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Alcohol and Violence: Who Becomes a Mean Drunk?

It's interesting to watch what happens when someone has a few too many cocktails.

My college roommate, for example, would become the life of the party; it always amazed me to watch her transformation from a fairly conservative Southern girl into the person most likely to dance on top of the bar.

An acquaintance of mine would start out as a happy drunk but, you could bet money on it, before the night was over she would be sobbing in her Singapore Sling.

And then there are those of us who get mean - say nasty things, take offense at the slightest provocation (or with none), maybe even throw a punch of two.

Some angry drunks are angry all the time while some people who are mean under the influence are nice as can be when they're sober.

Some drinkers get mean regularly, while, for others, it happens occasionally.

Tanking Up and Letting Loose: Who Does It?

Alcohol does not usually lead to violence and most people don't go on a rampage when they're intoxicated.

Does alcohol cause a personality transformation - turning Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde - or does it simply allow us to do or say things we secretly want to anyway?

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Addiction to any particular substance or behavior is seen mainly as a matter of personal vulnerability, exposure and access, and the capacity to produce a desirable shift in mental state.

This definition was originally formulated by Howard J. Shaffer, Ph.D., C.A.S.Harvard Medical School, Division on Addictions. found that, among three thousand young adults in Norway, only those who said they tended to suppress their anger were more likely to become violent when drunk.

These individuals were usually peacekeepers in their daily lives, avoiding confrontations and locking their frustrations inside.

Once they got a little liquid courage, though, all hell broke loose. For these individuals, the adage "a drunk man's words are a sober man's thoughts" rings true.

So, individuals who have a lot of stored up anger are more likely to express it when they're inhibitions are down.

I would also bet that when we get drunk around or with someone we're already in conflict with (or mad at), we're more at risk for anger outbursts.

In other words, Sally may be a fun drunk when she's with her sorority sisters but when she and her just-found-out-he's-cheating-but-I-still-love-him boyfriend get together, she's much more likely to have a few beers and let all her anger hang out.

The Bottom Line

Drinking doesn't cause violence but it sure can make it harder to control, especially if we have a hard time expressing our anger or standing up for ourselves when we're sober.

Using alcohol to give us the courage to "tell it like it is" is a losing strategy; the object of our anger can easily dismiss what we say as "just the booze talking" and, even if our words have the ring of truth, the way they're spoken silences them.