Alcohol makes most people less inhibited and less coordinated. Their judgement is not quite what it normally is and their speech is less articulate, but they are basically the same people. People who are aggressive when they drink are usually aggressive when they don’t drink. Nevertheless, alcohol seems to engender conflict. Sometimes it’s with your significant other and sometimes with total strangers. There are several reasons for this.
Alcohol lowers inhibitions.
Many people drink specifically to reduce stress and anxiety. Someone who is normally too shy to chat up a stranger might make a decent effort after a few drinks. The trouble is that inhibitions are often useful. They keep us from doing things we know will cause us problems. It could be a peevish remark to your girlfriend that ruins the evening, or mouthing off to the guy at the next table who has gotten a bit loud. Normally, a little voice in your head tells you when something is not worth the trouble, but that voice gets quieter the more you drink.
Alcohol narrows your attention.
The more you drink, the less you’re aware of what’s going on around you. If someone bumps into you, you might fail to take account of the crowd, or that he seems genuinely sorry, or that it was actually you who bumped into him. In the absence of context, you may be more inclined to interpret an accident as intentional and take offense. This is a case where an aggressive disposition may easily tip into aggressive action. People often get into fights and arguments with very little idea of what’s actually happening.
Alcohol can wag the dog.
Alcohol can raise your heartrate and make you feel flushed. These are similar to the physical signs of anger. If you’ve had a bit drink and aren’t particularly aware of what’s going on, these physical signs may actually make you feel angry. You may have no reason to feel angry, but your brain makes up a story to go with the symptoms of anger and you might lash out at some perceived provocation.
Social expectations make a difference.
Studies have shown that not all cultures behave the same way when they drink. Just as when you’re sober, your beliefs about what behaviour is appropriate when you drink is largely determined by your family and peers. If you believe drunken behaviour entails singing loudly with your friends, you will more likely do that. If you believe drunken behaviour entails brawling after a football match, you will likely do that as well.
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Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | November 25, 2019