Not all alcoholics get angry and aggressive when they are drunk but it can be a common behaviour for someone under the influence of alcohol. The response may depend on their recent mood and stress levels, but typically many alcoholics use alcohol to relieve stress and escape from unhappy or difficult circumstances and so aggression and anger are a common result when they get drunk.
Why does alcohol make you angry?
Drinking alcohol reduces your ability to process information by slowing the action of the nerve cells and the brain. This means that when you are under the influence of alcohol, you might not see situations as clearly as you would if you have not been drinking. Your perspective changes and you lose the faculty of reasoning, often meaning that you misinterpret other people’s behaviour or misread social cues. What could be a completely innocent and harmless situation ends up as a drunken fight because, for example, “he looked at me in the wrong way”.
Alcohol can also inhibit the part of your brain which controls impulses, which is why people who are drunk often do things that they regret when they are sober the next day. This also applies to the aggressive impulse. Our blueprint for socially acceptable behaviour does not kick in to action and we do not worry about the consequences of aggressive or violent behaviour when we are drunk.
Similarly people often drink to reduce anxiety, for example if they have to give a speech or find themselves in some other situation that induces anxiety. However, anxiety is a natural response elicited by our bodies to make us avoid or escape situations which we view as dangerous or uncomfortable. When we are drunk, our anxiety is suppressed and we can find ourselves in more confrontational or uncomfortable situations, which we might otherwise have avoided.
In addition to responding aggressively while drunk, many alcoholics will get angry when they are challenged over their drinking, whether they are drunk at the time or not. Alcoholics tend to use anger as a defence mechanism to divert attention from themselves.
Many people who drink heavily but are not necessarily alcoholics can also become angry when they are drunk. This is thought to happen to people who demonstrate “trait anger”, a personality tendency to experience frequent and intense episodes of anger.
Understanding the physical reasons why alcoholics get angry, can be the first steps to recognising the external triggers which set the anger off. For an alcoholic who’s trying to become sober, learning how to identify and deal with anger is an essential part of the process. Recovery and the healthy expression of anger go hand in hand.