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Link Between Alcohol & Aggression


Most people have known friends or family who were “happy drunks” or “angry drunks.” Some people will openly admit to being happy or angry drunks. Regardless if alcohol makes someone more warm and relaxed or hostile and violent, one thing is known – alcohol is closely linked to aggressive behaviors.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “Scientists and nonscientists alike have long recognized a two-way association between alcohol consumption and violent or aggressive behavior. Not only may alcohol consumption promote aggressiveness, but victimization may lead to excessive alcohol consumption.”

Alcohol-Related Violence

In an Alcohol Alert, the NIAAA shed light on a link between alcohol consumption and violent behavior. The NIAAA explained that based on published studies, the percentages of violent offenders who were under the influence of alcohol at the time they committed the offense were as follows:

  • 86 percent of people who committed homicide
  • 60 percent of people who committed a sex offense
  • 57 percent of men involved in spousal abuse
  • 42 percent of reported violent crimes
  • 37 percent of the offenders who committed assault
  • 13 percent of offenders who committed child abuse

Why Can Drinking Lead to Aggression?

What is it about alcohol that can lead to aggression? The NIAAA explains that alcohol can encourage aggressive or violent behaviors because it disrupts normal brain function. This is because alcohol weakens the brain mechanisms responsible for restraining our impulsive behaviors, such as aggression that may be fantasized about but not normally acted upon by a sober individual.

Alcohol can cause people to misjudge social cues; therefore, an inebriated person can overreact to a perceived threat. Additionally, alcohol affects judgment and an intoxicated person can find themselves acting on violent impulses that would usually be restrained.

The NIAAA found the following factors to be common causes of alcohol misuse and violence:

  • Living a violent lifestyle,
  • Parental neglect in an alcoholic family,
  • A history of neglect or sexual abuse (women),
  • Having a risk-seeking personality,
  • Having delinquent peers or a lack of parental supervision, which encourages morally corrupt behavior,
  • A childhood history of witnessing domestic violence (men and women), and
  • Violence often contributes to drinking, which can perpetuate violence.

In many ways, alcohol and violence are associated with environmental factors. For instance, if someone grew up in an alcoholic or abusive household, the individual may be more prone to aggressive behavior while under the influence of alcohol. This data from the NIAAA certainly sheds light on why some people are “angry drunks,” while others don’t have that issue as much when drinking.

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