Alcohol And Violence: Correlation Or Causation?


Alcohol isn’t a stranger to violence. Heightened aggression and violent tendencies have often been associated with overconsuming alcohol to the point where our senses become laxed and we lose control of our rational mind. However, with that being said, not everyone who drinks will erupt in an explosive aggression. But those who do should definitely consider medical intervention

According to various research studies, only a small minority would succumb to aggression while drinking. In fact, becoming aggressive due to drinking unearths a more serious psychological issue beneath because while intoxicated, your thoughts and words become less filtered. Instead, what comes out is a truer reflection of the self. Thus, if an individual exhibits violence upon drinking, it could be an underlying symptom of deeper-rooted anger management difficulties.

The Greatest Risk

It’s believed that personality plays a fundamental role in distinguishing aggressive drunks from the rest of the drinking crowd. According to Dr. David Caldicott, emergency medicine consultant at the Calvary Hospital of Canberra, he claims that those who are physically violent with others when drunk would demonstrate the same behaviour when sober.

This is corroborated by other studies showcasing the correlation between alcohol and aggression, citing that people who are more easily irritable, short temper and have poor anger management, and being less empathetic towards others in a rational state of mind would naturally be even more inclined to such behaviour when under the influence. 

Additionally, gender has also been cited as a significant factor in this in which women are less predisposed to aggression than men are during drinking.

Losing Control

New studies are continually emerging surrounding the repercussions of subtly differentiated brain functions affecting how people behave when drunk. Thus, it might seem as though some people are more susceptible to displaying negative reactions when drinking as a consequence of their cognitive wiring. 

Ostensibly, one manner in which alcohol affects cognitive functioning is measured through how people use their brain’s executive system. This involves processes such as decision-making, problem-solving and reasoning. As we all know that the brain is the body’s command center, it comes as no surprise that anything enacting an effect on your brain is bound to translate to your executive reasoning and physical control also. 


Thus, when we’re under the influence, it stands to reason that our grasp on these cognitive functions weaken dramatically; especially since the chemical signals between the brain’s synapses between your neurons become impaired. As a result, it gradually becomes harder to perform introspection or self-regulate our emotions and thoughts. Everything becomes more primal and instinctual. Thus, instead of controlling our impulses, we relent to them. 

Hence, if an individual has naturally weaker executive control than others, these would cast them into a more vulnerable position towards alcohol influence. This can also account for the higher propensity of teenagers and young adults to be the perpetrators of violence when drinking. As studies have shown that the brain isn’t fully developed until past our 20s, this suggests that our brain is fundamentally underdeveloped before adulthood. Since the prefrontal lobe, responsible for decision-making and social behavior moderation, is one of the last few areas of the brain to undergo development, it becomes unsurprising that youth are literally more biologically predisposed to make poor decisions. This is why they relinquish more easily to their impulses than exercising control.

Biology aside, people who have a stronger dependence on alcohol are actually compromising themselves over time. The more alcohol is consumed, the weaker executive functioning becomes because of the alcohol circulating within their system. Long term effects of cognitive degradation become increasingly apparent if alcohol is consumed frequently. 

This behavioral pattern was observed in rats when they exhibited signs of aggressions when intoxicated, just like humans. Not only did their brains produce lower levels of serotonin (pain perception moderator) but also higher levels of dopamine (happy chemical). This chemical imbalance led to the outcome of strong aggressive tendencies. Such a pattern is also observed in chronic drinkers, especially if they suffered some forms of childhood trauma or difficulty where their natural serotonin levels are more impaired compared to the average joe. 

Cause for Concern?

As a result of alcohol reducing your cognitive functions, this translates to our information processing in real-time to be greatly inhibited too. A minor inconvenience can be perceived as marginally more major than it actually is. 

This altered perception is exacerbated by heightened senses like increased heart palpitations (tachyarrhythmias) which kick your body into high gear. Since this symptom is a natural reaction to increased adrenaline in the system, any situation might be misinterpreted as a threat and potentially triggers a fight or flight response from you. 

Moreover, new research has revealed that individual differences arising from responses to alcohol are largely informed since young. Our expectations on the appropriate and socially acceptable behavior stems from observing others, be it our friends or family, when they drink. Thus, if we’re exposed to alcohol-induced aggression from young, we become convinced that such behavior is the norm and therefore permissible. As a result, premature exposure to the effects of alcohol are more than enough to dictate various forms of alcohol-related behavior. This could explain why society is heavily desensitized to pub-related or sporting event-related violence associated with drinking. 

Lastly, we can’t forget about the significance of different caffeine levels found in different kinds of alcohol. Depending on the alcohol concentration, this also predisposes people to expect different severity of outcomes from drinking wine versus liquor versus beer. Essentially, drinking outcomes can be argued as consequences of pre-established cognitive wiring. 

Any solutions?

Now that all’s been said and done, is there any viable solution to addressing alcohol-related aggression? As with any bad habit, the most effective measure would be to get to the root of the problem and nip it at the bud. This means that underlying psychological and emotional conditions such as temper control needs to be targeted directly. In this scenario, anger management programs would be the best measure. You learn to recognize your triggers, warning signs of internal sensations of anger and how to curb them properly. Thus, tailoring the right treatment is highly dependent on the individual and cannot be overgeneralized. 


Our personalities are developed from a very early age. Although everyone has somewhat of a predetermined mold with regards to personality, it’s still greatly influenced by our surroundings. Therefore, upbringing plays a huge role in curbing undesirable behavior such as aggression and violence. In general however, prevention is better than cure. If society can abstain from or at least limit alcohol consumption reasonably, alcohol-related cases of violence would undoubtedly decrease noticeably. 



Latest news