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The Angry Drunk: How Alcohol and Aggression Are Linked

Both clinical observations and scientific data have shown that the manifestation of alcohol-related aggression is by no means uniform. Rather, it is becoming clear that individual differences play a key role. In addition, more recent models are moving away from single-factor causes and towards multifactorial sets of conditions. In the following, these models will be described and discussed on the basis of a selective review of original articles, reviews, and book chapters. In this review, based on a selective search for pertinent literature in PubMed, we analyze and summarize information from original articles, reviews, and book chapters about alcohol and aggression and discuss the neurobiological basis of aggressive behavior. If you have intermittent explosive disorder, prevention is likely beyond your control unless you get treatment from a mental health professional.

alcoholism and anger

Hence, it is probable that in the aggressive brain, the drop in brain serotonin synthesis might even be greater (40–60%) during moderate intake of alcohol (Badawy, 2003). However, the inconsistent findings of serotonin markers in brain imaging studies of alcoholics suggest that comorbidity of AUD with other psychiatric disorders may complicate the serotonin hypothesis in real life. In addition, even individual differences in personality traits determine the types of emotion affected by the depletion of serotonin (Kanen et al., 2021). During-treatment improvements in the remaining anger and anger-related cognition measures predicted clients’ positive posttreatment alcohol involvement; however, predictive strength was not significantly different between treatment conditions. Often, when children, spouses and other loved ones spend time close to someone who becomes abusive when they drink, their lives change for the worse.

The Failure to Consider Future Consequences and Its Impact on Aggression

Understanding these nuances is imperative for nurturing relational harmony and healthy relationships. The consequences of heavy alcohol use are serious and include an increased risk of cancer, dementia, falls and dangerous interactions with medications. In view of the high prevalence of alcohol-related violence, scientists and clinicians have undertaken numerous attempts to analyze this problematic relationship and to clarify underlying mechanisms and processes.

Another study revealed that alcohol-dependent men had drunk significantly more alcohol in the 12 hours before violent conflicts with their partners than before situations that did not end in violence (14). Acute episodes of high alcohol consumption therefore seem to favor aggressive behavior more strongly than chronic alcohol consumption (15, 16). Thus it seems that more frequent severe, acute intoxication makes a decisive contribution to the high prevalence of alcohol-related aggression in alcohol-dependent individuals. The emphasis on addressing anger in AA notwithstanding, there is little empirical evaluation regarding anger management in alcohol and substance abuse treatment. Specifically, clients marked by higher anger did better at one- and three-year follow-up in the motivational enhancement condition than in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or the AAF condition (Karno & Longabaugh, 2004).

Talk with your doctor about reducing alcohol intake

That, paired with the way people make decisions when they’re drinking, is often a recipe for disaster. Alcohol factors into nearly a third of all murders in the United States. Plus, alcohol-related rage and aggression are tied to intimate partner violence, verbal and physical abuse, sexual assault, violent crimes, verbal and physical altercations, and more (1). Alcohol use disorder is a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol or continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems. This disorder also involves having to drink more to get the same effect or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. Alcohol use disorder includes a level of drinking that’s sometimes called alcoholism.

  • One such study involved a sample of 85 social drinkers who were described as being low or high trait anger based on their responses to the anger expression index of the State-Trait Anger Expression Inventory-2 (STAXI-2) (Eastwood et al., 2020).
  • Alcohol-related treatment material comprised approximately 54.6% of the AAF condition and 30.4% of the AM condition.
  • Second, although therapists completed intensive training and training cases, measures of therapist adherence or competence were not obtained.
  • Ultimately, nobody knows what comes first⁠—anger or alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  • Future research should incorporate stringent treatment fidelity methodology in order to document adherence to protocol.

It can have a major impact on their family members’ quality of life and even be a detriment to the healthy development of any children they have. If you or someone you love is battling aggression and alcohol misuse, help is available. Consult with a mental health professional and/or an addiction specialist who can provide resources and recommendations for treatment options. Alcohol impairs cognitive function, which means it is more difficult to problem-solve, control anger, and make good decisions when drinking.

How to Regain Trust in a Relationship After Addiction

Ultimately, nobody knows what comes first⁠—anger or alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, some studies have been done to better understand who is more at risk. If anger is a symptom of someone’s mental health disorder, alcohol can intensify the anger to dangerous levels. The inability to control or suppress your emotions can lead to inappropriate or dangerous situations. Heightened responses due to alcohol consumption can make anger intensified. The ultimate goal is to help them get into a treatment program that addresses their substance abuse and the way it causes them to behave.

alcoholism and anger

Not to mention, recovering alcoholics that don’t manage anger are at higher risk of relapse. Overall, exhibiting one or a combination of the above factors can increase your chances of becoming angry when intoxicated. As a whole, alcohol use naturally heightens emotions, and for people who are predisposed to aggressive tendencies, it can quickly make bad scenarios worse. While anger can underlie aggression, you can be angry and not aggressive or aggressive without being angry. When alcohol suppresses these regulatory functions, it can affect how you express your thoughts and emotions, including anger.

As a positive, unalarming emotion and one that others are used to seeing, however, happiness isn’t on the radar as much as anger. As with all research, this study has limitations which should be considered in interpreting our findings. First, the modest sample size did not allow for detection of meaningful but relatively small between-group differences and effect sizes. However, the sample size was appropriate to the state of knowledge in the field, this being the first randomized controlled trial with a new and untested intervention.

alcoholism and anger

Anger is often described as a secondary response to underlying feelings, serving as a defense mechanism to shield ourselves from or conceal more vulnerable emotions such as hurt or fear. The search was conducted by two independent authors (HVL and AE) who first analyzed the titles and abstracts and then selected manuscripts for full-text reading. Disagreements regarding inclusion in the study were resolved through discussion with a third author (FHK) until a consensus was reached. The reference lists of all included studies were also hand-searched for other relevant articles.

It doesn’t matter how much anger you have – ignoring it doesn’t do any good. The fact is that both AUD and anger don’t need to be permanent, especially with quality treatment. It’s easy to disregard tough emotions in the moment if you know you can “take the edge off” once you have a drink in your hand. It may feel like you’re confronting that anger once intoxicated, but because alcohol also impairs memory, you’re never fully able to process that anger.

The most frequent drug used was marijuana; 30% of the sample reported use of this drug at least once during the six-month baseline period. With regard to baseline levels of anger, males scored at the 75th percentile and females at the 55th percentile on the STAXI-trait anger scale. The Adamson, et al. (2009) review suggests that self-confidence in avoiding relapse – and during-treatment improvements in self-confidence – is a consistent predictor of treatment outcomes (Adamson et al., 2009). The literature does not, however, describe whether specific areas of self-confidence, such as confidence specifically related to coping with anger and related emotions, predict outcomes. Self-awareness is important for everyone’s mental health, but it is especially necessary for people with AUD and anger issues. Understanding your emotions and making smart decisions about alcohol consumption is the best way to avoid problems.