it is often a compounding factor.
Studies also show that there is a consistent and robust association between alcohol use and intimate partner violence – which is any form or physical, sexual or psychological violence against a current or former partner. One study found that 30% of couples who reported intimate partner violence reported that alcohol was involved, while those reporting severe intimate partner violence were more than twice as likely to report alcohol involvement.
Women are at a higher risk of harm against them by a male partner who has been drinking than vice versa. And others can be affected too, including wider family and friends as well and children.
If you are worried about your own, or someone else’s drinking, you can chat anonymously to one of our advisors online via Drinkchat. Alternatively, call Drinkline on 0300 123 1110.
- Last reviewed: 3 April 2020
- Next review due: 3 April 2023